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Taurine Deficiency in Dogs | Diseases Caused by Amino Acid Deficiency

 

When I first started this blog I had certainly purchased my share of dog treats throughout my life but never really paid attention to any sort of trends in the pet food industry. Now that I’m much deeper into treats and foods that we give our dogs I’ve noticed an overwhelming shift towards grain free pet foods and treats. Have you noticed?

Grain free symbolI had assumed that it was a fad, kind of like a trend for us humans right now is to be gluten-free or carb-free. Things that happen for us humans tend to roll over into the pet industry because we believe what’s good for us must be good for pets as well.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Research is indicating that grain-free diets and other “trendy” diets for dogs may not be such a great thing and could be detrimental to your dog’s health.

 

Back Story

I’ve been having to try a lot of different diets to help relieve my oldest cats’ inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. When I took Wiley to the vet last week the veterinarian and I were discussing the different foods I have tried for him and in the process, the conversation turned to discussing grain-free diets for cats.

Since Maui was with me, we naturally also began to discuss grain-free diets for dogs. What she had to tell me was really interesting and it is definitely worth your time to read on if you are feeding your dog a grain-free diet. The information here may also apply if you are feeding your dog a raw diet, vegan or vegetarian diet, or using a “boutique” dog food.

 

What’s the Problem?

It turns out research is indicating that grain free dog foods, boutique foods, and foods made with what they consider to be “exotic” ingredients may be deficient in an amino acid called taurine. As dogs eat these foods over a period of time they develop a taurine deficiency which is leading to more and more dogs developing what’s called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition that can cause congestive heart failure.

 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to have weak contractions and insufficient pumping ability. The disease eventually causes the chambers of the heart to become enlarged. One or more of the heart valves may begin to leak and signs of congestive heart failure develop.

 

What Is Taurine

Just like there are amino acids that we need in our diet, there are amino acids that cats and dogs need in their diets too. Taurine is one of these amino acids.

Well, taurine is actually a sulfur-containing amino acid but quite often it is just referred to as an amino acid. Taurine is important in the metabolism of fats and plays an important role in maintaining good heart and eye function. Pet M.D. indicates that taurine is also important for the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems.

 

Cats and Taurine

It wasn’t determined until the 1990s why so many cats were developing severe eye problems and many were also dying from idiopathic DCM.

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They figured out cats were getting these diseases because of a taurine deficiency. Cats are unable to synthesize taurine from other amino acids in their body so without it, they were developing feline central retinal degeneration (CRD) and/or dilated cardiomyopathy.

Taurine is now an essential, or necessary amino acid for cats (it is essential that it be added to their diet).

Today’s “complete and balanced” cat foods are supplemented with taurine after the baking and processing phases of food production. For this reason, today’s quality foods including grain free foods should provide sufficient amounts of taurine for your cat’s diet. But I’d still keep my eye on the cheap brands and check the labels!

According to the AAFCO and FDA, extruded (dry) cat food labeled as “complete and balanced” must contain 0.10% taurine and canned cat food should contain 0.20% taurine.

 

Dogs and Taurine

Unlike cats, dogs can make their own taurine from other amino acids in the body. For this reason, it is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs and is not required to be put back into dog food diets. This means that the laws don’t tell pet food manufacturers how much, if any taurine to add to dog foods. There is no minimum requirement that manufacturers have to abide to.

It is been found that because of some baking, cooking, and/or processing methods or feeding incomplete raw, vegetarian, or boutique dog foods many dogs are being found to be deficient in taurine. This is especially likely for breeds such as the American Cocker Spaniel, Newfoundland, and Golden retriever.

Studies are showing that there are likely dietary factors associated with the taurine deficiency in dogs such as dogs that eat rice, lamb, high-fiber, and/or very low meat protein diets. This can point back to the preparation and/or processing methods used, or that many dog foods include meat byproducts, rice, legumes, and soy which are not sources of good meat proteins or any meat protein at all, which means they are not good sources of taurine.

 

Lamb Meal and Rice Diets

Research is indicating that Newfoundlands, Golden retrievers, and giant breed dogs are more susceptible to taurine deficiency especially if being fed a commercially available food consisting of lamb meal, rice, or both as primary ingredients (Sanderson, S.,  2017).

