Did you know that at least 10% of the dogs in the U.S. suffer from heart disease? The rate is even higher in elderly dogs (my old chihuahua has the beginnings of congestive heart failure), and in certain breeds. Breeds with a susceptibility to heart issues include chihuahuas, along with basset hounds, lab retrievers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, boxers, rottweilers and others. If you have one of those breeds, it’s not a bad idea to start support early and, of course, to make sure your dog is checked out by the vet regularly.
Aside from the obvious things like a healthy diet and regular physical activity and no chubby pooches, there is support to be had from our plant friends. Keep in mind that, as with us two-legged types, healthy diet is key, as is physical activity. Chubby pooches are adorable, but as few as 12 weeks of being overweight may cause long-term health issues for your dog.
Also like people, dogs may benefit from botanical tonics for the cardiovascular system. Some of my favorite heart-healthy herbs for pooches are the same that are great for their people. None of these botanicals are overnight miracle workers. All are tonics with slowly building effects that, with consistent usage, help protect the heart and blood vessels from inflammatory damage and oxidative stress (free radicals), two biggies in terms of cardiovascular disease.
I’ve been on hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, C. oxycantha and others) for several years and will likely be on it for the foreseeable future, and it’s been immensely helpful (I’ve got a mild structural heart defect). Hawthorn is one of the premier heart tonics and has a very long traditional use as such. Research shows it improves the metabolism of cardiac muscle cells, allowing them to beat more efficiently, and reduces mild to moderate high blood pressure. It also improves coronary blood flow, which feeds the heart. The safety of high doses of hawthorn (together with two other herbs) in dogs has been shown during 6 months of administration, and the effects of the herb on doggie heart health have been studied in Germany. The berries, leaves, and flowers all possess these activities, though the berries are what you’ll most often find for sale. If you happen to know that your pooch has low blood pressure, choose a different herb, as hawthorn may lower it some more.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is an amazing medicinal mushroom that seems to do just about everything (except, perhaps, taste good). It is one of the most highly valued tonics in Traditional Chinese Medicine and its use was once restricted to royalty. Now that the rest of us and our mutts have access to it, it’s a great (and gentle) cardiovascular ally…promoting the health of the heart itself but also supporting the strength, pliability, and function of the blood vessels as well.
Rosehips (any Rosa species) are high in vitamin C, for strengthening the connective tissue of our blood vessels. Happy blood vessels mean a happier heart. Clinical studies in people point towards multiple benefits of rosehips for the cardiovascular system. Rosehips also taste good and, thus, are not so difficult to convince Fido to take. They blend well with any other of the botanicals here.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an extraordinarily powerful antioxidant. Rosemary has a long traditional association with the heart and is used by herbalists to improve blood vessel health and circulation. It’s a great “blood moving” herb for sluggish circulation. Research suggests that, at least in people, rosemary may improve the health of the cells lining blood vessel walls. The herbalist and animal natural health expert Gregory Tilford, in his book All You Ever Wanted to Know about Herbs for Pets, mentions that rosemary strengthens heart function and reduces arrhythmias for the canines in his practice.
For information on dosing and forms you can use for your dog, see Tilford’s aforementioned book (more info below) and an earlier “The Botanical Dog” installment.
A final note: If your dog is showing unusual signs of lethargy and tiredness, especially if she’s a breed susceptible to heart disease, get her to the vet for a check-up.
References & Further Reading
- Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA.
- Puotinen, CJ (2002) Understanding congestive heart failure. Whole Dog Journal. http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/5_4/features/5443-1.html