Feeding a dog with heart failure

Feeding a dog with heart failure

Health & Safety

Learning that your dog is in heart failure can of course be hugely upsetting for the owner, as this is a serious condition that can shorten your dog’s lifespan considerably, and may ultimately prove fatal. While it is important not to gloss over or underestimate the seriousness of canine heart failure, a diagnosis of such does not necessarily mean imminent death for your dog, and if the disease is caught early on, there are a multitude of ways to manage the condition and the effects that it has on your dog, effectively lengthening your dog’s lifespan and improving their quality of life.

In this article, we will look at the role that diet plays in the management of canine heart failure, and the right and wrong types of food to keep the heart functional. Read on to learn more about feeding a dog with heart failure.

More about canine heart failure

Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood around the body to fully meet all of its needs, and can affect dogs of any age and for a wide range of different reasons. However, the condition is most commonly diagnosed in older dogs, and as the symptoms of heart failure are progressive and can be slow to develop, it can be very hard to diagnose the condition effectively during its early stages.

The medical and drug-based treatment options for a dog with heart failure tend to be fairly limited, and so the main ways of managing the condition involve making changes to the dog’s diet and lifestyle, which can help to reduce stress on the heart and improve its ability to function, effectively lengthening the dog’s potential lifespan.

Some of the dietary methods of managing heart failure in the dog are outlined below.


A failing heart can lead to water retention in the body, including an increase in the levels of sodium, or salt, which can further compromise heart function. Reducing your dog’s salt or sodium levels is important, to help with the water retention that generally accompanies the condition, and keep your dog’s sodium levels within healthy parameters.

Salt is a common additive used in many different types of dog foods, to add flavour and texture to the product and make it more palatable to the dog. However, dogs with heart failure will generally no longer be able to eat a commercial diet of this type, and will generally need to be prescribed a special diet to support dogs in heart failure, which is low in salt and contains fewer ingredients that may contain added salt.

You can even make salt-free food for your dog at home, providing that you are prepared to do enough research into canine nutrition to ensure that you are feeding a balanced diet that is appropriate for your dog, and contains all of the necessary ingredients.


Ensuring that your dog eats enough protein is important to reduce stress on the heart itself, and to support healthy muscle mass and physical fitness. For dogs with heart failure, choosing quality sources of protein is vital, and this should involve a good quality diet and potentially, supplementation of the diet with protein-rich foods such as chicken and other cuts of meat.

L-carnitine and taurine are also essential elements of a food for good heart health, and these are present in red meats, offering another option to support the diet of a dog with heart failure.

Weight management

It is important to tailor your dog’s diet to suit their activity levels and lifestyle, and to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Obesity and weight problems all place an additional strain on the already compromised heart, and can actually contribute to the development of heart problems in the first place.

All dogs require a certain amount of dietary fat in order to maintain their energy levels, but too much fat can greatly worsen the heart function of a dog with heart failure, as can carrying around a few extra pounds. Excess weight places an additional strain on the heart and its ability to circulate blood effectively, and so getting your dog’s weight under control after diagnosis is a vital part of the dietary management of heart failure.

Cut out empty calories and high fat foods such as cheese, fatty meat and treats that are often high in sugar and fat, and replace these with more appropriate energy sources, such as lean meat, eggs and other good proteins.

Managing the weight and exercise levels of a dog with heart failure can be challenging, and you should work with your vet to devise a regime that will help to bring your dog’s weight under control and get them as fit and healthy as possible, in order to prolong their healthy life.

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