Before the pet food industry realized taurine was an essential amino acid for cats, many cats were dropping dead from “idiopathic” Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). It was considered idiopathic until they figured out it was actually caused by a taurine deficiency in the early 1990s , so now, “complete and balanced” commercial cat foods must get supplemental taurine added back into the kibble (because taurine, like many other amino acids, is denatured or made unavailable for metabolism after cooking and processing [1,2]).
But since dogs can synthesize their own taurine from other amino acids (unlike cats), taurine is still not considered an essential amino acid for them. So “complete and balanced” dog foods have no minimum requirement for taurine .
Carnitine is another amino acid found in very low levels in dry dog food that plays a large role in heart function, and carnitine deficiency has been a documented cause of DCM in dogs as well . Carnitine is also not considered an essential amino acid for dogs , so commercial dog foods do not have to meet a minimum requirement like they do for the essential amino acids.
Not only are there no minimum requirements for taurine or carnitine in commercial dog foods, but many common ingredients in dry foods have low digestibility and antinutrient effects that further decrease the absorption of taurine, carnitine, and other amino acids [6,8]. High heat processing and extended periods of storage have also been linked to decreased availability and absorption of amino acids [7,9,10,11].
There are many documented cases of dogs developing DCM due to a taurine deficiency [12,13,15,17] and some breeds like Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands are thought to have a predisposition to developing taurine deficiency [14,16,18].
Grain free foods that utilize legumes have been put in the spotlight on this issue , because since many of the legume ingredients they use are high in protein, it can artificially increase the protein percent of the food, leading owners to believe that their dogs will be getting the benefits of a high protein diet. However, legumes contain virtually no taurine, and plant based proteins have low digestibility in comparison to meat based proteins for dogs.
For a lot of dogs, this might not be an issue. But for breeds like Dobermans that are notorious for their suffering cardiovascular health, or breeds that have been documented to have a potential predisposition to developing taurine deficiency like Goldens or Newfies, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that getting enough dietary taurine is essential for optimal health – even if current pet food regulations don’t consider it essential.
So, feeding a raw diet or supplementing the diet with taurine and/or carnitine could help promote a healthy heart and make up for some of what kibble lacks.
Of course, DCM in some breeds like Dobermans is genetic, so unfortunately there is no guarantee this will cure or prevent DCM in every case. But any breed susceptible to DCM can use all the help they can get, and this is just one way to make sure you are providing all the building blocks the body needs for optimal heart health, since it is well documented that kibble alone may not do that.