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Were you aware that heart healthy lifestyle tips for humans apply to our pets, as well? In light of American Heart Month, I’ve compiled a simple list of things you and your pets can do together to keep your tickers in top shape.
Just like us, our pets should avoid foods that are high in saturated fats and salty foods that can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol— all key risk factors for heart disease. When it comes to your pet’s diet, I recommend supplementing a premium brand of dry or canned food with some high-quality lean protein and vegetables. In addition, I also advise feeding your pet veggies as treats instead of treats from a box or a bag. Alternating veggies of all colors will vary the different types of antioxidants your pet receives.
There are, however, a few vegetables pets should avoid. Stay away from the onion family, which includes all kinds of onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic. Grapes and raisins should also be avoided, as these are known to cause toxicity in some pets. Other fruits are generally okay, but should be avoided if your pet is overweight since they can be high in simple carbohydrates. Even then, organic berries occasionally in moderation are fine.
The amount of food you should feed can vary significantly depending upon the caloric density of the specific food that you are feeding. If your pet is overweight, a low-calorie diet is probably the ideal option. An important best practice to apply when feeding is to use a measuring cup to accurately determine the portions you feed.
For both humans and pets, an inactive lifestyle ranks among the top risk factors for heart disease. Therefore, regular daily exercise can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease for you and your pets! Before starting any new exercise routine, however, it is always wise to consult a medical doctor and veterinarian to be certain that you and your pets, respectively, are fit and healthy enough to tolerate exercise..
Through a thorough examination, your veterinarian can rule out any underlying health issues that may be exacerbated by exercise. If your pet has not been active as of late and subsequently is not accustomed to exercise, you should gradually increase the amount of exercise he receives over time to prevent injury. For example, you can begin exercising for 10 minutes multiple times per week and increase the activity weekly until you reach at least 30 – 45 minutes daily.
For dogs, exercise may consist of walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, playing fetch, or agility training. For cats, climbing to a lofty kitty condo, batting around a feather toy, or chasing a laser pointer is fun and effective exercise. My favorite toy for my cats is a small plastic fishing pole with a felt fish in the end of it that I cast out and my cats chase and pounce on it as I reel it in. I call it “fishing for kitties.”
Remain aware that the amount of exercise a pet needs can vary significantly depending on factors such as age, breed, weight, and health status. If you are unsure how much exercise your pet needs, it is always best to consult with your veterinarian.
Watch the Weight
Obesity in dogs and cats places them at a heightened risk for many diseases including heart disease. Just as in people, excess weight makes the heart have to work harder. Weight loss, on the other hand, will help improve cardiovascular function.
For stubborn weight retention, underlying medical conditions that may predispose to obesity should be ruled out or be treated by your veterinarian. If ultimately there are no underlying problems, the key to losing weight returns to being fairly straight forward: your pet must burn more calories than he/she consumes.
A safe, effective weight-loss program involves three key components:
- Increasing the amount of exercise your pet receives
- Modifying the way you feed your pet (measuring food portion carefully)
- Restricting the amount of calories your pet consumes (no more free feeding and go easy on the treats!)
Get Regular Checkups
Regular visits to the MD and DVM are a must. By checking your pet annually (or semiannually for senior pets) your veterinarian can catch the early signs of possible heart problems, like heart murmur or arrhythmia. This is especially important in pets because animals tend to hide signs of disease until the illness becomes very advanced. Like all other manners of disease, heart disease is best managed when detected early in the disease process so that medical intervention may begin well before there is severe structural compromise to the heart and its vasculature.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.