There has been quite a lot of talk recently about taurine for dogs - “What are the benefits”, “What is taurine” and “Do I need to feed taurine.” It's understandable that this has been such a hot topic lately as just last year there were increased Vet reports of the heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain types of commercial diets (generally grain-free kibble) as well as dogs showing low blood levels of taurine which can also lead to DCM. The FDA thinks the cause of DCM is from legumes and potatoes in grain-free foods inhibits taurine absorption - this leaves a lot of pet parents who feed kibble worried! It’s important to understand that these reports just started in July of last year 2018 so there is still not enough research done yet to confidently state that it ’s solely grain-free diets at blame. The missing link here is why could grain-free diets be causing DCM in breeds not normally predisposed.
The FDA recently released an update in their investigation with brands of dry foods linked to DCM in dogs. Over 500 dogs have been affected, but unfortunately there is not much more we can take from this update. In the beginning of this investigation, pet owners were told to avoid “boutique” foods and exotic ingredients… but when you look at the photo listed below, you can see most exotic ingredients besides Kangaroo are listed as some of the least affected DCM related proteins.
The FDA has left out a very important missing link- what is the quality of these ingredients? Are they using whole chicken and lamb or chicken meal and lamb meal? Are they using whole chicken, including their hearts and organs? In addition, 452 dry foods remain the leading style of pet foods linked to DCM, versus 9 raw diets and 1 home-cooked diet. With regards to the 9 raw diets, only 2 dogs were actually on a raw diet. The others were on grain free kibble that is known as ‘raw boost’. That’s not actually a raw food. There was also absolutely no mention of checking as to whether or not the dogs were fed balanced raw diets and unbalanced raw diets can cause health issues.
Until we find out exactly what is causing DCM, it’s best to feed the way nature intended (fresh meat, organ and bone) to assure your pup is getting essential nutrients.
Now let’s jump into what exactly taurine is and how it’s beneficial to your pup!
Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body, with highest concentrations in brain, heart, retina and skeletal muscle. It's called a "free" amino acid because it does not act as a building block for proteins, but rather works independently performing a variety of important tasks. Taurine’s purpose is to help regulate insulin, help with renal disease, cardiac issues, prevent and/or reduce seizures, help with fatty liver disease and most importantly maintain a healthy heart. Because dogs can produce and utilize taurine themselves, taurine generally does not have to be supplemented into the diet. You can have a veterinarian take blood work on your dog to see if they have low levels of taurine, then talk about a way to supplement taurine into their diet.
If you find your dog does indeed have lower levels of taurine, the good news is that there are plenty of whole foods that contain natural occurring taurine to feed. Whether you feed a commercial kibble diet or raw food, adding these fresh, whole foods to your pup’s diet also provides vital nutrients.
Dark meats: Muscle meats such as beef, lamb, pork and darker parts of poultry provide an excellent source of taurine. Dark meat gets its color from myoglobin, a compound that muscles use to transport oxygen to fuel activity. In addition to taurine, dark meat provides iron, zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins A, K and B complex vitamins.
Heart:Generally speaking, the harder a muscle works, the more taurine it contains when eaten as food. The hardest working muscle in the body by far is the heart which makes it contain the highest concentration of taurine!
Organs: If you feed kibble and want to boost your dog’s bowl, feed fresh organs. Organs not only contain high levels of taurine, but they are densely packed with just about every essential vitamin and mineral your pup needs. Organ meats should not exceed 15% of your pups diet, so be sure you don’t overdo it!
Fish: In addition to the omega 3’s fish provides, fish makes for a great whole food source of taurine! Whole mackerel contains 9.295g of taurine per kilogram of dry weight and Alaskan salmon contains 4.401 g of taurine per kilogram of dry weight! Assure you source high quality fish and freeze for at least 3 weeks before feeding.
Green Lipped Mussels: GLM’s are most known for their anti-inflammatory properties and for containing zinc, iron, and vitamins A and B12 - but they also contain naturally occurring taurine! These are great to feed lightly cooked, raw or air-dried/freeze-dried.
Eggs: The body uses the amino acid cysteine to produce taurine, which promotes cardiovascular and neurological health. Eggs contain large amounts of cysteine, which makes them one of the best foods for boosting intake of taurine! In addition, eggs have all the nutrients necessary to grow a new chicken!
Colostrum: In sow's colostrum, taurine and histidine are the most abundant free amino acids! There are well over 1,000 clinical studies on the benefits of colostrum. Colostrum is commonly used to treat infections as well!
Taurine is broken down by heat, and dry kibble foods undergo an extrusion process, so it’s important to keep the whole foods you are feeding with taurine as fresh as possible and unprocessed. If you aren’t sure about your pup getting a good source of taurine in their kibble, it’s great to top the kibble with a fresh egg or fresh meat. Some inferior foods may be taurine-deficient so it’s never a bad idea to add some extra taurine into the diet. Also, vegetables grown on land do not contain taurine, so all of your best sources of taurine will be from animals!
Keep in mind if you will be supplementing taurine, whole food sources are processed and utilized by their body more than synthetic sources of taurine. If you do prefer to feed supplemental taurine (not from a whole food source) you can feed up to 1000 mg per day for every 40 pounds of the dog's body weight! Supplementing synthetic taurine should always be discussed with your vet before feeding it.