What is Taurine Used For In Dog Food? Is It Healthy

French bulldog eating from bowl
© Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jaydee Williams

Published: March 31, 2023

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Dog food contains a plethora of ingredients that may leave you wondering what’s necessary and what is just a filler. Healthy dog food should mainly contain vitamins, nutrients, and nutrient-dense ingredients, with very few fillers. 

If you’re an avid exerciser, you may have heard of taurine due to its prevalence in the workout industry. It’s found in protein shakes, powders, and in many energy drinks. Taurine is also an important ingredient you may find listed in dog food ingredients. This can leave you wondering what taurine is used for in dog food and whether or not it’s healthy. 

What is Taurine?

Cute little husky puppy at home waiting to eat his food in a bowl. Owner feeding his cute dog at home. Pets indoors.

Taurine is a common ingredient in many dog food brands.

©Andrii Spy_k/Shutterstock.com

Taurine is a sulfur-based amino acid. It is naturally found in animal protein — including meats, seafood, and dairy products. It occurs naturally in adult humans and is synthesized from other sulfur-based amino acids in canines. This means that dogs may not necessarily need it directly, but they do need some sulfur-based amino acids. Methionine and cysteine are the two sulfur-based amino acids that can be synthesized into taurine by dogs’ bodies. 

However, as dogs age or develop health issues, their body’s ability to process taurine may decline. This is why many dog food brands contain taurine in its simple form rather than the two other sulfur-based amino acids that can be synthesized into it. While taurine is not a necessary ingredient in dog food, it is healthy for your pup to consume. 

What Role Does it Play in a Dog’s Body?

Golden retriever eating from dog bowl

Golden retrievers can’t produce taurine and often have a deficiency.

©iStock.com/LightFieldStudios

As an amino acid, taurine is a building block for proteins, and it helps regulate many different parts of the body. The role of taurine in dogs’ bodies is actually very similar to what it does for humans. Since it’s a non-essential amino acid, many dogs can create it on their own using the other two acids mentioned above. However, certain dog breeds have the inability to produce taurine, which can lead to a deficiency. Golden and labrador retrievers, Dalmatians, and Newfoundlands are just a few of these breeds at risk of deficiency.

Any off-balance of this crucial amino acid can be dangerous for dogs, so it is key to monitor their levels. A healthy balance of taurine in dogs’ bodies is good for many bodily functions, including those of the heart, brain, and reproductive organs.

What Causes Taurine Deficiency and Related Conditions

Dog Foods For Rottweiler Puppies

In the 1970s, researchers discovered a link between taurine and animal health.

©Rita_Kochmarjova/Shutterstock.com

Taurine deficiencies lead to a condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This is more common in cats, in which taurine is an essential amino acid; however, it is also possible in large-breed dogs like those mentioned above. DCM is a chronic disease that can lead to blindness, heart failure, and death.

It became a prevalent issue in the 1970s because of the switch from canned, meat-based cat and dog foods to dry, grain-based foods. When cats started dying rapidly from congenital heart failure, researchers were able to link the deaths to DCM caused by a lack of taurine in the diet. Because only a few larger breeds of dogs were affected by DCM, the link between the deficiency in dogs was discovered a bit later.

After the conclusion of the research, companies began to add taurine as an ingredient in cat and dog food. However, the issue with DCM and taurine wasn’t always cut and dry. Some researchers found that a lack of cysteine was the root of the problem. Since methionine is metabolized into cysteine and then metabolized into taurine, an off-balance of any of these amino acids can cause a deficiency. This also means that a deficiency can sometimes occur in dogs even when they receive taurine supplements. They need methionine, cysteine, and taurine for their bodies to work properly.

What to Do if My Dog is Deficient?

Your vet can run check your pup’s heart health if they have signs of a deficiency.

©gorillaimages/Shutterstock.com

If your dog is showing symptoms of a deficiency, like pain while urinating, excessive panting when not exercising, or blindness, it’s smart to have your dog checked. Your vet can run tests to check heart function, like an EKG, and see if the heart works properly. They may also conduct additional tests like chest x-rays, bloodwork, and ultrasounds.

If your vet concludes that your dog has a taurine deficiency after these tests, they should also suggest a supplement. Don’t just start supplementing if you think your dog has an issue, your vet will help determine the proper amount you should supplement. Your dog may also have heart and kidney issues that need to be addressed because of a taurine deficiency.

On a positive note, supplementation has proven effective in controlling and reversing issues like DCM and blindness. If your dog does develop these issues, be encouraged that taurine supplementation can lead to a full and healthy life for your pup.

What to Do if My Dog has Excess of Taurine?

Vegan dog food and raw vegetable ingredients

If you feed your dog a vegetarian diet, ask your vet about any taurine supplements.

©Glenkar/Shutterstock.com

It’s crucial to have your vet prescribe any supplements before you give them to your dog. Even though excessive taurine doesn’t seem to cause many issues, the research is still limited. Research does show that supplementing too much in your dog’s diet may make them feel sick. 

However, dogs absorb taurine through meat protein, so if you are feeding your dog a vegetarian diet, it is very important to also give them a supplement. Generally, excessive levels of taurine in supplement form have been shown safe for both cats and dogs. It is much more dangerous when a dog is deficient rather than over-saturated with this important amino acid.

Choosing the Right Dog Food

One of the best ways to prevent health problems in your pup is by feeding them the right food. We’ve compiled a list of the best dog foods to feed Fido, so you can make an informed choice.

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About the Author

Jaydee Williams is a writer at AZ Animals where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. She has over 5 years of experience in writing and researching and holds a Master's Degree in English from the American College of Education, which she earned in 2019. A central Florida native, Jaydee loves being on the water, playing music, and petting her cat, Beans.

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