When you start researching vegan dog food, you’ll undoubtedly find comments about nutrition, and whether your dog is being deprived of essential nutrients. One word you will see come up again, and again is ‘taurine’. In this article, we explain what taurine in vegan dog diets is.
The short, the answer to the first part of the question ‘are dogs fed a vegan diet deprived of essential nutrients’ is no. Studies have proven that a plant-based diet actually outperforms a meat-based diet in dogs, with vegan canines having far fewer deficiencies than their peers.
However, the one thing that tends to get a lot of attention is protein, even though there are many well-known sources of plant protein which are more than adequate to feed even the largest dog.
There are many other smaller components which are just as important but often slip under the radar. Taurine is a good example of this; despite being essential for the well-being of dogs, it’s very rarely discussed.
Here at Doggie Approved we’re here to change all of that. Being able to give your dog a ‘complete’ and varied vegan diet with all the essential nutrition means understanding every element. Keep reading to find out more about taurine in vegan dog diets and why it’s so important for your pet.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is often described as an amino acid because it’s simpler to group it in this way. However, more technically it’s a sulfonic acid which is a conditional amino acid, rather than a main essential amino acid.
Most types of mammals – including dogs – can create conditional amino acids in their body. Essential amino acids are different and must be consumed. However, it’s not that simple. In order for the body to make taurine, it needs cysteine and methionine plus B6.
The reason why taurine is often discussed is that it’s found in seafood, meat and eggs. It’s not present in any kind of plant-based foods, which is obviously a problem for vegan diets.
Why Do Dogs Need Taurine?
Taurine plays a very fundamental role in the body, so it’s not possible to skip past the fact that it’s easily not found in a vegan dog’s diet.
Within the body, taurine contributes to many biological processes including the regulation of electrolytes within the cells, the production of bile salts and supporting neurotransmitters within the brain.
There are lots of ways taurine helps the body:
- Prevents seizures
- Supports reproductive health
- Guards against obesity
- Defends the liver against damage from free radicals
- Promotes healthy vascular function
- Supports and strengthens the heart
- Protects the eyes and retinas
Taurine’s role in protecting the heart is especially important. Low levels of taurine have been linked to significant heart problems such as dilated cardiomyopathy. Therefore, the importance of having adequate levels can’t be overstated.
Taurine in Vegan Dog Diets – Why is it Important?
As dogs are capable of producing their own taurine, and for a considerable time it was believed that no additional sources were required. However, rising cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in the canine community demonstrated that this wasn’t the case.
Larger breeds are more prone to DCM than smaller dogs, due to their slower rate of producing DCM. Some breeds are particularly prone to problems, even though they’re not especially large, such as spaniels.
However, it was noticed that cases of DCM were rising in breeds where it wouldn’t have been expected.
Research from the FDA has indicated that DCM is affected by diet in around 20-30% of all cases and that dogs who eat high levels of lamb, or “potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other ‘pulses’ (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fibre” may be at greater risk.
This is because eating those foods is believed to potentially lower taurine levels in the blood and without taurine supplementation, there may not be sufficient amounts to protect the dogs against heart problems, and in particular DCM.
Obviously, a vegan dog diet is much higher in those ingredients than a meat-eating dog, so to guard against the risk of DCM, supplementation with taurine is considered to be even more important than ever.
Where Does it Come From?
Taurine is not naturally found in most plant resources so dogs following a homemade vegan diet will need to supplement with taurine, as they won’t be getting a sufficient intake from the raw ingredients alone.
Taurine is typically found in the following ingredients:
As can be seen from this list, the vast majority of sources of taurine are animal products. For those following a vegan diet, this is a problem as there simply isn’t enough occurring naturally in the foods to maintain sufficient blood levels.
Experts don’t yet know whether insufficient levels of taurine are definitely a cause of DCM but there are significant concerns that this might be a link in at least some of the cases. This doesn’t mean that dogs need to avoid the ingredients such as potatoes and legumes, but they must ensure that they’re getting a sufficient amount of taurine supplementation to avoid the deficiency.
This problem with taurine deficiency isn’t unique to dogs. Cats, unlike dogs, are unable to produce their own taurine, and before their food was routinely supplemented with taurine, there were higher levels of DCM.
Cat food now includes taurine automatically and the problems with DCM linked to diet have subsided. It still occurs as there is a genetic link to DCM, but it’s not being caused due to insufficient taurine levels in food. It is believed that dog food should start to include taurine routinely, in the same way, that cat food is to prevent any potential link.
Should You Supplement Dogs on a Vegan Diet?
If you are making your own vegan dog food at home then getting the right levels of nutrients is absolutely vital. Speaking to a canine nutritionist for advice is a very good idea as it’s not simply enough to choose a wide range of vegetables for your dog’s daily food.
Canines need certain nutrients in sufficient quantities, and that includes taurine. If you’re feeding your pet homemade vegan food, taurine supplements will almost definitely be essential for getting the right levels of taurine into vegan dog diets.
In contrast, complete vegan food which is purchased from shops should already contain all the taurine your dog needs. As vegan food doesn’t contain animal products, it’s essential to supplement it with taurine.
This means that the measures being recommended by animal health authorities have already been implemented in vegan food naturally. This gives vegan and vegetarian dogs an advantage over meat-fed dogs who may not be receiving taurine supplements.
To find out more about the complete range of vegan foods available, take a look at the brands we have available.