The surprising link between the heart, neck, and thoracic spine health
As dog lovers, we all want our beloved pups to live long and healthy lives.
Out of all the elements that contribute to keeping your furry companion happy and fit for many years to come, your dog’s heart health is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.
We must be on guard for our dogs' hearts and, to do that, we first need to better understand how their organs, nerves, and bone systems are interconnected.
You might find it surprising to learn that canine heart health is closely related to how healthy your dog’s neck, thoracic spine, and the space in between their shoulder blades are.
Let me explain.
The hidden connection between neck and heart health in dogs
Your dog's heart is a complex organ; while it is, to a degree, autonomous, it is greatly comprised of parasympathetic and sympathetic nerve fibres that originate in the neck.
The parasympathetic fibres (the vagus nerve) is responsible for slowing the heart rate and increasing digestive activity.
The sympathetic fibres kick in when there is stress (a fight or flight response), which increases the heartbeat and respiration rate to provide the body with the energy needed to react to danger.
Unfortunately, many dogs are still on collars and jerky retractable leashes that can cause serious but often undetected damage to the neck and nerves that originate there.
Also, if a dog pulls on their leash, the energy flow decreases in the jugular veins and carotid (main neck) artery, as does the flow in their body meridians.
What do the interscapular region and your dog’s heart health have in common?
It may surprise you, but dogs' front legs are attached to their bodies only by muscles and fascia rather than a joint, as in the human body.
While this design is fine for the lifespan and lifestyle of a wild canine, our dogs live longer, and as they age, the muscles that suspend their front legs often get injured, spastic, and fatigued.
This can cause an uneven pull on the thoracic spine, leading to energy, blood, and nerve flow congestion that affects underlying organs such as the heart, lungs, esophagus, liver, and spleen.
An obstructed energy, nerve and blood flow can make the heart especially vulnerable and weak, which may lead to various heart problems in dogs, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), heart arrhythmia, and even tumours.
I have seen this many times in my practice, and the more severe the problem, the more sensitivity and pain the dog is in.
Interesting fact: Some dog breeds are more prone to heart disease than others due to the alignment of their forelegs and shoulders. Straight-legged dogs (like Boxers and Dobermans) with a narrower interscapular space are commonly affected by cardiomyopathy and other heart conditions.
3 ways to keep your dog’s heart healthy
and extend their lifespan
1. Protect your dog's neck and back health
Massage and pay attention to the thoracic spine, especially the space between the shoulder blades.
Establish a good connection with an animal chiropractor, acupuncturist, or physical therapist to check your dog’s spine regularly.
Play gently if you play tug-of-war, keep the sessions short, and never twist or turn their neck or lift them in the air with a stick or a toy they're holding onto.
2. Strengthen your dog’s heart through exercise
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is crucial for maintaining your dog’s heart health. While a leisurely walk or a gentle jog can be beneficial, they are not enough to keep your dog's heart fit.
Dogs need to have regular bursts of high-intensity exercise to improve their cardiovascular health. Examples of high-intensity workouts include sprinting, playing, and hill running.
Beware of long periods of fetch or high jumping, as they often lead to injuries. Remember — your dog would never chase 50 rabbits in a row in the wild. Overuse and one-sided exercise are never optimal.
However, mindfully incorporating a few rounds of these exercises can significantly improve your dog's cardiac health in the long term. Be moderate, and remember that too much or too little intensity is never ideal. An injured dog with a strong heart is an unhappy dog.
Note: As our dogs age, they may gradually start transferring their weight from the back to the front, leading to muscle tightness and injuries in the lumbar spine, hip joints, and adjacent muscles.
This, in turn, can cause thoracic spine tightness and have a profound effect on the heart. This is why maintaining the strength of the hind legs is essential.
3. Provide heart-supporting meals and supplements
What is the best food for dog heart health?
I will keep it simple: processed food is not optimal for dogs or people. If you can, feed your dog wholesome, ideally raw non-processed food.
Raw red meat especially contains several heart-supporting components:
Taurine maintains proper heart function
L-carnitine aids in energy metabolism
Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant that supports energy production within heart cells
- B vitamins, such as B12 and B6, are important for cardiovascular health
Here is a link to our FREE Recipe Maker if you would like to switch your dog to healthy natural food:
What supplements can help prevent or treat heart disease in dogs?
Here are the four essential nutrients, the Fab4, to protect your dog's heart:
Note: If your dog’s breed is prone to heart disease or they have been diagnosed with a heart problem, give a double or even triple dose of Omega-3 oil. Supplementing your dog’s diet with Omega-3 fatty acids is proven to help reduce inflammation in the body, improve cardiovascular health, and promote healthy aging.
Which superfoods are beneficial for canine heart health?
Hawthorn is often called the "heart herb" because it is believed to support heart health by improving blood flow, strengthening the heart muscles, and reducing blood pressure.
Turmeric contains a powerful compound called curcumin, which has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is believed to help reduce inflammation in the arteries and improve blood flow, leading to better heart health.
Ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help reduce inflammation and prevent damage to the heart. It has been used traditionally to support cardiovascular health and improve circulation.
- Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants and has been found to help reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar control. These benefits can contribute to better heart health and lower the risk of heart disease in dogs.
P.S. Most of this knowledge can also be applied to your own cardiovascular health.