taurine for dogs, taurine in dog food

As pet parents, we know that our dogs and cats need protein, iron, calcium and many other nutrients to be happy and well. But there’s one nutrient you may be forgetting, or even unaware of: taurine.

Pet parents who are familiar with taurine probably know it as something that cats need in their diet. But that begs the question — what about taurine for dogs? Should pet parents be making sure Fido gets taurine, too?

Here at Vital Essentials, our passion is ensuring your pets have all they need to live their best lives. We are deeply fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and experience of world renowned nutritionist Dr. Richard Patton, so we’ve turned to him to answer your taurine-related questions.

Dr. Patton has over 40 years of experience formulating balanced diets for nearly every kind of animal, from aardvarks and zebras to domestic cats and dogs. He has worked in 25 different countries, has published 28 scientific articles, is the holder of two patents and authored Ruined By Excess, Perfected By Lack: The Paradox of Pet Nutrition. Today, he is one of the most trusted animal nutritionists in the world.

Here’s what he has to say about taurine:

What Is Taurine, and What Does It Do?

If you only know about taurine from the writing on energy drinks, you may wonder if it’s something you should be concerned about. Is taurine bad for you, or for your pets? Is it a natural substance, or artificially made? 

In fact, taurine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is involved in many key biological functions. It supports strong heart muscles and good blood flow, and is also important for normal eye functioning.

According to Dr. Patton:

“Taurine is involved in many crucial roles in metabolism. It’s found in bile acids, so is needed for fat digestion.  It’s stated to be involved in antioxidation, osmo-regulation, membrane stabilization, calcium signaling (metabolic messenger molecules), essential for cardiovascular function, and needed for proper development of skeletal muscle, retina and the central nervous system.”

In short, a high level of taurine benefits many aspects of our health. But does that mean dogs and cats need taurine, too?

The nutritional needs of our pets may seem confusing at first, as there is a lot of contradicting information floating around the web. Remember that the truth is quite simple: the farther we deviate from our pets’ natural, ancestral diet, the more health issues tend to arise.

For example, in the last few years, there’s been a minor controversy surrounding grain free foods. Some veterinarians — though not necessarily nutritionists — have claimed that our pets need grains, and to avoid grain free diets. Major pet food manufacturers (that make grain-heavy kibble) have partnered with veterinarians to support this claim.

But is it true? Is grain free bad for cats or dogs? Not at all!

Experienced animal nutritionists and researchers like Dr. Patton can see from scientific evidence that our pet carnivores DON’T need grains. What they DO need is real, natural meat — particularly muscles and organs. And it’s not a coincidence that the meatiest parts of the body happen to be rich in taurine!

Taurine for Cats

For cats, taurine is an essential nutrient. That means cats can’t make this amino acid themselves, and are completely dependent on having taurine in their diet. Unfortunately, once grain-heavy (and meat-scarce) commercial kibble became the “default” way to feed your pets, it took modern pet food manufacturers longer than it should have to realize the importance of taurine for cats.

As Dr. Patton explains: 

“Researchers showed in the 1970s that cats fed a plant protein-based diet developed life threatening afflictions (blindness, heart dysfunction) that were reversed if supplemented soon enough with taurine. Since this earlier work, it’s been common knowledge that cats need taurine, that it’s essential to be in their diet, and if not in their diet has to be added as a supplement.

I can assure you that for the cat, this was old news, a real no-brainer. Taurine abounds in all meat and meat type tissues. The primordial cat, the feral cat of today, or wild felines of any description do not require taurine supplementation. They are exquisite, consummate predators, so successful as hunters they never lack fresh meat, or the taurine it contains. Now cats on a commercial diet devoid of fresh meat? They will require dietary taurine supplementation, which is far more an indication of a wrong diet rather than something to boast about.”

Perhaps one reason pet manufacturers didn’t realize the importance of taurine at first is because the situation is slightly different for dogs. A dog’s body can build taurine from other nutrients (essentially taking a “DIY” approach). Cats can’t do that — but according to Dr. Patton, that doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with cats, or that a dog’s biology is “better.” 

“Consider this: compared to the cat, dogs are rather lousy hunters,” Dr. Patton points out. “A long-ago mutation in the dog that allowed them to make their own taurine proved a useful adaptation, covering for their intermittent hunting success.”

Cats, on the other hand, have always been skilled hunters. (If you’ve ever watched your own kitty stalk and pounce on a toy, you know what we mean!). Therefore, cats have never needed to “DIY” their taurine.

“Why waste precious cysteine to make taurine, when the cat’s diet contained abundant taurine to begin with? It is domestication and wrong diets that handicap the cat,” Dr. Patton concludes.

Nowadays, pet manufacturers (and many pet parents) know that cats need taurine in their diet to be healthy.

Taurine for Dogs

Okay — but what about Fido? Do dogs need taurine, too? In fact, there are many benefits of taurine for dogs

Dogs are capable of making small amounts of taurine themselves — but that doesn’t mean they don’t need any in their diet! The real benefit of taurine for dogs is the energy and biological resources your dog saves by not having to make their own.

With enough natural sources of taurine in their diet, a dog’s body can use that energy for something else — maybe skin cell repair, or coat health, or improved digestion. There’s even evidence to suggest that a diet rich in taurine may lower your dog’s risk of certain heart conditions.

In short: dogs need taurine, too!

Unfortunately, taurine in dog food is a relatively new concept. Per AAFCO guidelines, taurine is required to be either naturally present or supplemented in cat food. Dog food, however, is only required to include the nutrients that dogs’ bodies use to build taurine (such as cysteine), not necessarily taurine itself. Yet it’s much more efficient for dogs’ bodies to get taurine directly from their food — and not as an added supplement, but as a naturally occurring nutrient in real, fresh meat.

So, how do you make sure you’re feeding your pup the best dog food with taurine? You should be looking for dog food that contains whole meat, and ideally includes all parts of the animal, such as muscle meat, vital organs and bone.

As Dr. Patton points out:

“Taurine is found in all fresh meat and raw meat diets, especially those that contain organ meats. Further, any diet that is extruded, baked, boiled or canned will have its natural taurine level lowered if not obliterated.”

That’s exactly why we use real, high quality meat here at Vital Essentials, making our dog food grain free, protein-packed and nutrient-rich. Plus, all our food and treats are freeze-dried or frozen to retain natural nutrients like taurine — never baked, boiled or cooked!

 

At the end of the day, taurine for dogs is a good thing! Having high levels of taurine in their diet reduces your dog’s need to use up energy building it themselves.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to splurge on vitamin supplements. The easiest way to ensure your dog gets enough natural sources of taurine is by feeding them the real, raw meat they instinctively crave!

Last updated on: 6/10/2022