Dogs with congestive heart failure are usually put on a low-sodium diet to prolong their life and mitigate symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, dog food manufacturers aren’t required to list sodium content on their foods, so unless you purchase a prescription diet, you have to do extra research to find a suitable food for your dog. But why is a low-sodium diet integral in heart failure treatment, and how do you know if it’s helping or hindering their condition?
Sodium and Heart Disease in Dogs
When the heart isn’t functioning properly, the body loses its ability to excrete sodium. Dogs with severe heart disease often see changes in the kidneys and central nervous system, and these are the areas where sodium and water build up. Eventually, the build-up leads to enough pressure in smaller blood vessels that fluid is forced out of the vessels and into surrounding tissues, often around the heart and lungs. A low-sodium diet helps immensely with preventing the fluid build-up. Unfortunately, excessive fluid around the heart and lungs is fatal if it isn’t treated immediately by a veterinarian. Eventually, the dog will pass away because they can’t breathe or the heart isn’t able to pump due to the constriction.
Restricting Sodium in a Dogs Diet
Moderate sodium restriction is important in dogs with moderate heart disease, but severe heart disease requires very strict restriction. Fluid accumulation due to severe heart failure is hard to control medically, so it’s absolutely necessary to severely cut the dog’s sodium intake.
Why is there a difference in sodium restriction from patient to patient? First, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment plan, and the ideal diet varies from patient to patient as well as their medication regimen. Also, low-sodium diets aren’t that tasty. Most dogs turn their nose up at them, and since nutrition is so important, many vets hesitate to mandate such a diet if it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Patients who aren’t suffering because of sodium will start to store sodium if their body isn’t getting enough. Sodium conservation is dangerous in itself, making this a diet that should be fed by necessity and veterinary recommendation only. Never decide on your own to restrict your dog’s sodium. This is truly a decision that needs to be left up to your veterinarian.
Monitoring Your Dogs Sodium Intake
Your dog’s main source of nutrition comes from their food, but it isn’t their only source. How many times a day do you slip your dog something from the table or hand them a treat? These things you’re feeding them have salt, and human foods (especially packaged foods) are notorious for being absolutely loaded with sodium. It’s critical that dogs on a low-sodium diet aren’t fed anything unless you know what the sodium content is, and everyone in the dog’s life (visitors included) needs to be aware of this important dietary change.
Acceptable Low Sodium Human Foods
A short list of acceptable human foods as long as you don’t add any salt:
- plain, unflavored rice (brown or white)
- lean home-prepared meats (turkey, chicken, fish)
- cooked eggs
- fresh vegetables (no onions or garlic)
Avoid anything packaged, including chips, baby foods, fatty foods, dairy products, sandwich meats, and most commercially produced dog food.
Low Sodium Dog Foods
Prescription diets are the safest option for heart disease. These diets are very carefully formulated and prepared, and the rest of the food is balanced to ensure optimal nutrition even with the lower amounts of sodium. Hill’s prescription diets are the most commonly prescribed except for the h/d because it’s a bit too low in protein to be considered ideal.
Hill’s prescription diets (dry and wet):
A couple of commercial Science Diet (made by Hill’s) blends are safely low in sodium with appropriate amounts of protein, but how suitable they are depends completely on how extensive your dog’s heart disease is.
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Advanced Fitness Original (dry)
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed and Small/Toy Breed (dry)
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Gourmet Chicken Entrée (wet)
- Hill’s Science Diet Small & Toy Adult Gourmet Chicken Entrée (wet)
A more extensive list can be found at Tufts Vetrinary University.
Heart disease is a very serious disease for dogs. It’s manageable, but it progresses despite medical and dietary treatment, so the only thing you can do is manage the symptoms and try to keep your dog in good health. Since diet is such an important part in managing the disease, any dietary changes should be approved by your veterinarian. It doesn’t seem like a few “cheat foods” would hurt your dog, but it could prove to be fatal.