Ten essential amino acids for your active dog
August 24, 2020
Taurine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Protein is broken down in the body into smaller chains and individual amino acids, which are then used for virtually every metabolic function: from participating in the transport or storage of nutrients to helping grow and repair new tissue and everything in between.
According to current nutrition standards, there are ten essential amino acids for dogs. Essential amino acids must be obtained from the diet and cannot be synthesized by the body in quantities that will sustain basic metabolic function. Deficiencies in these amino acids can have serious consequences for your dog’s health.
However, taurine isn’t considered an essential amino acid for dogs, because taurine can be synthesized from other amino acids. Therefore, a dog’s body doesn’t require taurine itself if the other amino acids required for taurine synthesis - methionine and cysteine - are present in the diet.
Yet despite taurine not being an essential amino acid for dogs, there have been many cases of taurine deficient dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) diagnosed in dogs. DCM is a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot effectively pump blood. This condition will eventually become fatal.
Studies hypothesize that this issue stems from low digestibility of protein ingredients. Just because a food lists a certain amount of protein on the bag of the back doesn’t mean the dog will be able to utilize all of that protein. This means that even if a food is technically “complete and balanced”, the dog still isn’t getting all the essential amino acids required, because a lot of the protein isn’t able to be fully digested.
Protein digestibility will depend on the source of protein. Fresh meat, fish, and eggs are highly digestible, followed by lightly cooked meats and some meat meals. Some by-product meals, meat and bone meals, or meat meals – most notably lamb meal - have low digestibility. Plant sources are the least digestible sources of protein for dogs. Multiple studies have investigated taurine deficiency in dogs fed lamb meal and rice formulas, and legume heavy grain free formulas have recently been implicated. Both contain protein sources with low digestibility: lamb meal and legumes.
To prevent taurine deficient DCM, the diet must contain highly digestible sources of protein. If the ingredient list for your dog’s food contains multiple legume ingredients, or if the main source of protein is from lamb meal, your dog may be at risk for taurine deficiency.