Pet Corner: Best Heart Health for Pets

Healthy Hearts, Happy Pets

| May/June 2003

The mechanically marvelous heart is the cardiovascular system’s workhorse. A pump that pulsates day and night throughout a pet’s lifetime, it beats consistently at the rate of 100 to 140 beats per minute. The heart is small, but its pump is capable of sending gallons of blood through a miles-long labyrinth of outbound arteries and returning veins.

But the heart (and its supporting network of vessels) is more than a mere mechanical wonder. In many traditional medicines, animal as well as human hearts have emotional and spiritual qualities.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), for example, the heart houses the spirit of Shen, the center of consciousness, feelings and thoughts. The meaning of Shen is touched upon when one says an animal has spirit, and a TCM practitioner may hear the heart as the pulsating language of the individual’s yin/yang that connects all beings in the universe.

Know the Symptoms

While the heart may be an almost unbelievably powerful, muscular organ imbued with mythic qualities, it can have its problems. Symptoms that could indicate your pet has heart disease include difficulty breathing, coughing, exercise intolerance, weakness and fainting. Veterinarians check for heart disease by listening for any one of a cacophony of irregular sounds: heart murmurs, slowed or quickened heart rate, fibrillation, premature beats and lung congestion. Further tests might include an electrocardiogram, X-rays, ultrasound evaluation, blood chemistry analysis and heartworm tests.

Cardiovascular disease may have any number of causes: infectious, mechanical, nutritional, hormonal and parasitic. Specific therapy for any of these will depend on the diagnosis, but herbal medicines can be used to aid whatever therapy is decided upon.

The most prevalent cause of heart disease in animals is congenital — birth defects of the valves, vessels and nerves that regulate the heart’s ability to pulse naturally. Herbs offer the perfect aid for these cases because they provide mild, supportive care without appreciable adverse side effects. My holistic regime for helping the cardiovascular system’s diseases hinges on a four-pronged approach: using herbs specific for the heart; diuretic herbs (cardiac insufficiencies often cause a backup of fluids in the lungs, which in turn may cause coughing); supportive herbs; and heart-nourishing supplements.

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