In 2018, the FDA released a warning about grain-free dog foods and their potential connection to heart disease. A potential reason? The lack of taurine. But what is taurine, and are there foods with taurine for dogs, even if they’re grain-free? Here’s what you need to know.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid. While it’s primarily found in meats and fish, some mammals can produce their own (except for cats — they must have it in their diet). Dogs are lucky enough to make their own, even though larger dogs have a more challenging time.
Taurine isn’t made on its own, but it comes from a process where methionine (another amino acid) turns into cysteine, which then converts into taurine.
What is the benefit of taurine for dogs?
There are many potential benefits for taurine, and many studies show the correlation between taurine and said benefits.
Some benefits include;
- A regulation in blood flow
- Improvement in heart conditions
- Calming the nervous system
- Improvement in brain development
- Reducing pressure on a dog’s eye lenses
- Improving reproductive health
And that’s just the start. There may be many other functions in which taurine plays a part, but these benefits have been the most studied.
Are there any risks with taurine?
Currently, there aren’t many risks due to supplementing taurine. As of now, there isn’t a known upper limit to the amount of taurine a dog can have.
But some vets note that too much taurine at one time can cause an upset stomach and potential loose stool. However, this is rare.
And it’s important to note that many scientists and vets consider taurine a non-toxic supplement. Unlike calcium or vitamin D, your dog can’t overdose on or have too much taurine in their system.
How much taurine does a dog need?
It is recommended for a dog to have 1000mg per day for every 40 pounds. In other words, a 40-pound dog will need about 1000mg a day. A 20-pound dog may only need 500mg, while a 120-pound dog will need 3000mg daily.
Before supplementing taurine or increasing its dose in your dog’s diet, discuss the change with your vet and get their professional opinion.
What are the symptoms of taurine deficiency?
A taurine deficiency can lead to;
- Panting without exercise
- Muscle weakness
- Kidney problems
- Pain while urinating
- Blood in your dog’s urine
- DCM (or Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy) which causes heart murmurs
- Shortened lifespan
You must see your veterinarian immediately if your pup shows any taurine deficiency signs. Long periods of a taurine deficiency can lead to severe heart problems, retinal atrophy, and even death.
What breeds require more taurine?
Did you know that large dogs produce taurine slower than small dogs? Because of this, most large and giant breed pups are at risk for a taurine deficiency.
And your dog’s breed can play an important part too.
Larger breeds like :
- American Cocker Spaniels
- English Setters
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
Each are genetically prone to DCM and may need more taurine in their diet. But, small breeds like Miniature Schnauzers and Shih Tzu have also been prone to taurine deficiencies.
Of course, more taurine won’t always mean that your dog won’t get DCM. But, since there aren’t many potential adverse effects of supplementing it, it’s better to be safe and keep it in your dog’s diet.
Discuss your dog’s specific needs with your vet based on their breed, including how much taurine they may require in their daily diet.
Where do dogs get taurine from?
Taurine is found in beef, chicken, fish, turkey, pork, and eggs. But it’s also found in dairy, seaweed, nuts, and synthetic (or chemically reacted) taurine from labs. Here are the highest sources.
Fish like tuna, trout, and salmon have the highest taurine concentration per pound. Yellowfin tuna offers 994mg per 100g serving, while salmon provides 94mg per 100g serving.
Remember that 100g is equal to about 3.5oz of protein. Most dog foods include upwards of 70% protein content, giving your pup much more than 3.5oz of protein per serving.
Shellfish — including oysters, mussels, and clams — are also high in taurine. While these aren’t always found in dog foods, they have become more popular. Mussels have a whopping 655mg of taurine per 100g serving.
Poultry is one of the most common animal proteins that you’ll find in dog food. And luckily, it’s high in taurine, providing 169mg per 100g. But focus on the “dark” meat, like thighs, liver, and giblets. These have more taurine than chicken breasts.
Red meats like beef, pork, and goat also contain high taurine levels. Beef is the most common protein in dog food, offering up to 160mg per 100g serving, depending on the cut.
Your dog will most likely get taurine from the animal proteins in their food and the supplemented taurine that many dog food brands add to the formula. This ensures that they get the recommended dose in their daily meals.
What foods block taurine absorption in dogs?
While there isn’t a particular food that blocks taurine absorption, there are ingredients that don’t offer much support. Lamb meal and rice diets, soybean-based diets, rice bran, and high fiber diets have shown a potential reduction in taurine status.
Are taurine supplements safe for dogs?
Yes, taurine supplements are safe for dogs. This amino acid is currently considered non-toxic, even in larger doses. The only potential side effect is a rumbling tummy.
Remember, dogs can make their taurine. So if they don’t always get the recommended dose, their bodies can typically supplement it when needed. And you may not have to give your dog taurine supplements if their food already offers it.
If your canine’s dog food is high in protein, especially chicken, fish, or beef, and has these ingredients at the top of its list, your dog is getting plenty of taurine.
Also, some dog food brands add synthetic taurine to boost the dosage. That’s okay too. It’s safe and keeps you from buying the supplements to add to your dog’s diet. Studies show that synthetic taurine isn’t harmful and is a great way to supplement.
What if my dog is allergic to the foods that offer taurine?
Many dogs are allergic to beef and chicken. In fact, these are two of the most common allergens. But if your pup can handle fish, eggs, turkey, or pork, it’s okay to switch to a formula that offers those meats as the primary source of protein.
But if your dog is allergic to almost all of the proteins on this list, you’ll need to feed them a taurine supplement. Remember to calculate the correct dosage amount to ensure your dog gets what they need. And as always, if you have any questions or concerns, talk to your vet.
Taurine For Dogs: It’s Essential
While most pet parents won’t have to supplement taurine in their dog’s food, it is vital to ensure they eat a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.
If you feel your dog has a deficiency at any point, please see your vet as soon as possible. A taurine deficiency can be health threatening, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.