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Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats

Winner of the Better Health for Life Award from
The Cat Writer's Association, 2001, Best Holistic Pet Care Book.

 

<Sample chapter from the book: Taurine>

Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats

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Common use: Heart disease
Taurine is a beta amino acid required by cats but not dogs. There are two reasons for this. First, the liver of the cat has a limited ability to make taurine, as the rate-limiting enzymes required for converting methionine and cysteine to taurine are only minimally active in the feline liver. Second, cats lose taurine in the secretion of bile acids (whereas other mammals also use glycine in the conjugation and secretion of bile acids, freeing up taurine for other uses). Found in the nervous system (including the retina) and muscles (especially the heart), taurine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the body (and is the most abundant free amino acid in the heart). It is thought to help regulate heartbeat, maintain cell membranes, and affect the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Taurine also protects the heart from calcium overload and assists in calcium uptake by the heart cells during periods of hypoxia (reduced oxygen levels).

 

Therapeutic Uses
In people, taurine's best-established use is to treat congestive heart failure. Animal research as well as other, much smaller studies in humans have also found positive effects. One very small study compared taurine with another supplement commonly used for congestive heart failure, Coenzyme Q10. The results suggest that taurine is more effective.

As mentioned above, dogs do not have a dietary requirement for taurine, since they can make it out of vitamin B and the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Cats cannot do this; as true carnivores, they require dietary taurine.

Deficiencies can occur in dogs and cats fed vegetarian diets, as taurine (or the precursors for taurine) is present in meat but not in vegetables.

In cats, dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart enlarges due to the heart muscle becoming thin and flabby. This weakened heart muscle fails to pump blood properly, leading to congestive heart failure. Several years ago, even commercial pet foods with the 'correct' levels of taurine caused dilated cardiomyopathy in cats. The cause was unknown but may have been due to a defect in the absorption of dietary taurine. It was also possibly caused by the fact that the 'correct' level of taurine was no longer 'correct.' As a result, manufacturers of commercial pet foods responded by increasing levels of taurine in the diet (so that we now have new 'correct' levels in commercial food). Currently, this move seems to have worked, as dilated cardiomyopathy is almost never seen. Interestingly, cats fed homemade meat or fish-based diets did not seem to have this problem with increased incidences of cardiomyopathy.

In cats with taurine deficiency that causes dilated cardiomyopathy, clinical improvement is usually seen within 2 to 3 weeks following supplementation. Improvements in the EKG and radiographs will often take 3 to 6 weeks. The goal of taurine supplementation is to achieve plasma taurine levels of at least 60 nmol/mL (normal cats usually have levels >40 nmol/mL). Not all cats with dilated cardiomyopathy have taurine deficiency as the cause of the cardiomyopathy; those cats with normal taurine levels would not he expected to respond to supplementation with taurine.

In dogs, cardiomyopathy can also occur, leading to congestive heart failure. Preliminary work shows that supplementation with taurine may be beneficial in American Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers with dilated cardiomyopathy. Supplementation with taurine (500 mg twice daily) and L-carnitine (1,000 mg twice daily) in a small number of dogs with low plasma taurine levels resulted in improvement in a few of the patients. While not all doctors agree, many practitioners feel that since American Cocker Spaniels are predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy with concurrent taurine and (possibly) carnitine deficiencies, supplementation with these two compounds is suggested for Cocker Spaniels with dilated cardiomyopathy.

Dogs with chronic valvular disease, the most common heart disease reported in dogs, usually have normal plasma taurine levels, making routine supplementation unlikely to be of benefit (although supplementation would not be harmful).

Taurine deficiency can be diagnosed based upon testing levels in the blood. Plasma levels are more indicative of recent taurine intake; whole blood levels are more suggestive of chronic taurine intake. However, even with normal blood levels, it is possible that levels of taurine in the heart muscle cells might not be adequate. Even for those pets without low blood taurine levels, supplementation can be tried without side effects.

In people, taurine has additionally been proposed as a treatment for numerous other conditions, including heart attack (to prevent dangerous disturbances in heart rhythm), stroke, hypertension, epilepsy, gallbladder disease, alcoholism, cataracts, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and diabetes. The evidence for using taurine to treat these disorders is weak and, in some cases, contradictory.

Taurine has also been recommended for pets with epilepsy. However, the only evidence to date is experimental. Still, since taurine supplementation will not hurt the pet, it can be added to the therapeutic regimen for epileptic pets following your veterinarian's advice.

 

Sources
Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and fish are good sources of taurine.

 

Dosages

  • For cats, a typical therapeutic dosage of taurine is 250 to 500 mg 2 to 3 times daily.
  • For dogs, a typical therapeutic dosage is 500 mg 2 to 3 times daily.

 

Safety Issues
Taurine is thought to be quite safe. However, maximum safe dosages of taurine supplements for children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets.

As with any supplement taken in multigram doses, it is important to purchase a reputable product, because a contaminant present even in small percentages could cause problems.


 

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