Nutrition and Heart Health

mitochondria & muscle
beneficial nutrients for heart health graphic

Optimal heart health depends on a pet’s overall health status. Maintaining dogs and cats in ideal body condition is fundamental to their well-being. Including a nutritional assessment during every veterinary exam can help pet owners meet this health goal for their pets.

For heart-focused health, nutrition can play a key role in supporting cardiac function. 

Read more to learn how specific nutrients can positively impact heart health.

fatty acids graphic
Adapted from Lopaschuk et al., 2010 & 2017

Fatty acids

These nutrients are the primary substrate used by mitochondria to generate energy for the heart, in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

However, mitochondria are also metabolically flexible – they can use different substrates to adapt to nutrient availability, changing cardiac workloads, or altered metabolic conditions. Other energy sources include glucose, ketones, and branched chain amino acids (BCAA).1–3 

medium chain triglycerides

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)

MCTs provide a source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). With shorter carbon chains, MCFAs do not require transporters for uptake into mitochondria. With fewer metabolic steps involved, MCFAs are more rapidly oxidized into energy.

Studies have also shown that MCTs can reduce mitochondrial and cytoplasmic reactive oxygen species which has a favorable impact on cardiac disease progression.5–8 

omega 3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids

Research shows that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have numerous cardiac benefits: they help reduce inflammatory mediators and oxidative stress, stabilize cardiac arrhythmias in dogs, reduce blood pressure, and reduce cardiac remodeling in heart disease.9–17

Cardiac cachexia is common in dogs with congestive heart failure, and loss of lean body mass is associated with significantly shorter survival times.18–19 Inflammation appears to be causative or contributory for cachexia. Thus, another benefit of omega-3s may be decreased adverse effects from inflammation on lean body mass.20–22

amino acids

Amino acids: taurine, lysine and methionine

Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in heart tissue. While its exact role is not yet known, studies show taurine is important for maintaining heart muscle contractility and homeostasis.23–25 In cats, taurine is an essential amino acid, however, taurine deficiency can lead to myocardial failure in both dogs and cats.26 

Lysine and methionine are amino acid precursors for the synthesis of carnitine, a peptide which helps transport long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria for ATP production.27 

vitamin e

Vitamin E

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are a result of cell metabolism. However, if ROS accumulate, then oxidative stress increases, leading to cell membrane damage, DNA damage and protein denaturation. Excess ROS can also trigger a cascade of molecular events that contribute to heart disease. Vitamin E is a cellular antioxidant that scavenges ROS and prevents damage from oxidative stress.

Under conditions of mitochondrial dysfunction – which contributes to heart failure – ROS levels increase, raising the need for antioxidants.28–32 



Magnesium has multiple roles in maintaining healthy heart function, including antiarrhythmic and antioxidant actions. In heart cells, this mineral also helps transport ATP. In people, inadequate levels of magnesium correlate with heart failure and increased risk for cardiovascular disorders.33–36

Purina's research

purina research

Purina research showed how nutrition can positively affect aging hearts.

Aging hearts do not adapt to disease or environmental changes as well as younger hearts. Studies have shown that increases in a particular molecular cascade, called the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway, are among the many changes associated with accelerated aging.37–39

old heart graphic

Purina scientists mined publicly available gene expression data of aging hearts.40, 41

This computational approach revealed that four genes for the Wnt signaling pathway were downregulated in older hearts. 

However, dietary intervention with caloric restriction or supplementation with the antioxidant resveratrol restored gene expressions to the levels seen in young hearts.42–43

This research showed how nutrition could positively affect heart aging at the molecular level, which led to studies exploring ways that specific nutrients could support or improve cardiac function. 

Key things to remember

  • Many nutrients have recognized benefits for heart health.
  • Fatty acids are the primary source of ATP generated by cardiac mitochondria.
  • Purina’s computational study shows how nutrition can have positive impacts on heart aging.

Explore areas of transforming heart health:

Find out more

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