Carnitine Deficiency in Dogs

PetMD Editorial
June 30, 2009
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L-Carnitine Deficiency in Dogs

L-carnitine is an important nutrient that acts as a transport for fatty acids, essential for the cellular production of energy.

L-carnitine is an important nutrient that acts as a transport for fatty acids, essential for the cellular production of energy. Deficiency of this nutrient can cause a variety of health problems for animals; most significantly, the association with heart disease (cardiomyopathy) in dogs. The heart and skeletal muscles do not synthesize the nutrient on their own, requiring it to be transported there for use. Because of this, when the body is deficient in carnitine, the heart and skeletal muscles are negatively affected. While carnitine supplements are not always able to reverse the effects of this deficiency, they have proven to be the most successful course of treatment.

Symptoms and Types

The signs of this deficiency may include:

  • Heart muscle failure
  • Enlarged heart (dilated cardiomyopathy)
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weakness (lethargy)

L-carnitine is important for muscle tissue to receive energy and function normally; therefore, a deficiency in this nutrient can create a negative impact throughout a dog's body.

Causes

While causes of carnitine deficiency is unknown, it is believed some dog breeds show an increased risk of developing the deficiency, including Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and other giant breeds.

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose this deficiency, heart (endomyocardial) muscle biopsies must be performed to measure carnitine levels.

Treatment

The size of the dog will determine the proper dosage. While L-carnitine supplements may improve this deficiency, keep in mind that many dogs will not show improvement. In addition, some dogs will show an increase in diarrhea as the carnitine dosage in their diet increases.

Living and Management

After the carnitine treatment begins, it is recommended that the dog have an EKG (echocardiogram) every three to six months to ensure the treatment has been effective.

Prevention

There are no known methods of prevention, other than maintaining a healthy diet for your dog and monitoring for signs of deficiency, especially if your dog is a breed that is known to be affected by this condition.