The explanation of why researchers think lamb meal and rice diets are associated with an increased potential for taurine deficiency and DCM is a little long and detailed. You can reference the paper I listed in the above paragraph as well as a couple others by accessing my dropbox HERE.

 

Taurine Naturally in Foods

Muscle meats contain higher levels taurine; the more work the muscles do, the higher the taurine level. Dark meat of chicken and turkey are naturally high in taurine. The heart is the hardest working muscle in any body so it naturally contains high levels of taurine.

Shellfish, white fish, and cold water fish such as salmon or sardines are also very high in natural taurine.

Taurine is not found in fruits, vegetables, rice, corn, oatmeal, rye, wheat, or barley.

 

 

Why is Taurine Missing?

Taurine (as well as other amino acids) found in the ingredients used to make pet food is often broken down during cooking and processing and therefore is not available or not recognizable for metabolism. Heat exposure during storage and transportation can also further destroy amino acids.

In addition, meat byproducts, rice, and plant-based proteins are not good sources of taurine. If your pet food has high quantities of these types of items, it likely means your dog is not getting the taurine it needs to be healthy.

With so many foods going grain free, manufacturers are substituting the grain with things like lentils, soy protein, and chickpeas. These types of foods do not provide taurine to sustain good health.

 

Symptoms of DCM

DVM, Ernest Ward indicates DCM “may have a sudden onset of clinical signs, although the heart disease has been developing slowly and insidiously. Some dogs may develop severe congestive heart failure (CHF) in only a few hours”.

PetMD lists major symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy to include:

  • Sick Labrador retrieverLethargy
  • Anorexia
  • rapid and excessive breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • abdominal distention
  • transient loss of consciousness

 

 

What to Do

Maui is a Golden retriever and she has been on a grain free diet for a while so all of this information kind of freaked me out.

If you’re worried about your dog having a taurine deficiency make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian. When you go in for your appointment be sure to explain your concerns and also bring a bag of your dog’s food (if it’s easy enough to carry) or look up a really great picture of the back of the bag and bring it with you on your phone for your veterinarian to see.

If your veterinarian suspects a taurine deficiency and/or DCM tests can be performed. Once tests are performed they will guide you in the best way to move forward with getting your dog healthy.

 

The great news is once a taurine deficiency has been detected,

the detrimental effects are often reversible

by supplementing with taurine.

 

But, the first step is to examine the food you’re feeding your dog, determine if there is a possibility for taurine deficiency and get your dog to the vet.

 

Research hasn’t completely pinned down 100% the reason for taurine deficiency in dogs, but one thing is for sure taurine deficiency can have a lot of bad repercussions. Be aware of what you are feeding your dog and if the bag does not tell you how much taurine is in the food – ASK!

 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and taurine full day,

Lynne and Maui

  • Karin says:

    Thank you for sharing this article! I have a cat and this gave me some interesting and essential info about her health and diet needs.

    Karin

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Karin, My pleasure! It’s great that they figured out cats need this added to their food so it should be in any reputable brand but be sure to check the label! If it doesn’t say how much taurine is in it you can always contact the company through their website and ask!

  • great site, been a cat and dog owner in the past and never knew anything so in depth was available for pet owners, very informative site, i’m sure many pet owners will find this very helpful for both them and their pets

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Robert, Thank you so much! In everything I do here at thebestpettreats.com I try to be as helpful as possible. I know I like to be informed about products so I’m hoping I’m helping others as well.

  • Carole says:

    Hi Lynne, this is a very interesting post! My daughter has 2 cats and I will forward this to her! Thanks for sharing!

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Carole, thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and for forwarding it to your daughter. Taurine deficiency can be a real serious matter for both cats and dogs. While cat foods should be adding taurine to their diets now, it is still always safe to check the label!

  • Heidi says:

    Wow Lynne that’s such an informative post. We have an Irish Wolfhound pup (well he’s now 18 months old) and they are prone to cardiac problems to start with, so this is such great information for me and him.

