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Taurine Supplements for Dogs

A hand holds out a small piece of food to a pomeranian puppy.

By: Dr. Juli G., DVM

When caring for our four-legged best friends, dog owners are continuously bombarded with endless options for dog food, treats, and supplement recommendations. With the massive amounts of available information and options, knowing what to give your pup to ensure they remain healthy and by your side for as long as possible can be overwhelming.

Recently, dietary causes for heart disease and other illnesses in dogs have been at the forefront of pet health discussions and research efforts. Specifically, a deficiency of the amino acid taurine has been included in these nutritional investigations as a potential cause of heart disease and other problems. Although adding a taurine supplement to your dog's routine may be tempting, it's likely only necessary if your veterinarian advises. Understanding the current research and the role taurine plays in your dog's health will ensure you make the best choices for your dog's health.

A hand holds out a small piece of food to a pomeranian puppy.

What is Taurine?

Taurine is one of the 22 amino acids that serve as building blocks for proper bodily functions. Amino acids are either essential (required in the diet) or nonessential (produced within the body). Unlike cats, taurine is not a dietary requirement for most dogs because they can produce it on their own in most cases.

Taurine is distributed in higher concentrations in the heart, brain, and retina. For some breeds, including American cocker spaniels and golden retrievers, taurine research is ongoing because these breeds are genetically prone to taurine deficiency. Additionally, taurine deficiencies have been associated with other illnesses, including retinal degeneration, myocardial (heart muscle) disease, and stones or crystals in the urine caused by amino acid metabolism problems.     

Sources of Taurine for Dogs

There are no standard AAFCO-stated dietary requirements for taurine in dog food because it is not considered an essential dietary component. Conversely, taurine is an essential amino acid for cats, and standard amounts of it are present in AAFCO-approved cat foods.

Taurine is present in many animal-based diets, including beef, pork, fish, and chicken, which are common protein sources in commercial pet foods. As a nonessential amino acid for dogs, they can synthesize taurine from cysteine and methionine. Food sources of these amino acids include poultry, eggs, and cheese. In some cases, a taurine supplement may be recommended by your veterinarian. 

Causes of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs

Although more prevalent in cats, taurine deficiency in dogs can contribute to various illnesses. Additionally, some dog breeds are genetically prone to taurine deficiencies and have an increased risk for secondary health problems. Breeds at risk include Irish wolfhounds, Doberman pinschers, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, American cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, and labrador retrievers.

A taurine deficiency can be associated with a variety of dog diseases, including:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – This results from a thin heart muscle and enlarged heart chamber, which prevents proper blood circulation. DCM is a known result of feline taurine deficiency, and some research suggests that this can occur with some dog breeds. However, more studies are needed to correlate DCM and taurine deficiency in dogs
  • Retinal degeneration – This eye disease causes degeneration of specific eye cells and can eventually lead to blindness. This is an inherited condition in many dogs, and taurine supplementation has been reported to help prevent this condition.  
  • CystinuriaThis rare, inherited condition is caused by the buildup of the amino acid cystine in the urine, which results in bladder or kidney stones. Affected dogs cannot properly excrete methionine, a cysteine and taurine precursor. Dogs with this condition may be at risk for a taurine deficiency.

In addition to genetic factors leading to taurine deficiencies in dogs, some research has indicated that specific diets are associated with taurine deficiency and subsequent DCM. Specifically, taurine deficiency has been associated with DCM in a study on golden retrievers. Grain-free, legume-based, and homemade diets have also been associated with DCM because most are nutritionally imbalanced. 

Signs of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs

There are no specific signs that indicate a taurine deficiency in dogs. Dogs with associated heart, eye, or urinary issues will have signs related to the particular disease. Ensure to monitor your pup for any changes in breathing, energy levels, sight, or urinary habits, and seek veterinary care to determine the underlying cause. 

Diagnosing Taurine Deficiency in Dogs

Bring your dog for a veterinarian examination if you suspect they have a taurine deficiency or an associated illness. A taurine deficiency is not common in dogs, and research is still ongoing to determine diet-related potential causes of DCM. Depending on your pup's symptoms, your DVM will recommend appropriate tests to rule out underlying diseases or deficiencies, which may include the following:

  • Complete blood count
  • Serum blood chemistry
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood taurine level testing
  • Chest x-rays and heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) 

Do Dogs Need a Taurine Supplement?

Most healthy dogs fed a complete and balanced diet do not need a taurine supplement to remain healthy with proper organ function. A taurine supplement may be recommended for dogs with an increased risk for taurine deficiency, including dogs fed homemade diets. Always check with your veterinarian before changing your dog's diet or adding a new supplement. 

A woman kneels on the floor to pour food in her dog’s bowl.

How to Choose a Taurine Supplement for Your Dog

A taurine supplement should only be administered under the guidance of a board-certified DVM or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Although taurine supplements are generally safe with rare side effects, some may contain additives or additional ingredients that are not safe or necessary for your dog. Animal supplements are not FDA regulated, so choosing a dog taurine supplement that is National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) certified will ensure its quality and efficacy. Additionally, follow your veterinarian's recommendations, as standard dosing on the supplement bottles may not be the required amount to address your dog's deficiency.  

How to Keep Your Dog's Nutrition on Track

Feeding your dog a complete and balanced AAFCO-approved diet will ensure they have the nutrients for proper organ function, including cardiovascular and eye health. Like humans, proper diet and exercise are essential to decrease the chances of disease.

Other ways to support your dog's nutrition and health include:

  • Limit treats to no more than 10% of your dog's daily calories to prevent weight gain.
  • Bring your dog for regular veterinary checkups to ensure they are healthy and receiving proper nutrition for their age, breed, and any underlying health issues.
  • Consult a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist before feeding a home-cooked diet to ensure your dog's diet has all the required nutrients.
  • Boost your pup's diet with veterinary-approved supplements, like Native Pet Omega Oil or Native Pet the Daily, which can support your pup's aging joints and overall health and wellness.

Providing your dog with a complete and balanced diet will ensure their organs have the required nutrients to thrive. While most dogs will not require added taurine in their diet, ensure to discuss with your veterinarian if your pup is a higher-risk breed for taurine deficiency or if they have underlying heart, eye, or urinary issues.

For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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