Dog owners often find themselves sorting through the mountains of information about dog food, overwhelmed by ingredients they can barely pronounce, let alone understand. One such ingredient is taurine – an element not as mysterious as it seems.
What is Taurine?
Taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, stands unique amongst its amino acid siblings. Its primary role isn’t to build proteins; instead, it’s a jack-of-all-trades, involved in a multitude of vital bodily functions.
- Taurine is a “conditionally essential” amino acid: For most mammals, taurine is a “conditionally essential” amino acid, meaning the body can typically synthesize it from other nutrients. However, some animals, like cats, cannot synthesize taurine in sufficient amounts and therefore require it in their diet. Dogs, on the other hand, can usually synthesize taurine from sulfur amino acids methionine and cysteine, but certain breeds may still require dietary taurine.
- Taurine is not used to build proteins: Unlike most amino acids, taurine is not incorporated into proteins. Instead, it plays various roles in the body, including maintaining cell membrane stability, aiding in digestion, and supporting nerve growth.
- Taurine is vital for heart health: Studies have linked taurine deficiency with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, particularly in certain breeds. Taurine supports the healthy function of heart muscles.
- Taurine aids in vision: Taurine is found in high concentrations in the retina and has been shown to be crucial for healthy vision. Taurine deficiency can lead to retinal degeneration.
- Taurine is abundant in meat and seafood: Taurine is plentiful in animal-based foods, particularly seafood and organ meats. It is absent in plant foods, so dogs on vegetarian or vegan diets may require taurine supplementation.
- Cooking can reduce taurine levels: The taurine content of foods can be decreased by cooking, particularly by boiling. However, a diet rich in high-quality meat, even if cooked, should still provide enough sulfur amino acids for dogs to synthesize taurine. I’ll expand that a bit more below.
- Taurine supplements are available but should be used cautiously: While synthetic taurine supplements exist, it’s generally better for dogs to receive taurine from natural food sources, which provide a balance of nutrients. Over-supplementation could potentially lead to issues, including nutrient imbalances.
Sulfur Amino Acids (SAAs) and Taurine Synthesis
One of the marvels of the canine body is its ability to synthesize taurine from sulfur amino acids (SAAs), specifically methionine and cysteine. This becomes particularly critical in the context of those that cook their dog’s meals.
Cooking meat, while enhancing flavor and safety, can reduce its taurine content. However, this doesn’t signify a red flag for your dog’s health. This is where the role of SAAs kicks in. Even if the taurine is diminished during cooking, your dog’s body can cleverly convert methionine and cysteine, abundantly found in meats, into the required taurine.
So, despite the heat-induced loss of taurine, providing your dog with a diet rich in meats ensures an ample supply of SAAs. These SAAs, in turn, fill the taurine gap, thus maintaining the taurine balance in your pet’s body.
This is yet another reason why ensuring a meat-rich diet is pivotal for your canine companion. It doesn’t just offer taurine, but also these vital sulfur amino acids, acting as the building blocks for taurine synthesis. Therefore, even with cooked meals, your pet will be receiving the necessary taurine, one way or another.
36 Food Sources of Taurine
I wanted to expand on an earlier article of Food Sources of Taurine below:
- Raw chicken heart
- Raw beef heart
- Raw lamb heart
- Raw turkey heart
- Whole mackerel (raw)
- Whole clams (raw)
- Whole sardines (raw)
- Raw chicken liver
- Raw beef liver
- Raw turkey liver
- Atlantic salmon (raw)
- Rainbow trout (raw)
- Raw rabbit meat
- Raw venison meat
- Raw lamb meat
- Raw beef kidney
- Raw turkey meat
- Raw chicken meat
- Raw beef muscle meat
- Raw pork muscle meat
- Raw duck meat
- Raw beef tongue
- Raw lamb liver
- Raw chicken gizzard
- Raw turkey gizzard
- Raw beef lung
- Raw lamb lung
- Raw goat meat
- Raw beef spleen
- Raw chicken neck
- Whole herring (raw)
- Whole anchovies (raw)
- Raw beef tripe
- Raw chicken feet
- Raw elk meat
- Raw bison meat
Keep It Natural
In a nutshell, think of taurine as the VIP guest at your dog’s dinner party. This versatile amino acid is found mingling in both raw and cooked dishes, showering your dog with a bounty of health goodies. Sure, cooking might make taurine a bit shy, but a hearty serving of animal protein should keep the taurine party going. Just be mindful of synthetic supplements. They’re like party crashers, bringing along potential nutrient imbalances and not being as readily absorbed. It’s always best to keep things natural when it comes to your dog’s diet!
If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I lean on Chinese Medicine when deciding what to feed a dog.
Unlike the Western Approach which focuses on pathogens and disease and treating those symptoms, the Eastern Approach focuses on treating the root cause.
The body wants to return to a state of wholeness and food can support you in that journey or send you the other way. There may be other reasons that your dog has an imbalance and if you are stuck you can always book a one-on-one call with me.
Thank you to all and I wish you and your dogs good health.
Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.
She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.