    I must say because we feed him a Premium product (not on the cheap side either mind you) I have assumed that it was balanced. Looks like I will be having a closer look at the label tonight.

    Thanks heaps for the blog.

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Heidi, I’m so glad you found the post helpful! I didn’t know about the taurine deficiency problem until speaking with my veterinarian recently. Such a critical thing for people to know! Especially those of us with breeds that tend to be more affected. Remember dog foods do not need to add in taurine so you might need to ask the manufacturer!

  • Hello Lynne,
    This is great to know! I just recently adopted two kitten from the animal shelter. I’ve never heard of taurine before now. I actually just went and looked at what I’ve been feeding mine.
    Their treats, Meow Mix Irresistibles, doesn’t have any taurine showing in the ingredients. My Purina kitten chow has .12%, the Fancy Feast can food only has .07%. I will be more aware now. Thanks for sharing this great information!

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Devara, it’s great that you are checking the packages for taurine levels! Treats are such a small part of a pet’s diet, I wouldn’t worry about those too much but their main food is definitely a concern!

  • April says:

    I have 2 one year old great danes and now i am sp confused on what to feed them. My male keeps having yeast infections and skin issues, but i cant afford the raw diet or expensive foods, because he’s 160lbs, shes 130lbs and they can eat..but now i dont know what to feed them..please help

    • Lynne says:

      Hi April, it is really confusing trying to find a food that works for your pets. I’m going through a similar struggle with one of my cats. As I am not trained in the animal medical field, I definitely recommend checking with your veterinarian. You may have already thought of this but have you joined any Great dane discussion groups online? Someone there might have some good suggestions for you if it is a breed related issue. But I definitely recommend a veterinary check. I hope you’re able to get this figured out!

  • Craig says:

    I recently attended a cat conference in here in Chicago that spent a good chunk of time talking about how important Taurine is as one of key amino acids that animals need.  I had always seen ‘With added Taurine!’ on the side of my cat’s food, but I had never understood why it was there. 

    Clearly cats are a bit different than dogs in they can’t make their own taurine, but I had no idea that a deficiency was such a huge potential problem for dogs too.  I’ll have to look into this for my little corgi! I want to make sure he is just as safe as his sisters when it comes to all the necessary nutrients!

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Craig! Definitely take a look at the ingredient list for your little corgi! Sometimes the label does not indicate that taurine is included so in that case I would definitely contact the manufacturer! I have always found them to be fairly timely and responding. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Britney says:

    Hi! Like you stated in this well-written, informative post, since dog food manufacturers are creating formulas that are grain-free, which don’t contain taurine. This is why it’s important for companies to include meats in their ingredients. I know it’s probably for advertising purposes to target healthier ingredients, but meat is essential to a dog’s diet. It’s important to maintain a balance. 

    Thanks for this thorough post! I look forward to reading more of your articles;

    B

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Britney, Even some foods that contain meat are low in taurine because all of the processing that the meat goes through removes taurine from the final product. Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you liked the post!

  • AV 2001 says:

    Hey Lynne, 

    Just recently, one of my friend’s pet dog was suffering from this disease so I went with him to the doctor to find out what’s wrong. We took him to the doctor because we noticed that his heart area increased at a rapid pace in just a couple of weeks. We went to the doctor and he recommended the exact same foods that you’ve suggested like Salmon and Sardines. I’ll share this with my friend so that he gets a much better idea as you’ve explained it in a detailed manner. 

    Thank you for taking your precious time in writing this post. Well Done Lynne! 

    • Lynne says:

      Hello, I’m so glad that what I put in this post will be helpful to some people! You validated this by indicating my suggestions are what your friends veterinarian also suggested. I really appreciate your sharing this post with your friends! Please let us know how your friend’s dog is doing 🙂

  • Mariah says:

    Wow! Thanks for your thorough breakdown of an obviously very important topic. I have a Golden Retriever so I’m really glad I stumbled on your article. I now know the signs that I should watch for. I am a bit unclear on something though. Maybe you could clear it up for me. I just didn’t quite understand after reading your article and I must just be missing it. But you said that Taurine is found in muscle meat but then you also mentioned a few times that dogs on grain free diets might be at risk for it so is grain actually beneficial? Can the grain supply taurine somehow? Like I said I probably just didn’t understand everything that I read. Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Mariah, Taurine is found in muscle meat.

