Taurine is a sulfur-based amino acid that is one of the building blocks of protein, which is critical to your dog’s cardiovascular system, brain, eyes and immune system. Wondering if your dog needs a special dog food with taurine? Dr. Richard Hill, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, recommends a standard diet for all healthy dogs. Most don’t need a special diet, unless recommended by a veterinarian. He says the important thing for dog owners to know is that your pet’s diet must be complete and balanced.
Sources of taurine
Like with humans, the main source of taurine for dogs is in their regular complete and balanced diet. Dr. Hill says a complete diet is one that contains all the essential nutrients to maintain a normal body weight or growth. This includes amino acids methionine and cysteine that automatically generate taurine. Taurine is not required in dog diets because pups can get it by getting enough methionine and cysteine in their food. The American Association of Feed Control Officials and National Research Council have a minimum recommendation for methionine and cysteine in dog food.
Your dog also gets taurine from the meat protein in his diet, and from eggs and seafood in his food.
So how do you know if your pet’s food is complete and balanced? It’s usually clearly marked on pet food packaging. Dr. Hill also urges dog owners to not pick food with the lowest protein content (unless your dog requires very few calories recommended by your veterinarian). Your best bet is to feed a diet that keeps your canine lean and healthy.
You can also get the amino acid taurine in a nutritional supplement specifically made for dogs. These come in powders, liquids or tablets. However, this should only be done under the recommendation of your veterinarian as you don’t want to oversupplement your dog. Your veterinarian will give you the exact dose your dog should take and recommend the best supplement brand.
Breeds that need taurine in dog food
Dr. Julie Steller, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, says some dog breeds may have more taurine-deficiency issues than others, but that research may be inconclusive. She says Golden Retrievers are overrepresented with DCM cases and are a dog breed known to have problems metabolizing taurine. Other dog breeds that have DCM issues include:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Saint Bernards
- English Setters
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Portuguese Water Dogs
While these bigger dogs have had more issues with DCM, Dr. Steller says overall any canine is susceptible to the condition.
The history of taurine in dog food
Dr. Steller says for about 20 years prior to World War II, dog food was primarily meat based and in cans. When metal was needed for war, companies reverted to dry food, which was still primarily meat based. In the 1950s a machine called the extruder was introduced to pet food manufacturing, which made a nice crunchy kibble that required more starches. That began the trend of including less meat and more carbohydrates. Dr. Steller believes that was much to the detriment of the health of cats and dogs at the time. But now pet companies have reversed that trend and are adding more meat into their products and including essential nutrients, which ultimately gives standard pet food more sources of taurine.
Is grain-free food with taurine necessary?
Dr. Hill says no and urges dog owners to be cautious when giving pets grain-free food. Grain-free diets are primarily made up of lentils, peas, legume seeds and potatoes, which are not good sources of taurine for dogs. Natural sources of taurine are animal meats like beef, turkey, eggs or fish.
Taurine in dog food research
Dr. Hill believes most pet foods sold in the United States are fine to feed your pets. He does think larger manufacturers tend to have more extensive research teams, which include veterinarians who are helping determine what ingredients and supplements are best for a dog’s body. Some companies don’t have the same research resources and may have more issues, but the veterinary nutritionist says mistakes can happen to any pet food maker.
The veterinary professor is also wary of false advertising and the use of cute names to lure pet parents to certain products. He believes if you see an advertisement that inflates or demonizes ingredients, that is a clear red flag.
Dr. Steller advises that her patients eat a standard diet of regular dry kibble or canned wet food. She doesn’t believe in fad diets, such as grain-free or raw, and says too much is unknown to feed them anything else. That said, she believes exceptions exist, and some animals do need a special diet, such as dogs with allergies.
Changing your animal’s food should always be done in consultation with your veterinarian, who will have her own thoughts about taurine and grain-free diets in regard to your specific dog’s nutritional needs. If you have concerns or need help with your dog’s diet, try consulting a board certified veterinary nutritionist, who specializes in nutritional management. They have the designation ACVN (American College of Veterinary Nutrition) after their name and a list of them can be found here. Also, when looking for a food for your dog, check to make sure that the dog food company works directly with veterinary nutritionists and does its own nutritional studies.
Be an advocate: know where taurine in dog food is coming from
The DCM scare affected sales of grain-free dog food in the United States. As a result, many grain-free only companies started manufacturing standard dog food, which means there is more variety than ever. However, if you are worried that your dog is not getting enough taurine in his diet, know that veterinarians can easily test a dog’s taurine levels to make sure a pet is not deficient.
Overall, Dr. Hill and Dr. Steller both believe positives can come out of any negative situation. There are now more resources and experts looking into the safety of pet food in the industry. Sometimes working out what went wrong can lead to changes that not only make the pet food industry safer, but the human food industry as well.
The bottom line is while researchers are still investigating if grain-free diets are the cause of DCM, most veterinarians agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Know what your animal is eating. Be an advocate for their health. With so many options, take the time to educate yourself so you can ensure your pet lives a long, happy life.