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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

When Taurine and Carnitine Supplements Are a Good Idea

June 08, 2012 / (7) comments


There are times, however, when I must recommend otherwise. For instance, when I am faced with a Newfoundland, Cocker Spaniel, or Boxer with a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).


Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. The disease causes the part of the heart (the left ventricle) responsible for pumping blood that has returned from the lungs throughout the body to become too weak to adequately perform this function. Less commonly, the right ventricle that receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs is affected either in addition to or instead of the left ventricle.


The symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy can include weakness, exercise intolerance, coughing, difficulty breathing, and if the right ventricle is affected, a fluid-distended abdomen.


DCM is primarily a genetic disease. Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Portuguese Water Dogs, Dalmatians, and Cocker Spaniels are at the highest risk for DCM, but the disease can affect any breed, even mutts.


In some cases, a nutritional deficiency can cause dilated cardiomyopathy. The amino acid taurine plays a role in the proper development and function of the heart muscle. Dogs can make taurine from cysteine and methionine, so as long as they eat a diet that supplies sufficient amounts of these amino acids and/or taurine directly, taurine deficiency should not be a problem. However, research suggests that some Newfoundlands and Cocker Spaniels have altered taurine metabolism, and dilated cardiomyopathy caused by taurine deficiency can develop even when one of these individuals is on a diet containing amounts of cysteine, methionine, and/or taurine that are generally recognized to be adequate.


Boxers present another unique scenario. L-carnitine is an amino acid that is necessary for heart muscle cells to make the energy needed for them to contract. One study has shown that a deficiency of L-carnitine in Boxers may play a role in the development of some cases of DCM in this breed.


What does this mean for owners? If you have a Newfoundland or Cocker Spaniel that is diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, taurine supplements should be part of the treatment protocol. The same can be said for Boxers and L-carnitine. Supplementation is not helpful in all cases, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.


This begs the question: Should healthy Newfoundlands, Cocker Spaniels and Boxers receive taurine or L-carnitine supplements? In most cases this is not necessary, but if you are a "better safe than sorry" type of person, doing so might bring you some peace of mind. Taurine and L-carnitine supplements are relatively inexpensive and if they are not needed by the dog’s body, they will be broken down and excreted as waste, which should not be harmful as long as the dog’s kidneys are functioning well.


Talk to your veterinarian about which foods and supplements might be appropriate for your dog.

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Yummy Canine Scramble by Kimberly Gauthier / via Flickr

Comments  7

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  • 06/08/2012 06:01am

    One thing, I think needs to be considered when talking about supplementation and upsetting an ideal balance is that dog food formulas are generally formulated to be complete and balanced for an average healthy dog.

    Truly, though, how many dogs are really completely healthy? Any change in the health state, would then require different things to keep the balance.

    Just as with the DCM, there are other conditions which can benefit from upping of one nutrient or another, or lowering or removing one ingredient or another.

    Arthritis, for example, can greatly benefit from supplementing, at least omega-3 fatty acids if nothing else.

    Digestive issues can benefit from upping vitamin B vitamins.

    Dogs with skin issues might have higher requirements for zinc.

    Vitamin C, though not essential to a healthy dog, a dog that is ill might benefit getting additional vitamin C through his diet.

    I believe, just like DCM, many conditions can be improved via nutritional means, meaning increasing the intake of corresponding nutrient(s).

  • Taurine
    06/08/2012 11:18am

    I've always heard that one should let cats eat dog food because it doesn't contain taurine. Cats with a taurine deficiency can go blind.

    Is a dog's taurine requirement just a great deal less than a cat so the amount in dog food is minimal and not enough for a cat?

  • 06/08/2012 04:14pm

    I assume you meant cats "shouldn't" eat dog food :)

    Dogs can make taurine out of other amino acids while cats cannot. Therefore, all of a cat's requirements must be met through his or her dietary intake.

  • 06/08/2012 10:35pm

    Thanks for the catch! You're exactly right - I meant 'SHOULDN'T EAT DOG FOOD'.

    That's what I get for trying to hurry so I can get to the Day Job. I didn't proof my writing well enough. :-)

    That's very interesting that dogs can "manufacture" taurine and cats cannot. Do you, by any chance, know the science behind that?

  • 06/11/2012 04:36pm

    Cats do not have the enzyme pathways in their livers that make this conversion possible.

  • were to buy
    10/22/2012 10:29am

    I live in the Netherlands and want to buy taurine and L-Carnitine for my Dobermann who has DCM.
    Can you please tell me were to buy or order this supplement in Europe, or to get this to europe??

    kind regards,

  • 10/22/2012 02:50pm

    I'm afraid I don't know. I would check online if you can't find them at a local vitamin/supplement store.