Best Dog Food for Heart Health: The Heart Friendly Low Sodium Diet

Heart disease may progress into congestive heart failure (CHF). When it occurs, it is difficult for your dog’s heart to pump blood to the rest of its body. 

Signs of heart failure in dogs

In CHF, one or both sides of the dog’s heart may be affected. The onset of CHF can be slow, with symptoms showing only years later. 

heart failure in dog
Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

Some common signs of heart failure in dogs include:

  • Persistent coughing: Buildup of fluid in the lungs causes frequent coughing even when resting, sleeping, or a few hours before bedtime. Coughing may be worse during or after exercise 
  • Fatigue: Tire out easily, has difficulty during exercise or settling down
  • Difficulty breathing with increased respiratory rate 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen belly due to accumulation of fluid (ascites)
  • Reduced stamina: Less walking or playing than before, panting excessively
  • Pale or bluish gums due to poor flow of oxygen 
  • Weight loss from reduced ability to store healthy fat 

Causes of CHF in dogs

The most common causes of CHF in canines are:

  • Mitral valve insufficiency (MVI): The valve between the left ventricle and left atrium is leaky
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM): Poor contractility of the heart muscle. Commonly seen in larger dogs.

Factors such as diet, exercise, aging, infection and injury can worsen their condition. 

What do you feed a dog with congestive heart failure?

Low sodium dog food  

For a dog with advanced heart failure, a low sodium dog food is recommended to minimize the buildup of fluid in its heart. However, the severe restriction of sodium levels should only be prescribed by veterinarians. This is important as an extreme sodium restriction may be detrimental to your canine’s health in its earlier stages of heart disease and heart failure.

Some dogs may not accept the bland taste of a low sodium diet. In such cases, it is more important to ensure that your pet is consuming a high quality diet consistently rather than forcing them to adapt to such a diet. Insufficient calories for a prolonged period can cause muscle loss and lead to other medical conditions. 

Ultimately, it will be helpful to refer to the guideline for the level of sodium a CHF dog needs when feeding your dog with low sodium dog food.

Amino Acids (Taurine and Carnitine)

The amino acids taurine and carnitine support healthy heart function. Carnitine also aids in energy production of heart muscle and metabolism. You can find carnitine to be available in abundance in dairy products and red meats. 

Some types of heart disease may be caused by deficiencies in taurine or carnitine, though this is rare. So, your dog may be required to test for these amino acids levels. If your canine is found to have deficiencies in these two amino acids, you may introduce them as supplements. 

Magnesium and B-Vitamins

Dogs on diuretics or water pills for heart failure, may experience deficiency in certain electrolytes. These lost nutrients are often supplemented with magnesium and B-Vitamins. Examples of foods rich in magnesium and vitamin B include beans and whole grains.

Coenzyme Q10 and Vitamins A, C and E

These nutrients help to remove free radicals from your dog’s bloodstream so that sufficient oxygen can be carried to and from its heart. You can supplement these nutrients through vegetables such as carrots and cauliflower as well as organ meats like liver. 

Potassium & Magnesium

An insufficient amount of potassium and magnesium can weaken heart muscle contractions and cause heart arrhythmias. These conditions reduce blood flow to the other organs in your dog’s body. Potassium and magnesium can be found in vegetables such as spinach and broccoli as well as grains. 

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids that are found abundantly in cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel can help to lower the production of inflammatory hormones in CHF dogs. 

It also increases appetite in dogs with CHF to prevent weight loss that occurs due to the breakdown of healthy muscles instead of fat stores. The loss of muscle mass can affect the dog’s immune system, strength, quality of life, and life expectancy.

What foods should be avoided with congestive heart failure?

It is recommended to avoid feeding your pet dog with high sodium food that will elevate its blood sodium levels. This includes human processed food and snacks such as chips, pizza, hot dogs, and others. 

Other high sodium food that CHF canines should stay away from are commercial pet treats. 


The level of seriousness of the CHF is different in each dog. Therefore, it is best to consult your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet. You should do research before purchasing commercialised food for your canine or contact the company of the dog food brand if the sodium information is not found on the packaging.