      Taurine (as well as other amino acids) found in the ingredients used to make pet food is often broken down during cooking and processing and therefore is not available or not recognizable for metabolism. Heat exposure during storage and transportation can also further destroy amino acids.

      In addition, meat byproducts, rice, and plant-based proteins are not good sources of taurine. If your pet food has high quantities of these types of items, it likely means your dog is not getting the taurine it needs to be healthy.

      With so many foods going grain free, manufacturers are substituting the grain with things like lentils, soy protein, and chickpeas. These types of foods do not provide taurine to sustain good health.

  • j52powell says:

    I have had animals become very ill in the past, mostly from parasites, and it is very discouraging.  With parasites I believe the diagnosis is pretty easy to make and treatment usually straight forward.  With something like a taurine deficiency it seems more complicated.  Trying to make sure your dog has the right diet means research and scouring through ingredient lists.

    If you know, why don’t you publish a list of dog foods that are acceptable?  That would help cut through the necessity of perhaps lengthy research.

    Thanks.

    • Lynne says:

      Hi, What a great idea to post a list of dog foods that have acceptable levels of taurine! That will take a lot of research on my part but I can plug away at it and at least come up with a list of maybe 10 great options. Thank you for the idea and thanks for stopping by!

  • Caterina says:

    Wow. This is a great article. I have a Shitzu and we have been trying to give him “healthy food.” He has been really lethargic lately and now I am wondering if this is the problem. I am going to have to get him to the vet to get checked out. Thank you for the great information.

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Caterina, It might be the food or could be something else. One way or the other I think you’re right, getting him to the vet for checkout is a great idea! Thank you so much for stopping by. Let us know how your pup is, we don’t like to see any puppy not feeling well 

  • Trish says:

    Wow Lynne, am I ever glad I came upon your post here, Thank YOU.

    I’ve been feeding my Chloe and Simona (Chihuahua mixes – not siblings) one small bag of kibble that is labeled as grain-free, every 5th or 6th bag of kibble. After reading your post here, I won’t be buying that variety again. I mix up the flavours offered to the girls so they won’t get bored with their kibble, but this stuff sounds out and out dangerous.

    Think it’s time I start investigating the best brands of dog foods once again to see which brands are the best. I had to do my researching 5 years ago when I got these two babies… and after noticing the quality of the brand’s canned dog foods becoming less and less quality each purchase, and now this… yup, it’s time!

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Trish, Well the food you are feeding them could be just fine. Check the label to see if there is taurine listed in the ingredients. If there is not, contact the manufacturer and ask them how much taurine is in that specific food.

  • Christene says:

    Wow!  What a thorough and informative article.  Very well written, kept me reading until the end.  Thank you for the information.  I have a Labradoodle and she eats predominantly raw meat and I usually throw either a little cooked pasta or rice with a few raw veges in there to bulk it up a little.  You have given me some food for thought and look into maybe increasing her meat intake.  Something to definitely ask our vet about.

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Christene, I’m so glad you found the article helpful and informative! It never hurts to ask your veterinarian about things like this especially when it can affect the health of your pet so dramatically. Thanks for stopping by and we hope you come back again 🙂

  • Jason says:

    Such a great learning experience and will be changing my dog’s diet a little, besides all I seem to ever see is grain free now days, I start to get her some raw turkey necks to get into her diet. My cat and my smaller dog both get rice in their diets so I should be okay with them right? Overall very informative article especially for a new pet owner, and even the veteran. Thanks

    • Lynne says:

      Hi Jason, Grain free diets seem to be the rage right now. It’s not the fact that they are grain free that’s the problem it’s the fact that the proteins they are substituting in the food recipes don’t have the taurine dogs need. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats so your cat foods should have enough taurine in it. As far as dogs go, taurine comes from meat proteins so I cannot say if the diet you are using for your smaller dog would have sufficient amounts of taurine in it. Check the label and if it does not say, you can write the manufacturer and ask how much taurine is in the food you are using.

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