What is Taurine Deficiency?
Taurine is part of a family of nutrients called amino acids. Taurine is not usually termed ‘essential’ because dogs can make it within their bodies from other nutritional components. Most dogs on a normal, healthy diet make all the taurine they need, but occasionally giant breed dogs (Newfoundland) and American Cocker Spaniels have a genetic defect that prevents them from making taurine themselves. Alternatively, another genetic disease called cystinuria can interfere with the proper amino acid absorption, and cause kidney and bladder stones. Taurine deficiency also may manifest as an enlarged heart, which can cause serious health problems for your pet. Schedule a visit to the veterinarian immediately if your dog is exhibiting pain while urinating, passing bloody urine or seems abnormally week.Taurine deficiency is the lack of an amino acid critical to a dog’s health. Normally dogs are able to make this amino acid themselves, but if this ability is impaired, taurine must be derived from the animal’s diet.
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Symptoms of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
- Excessive panting when not exercising
- Collapsing or fainting
- Blood in the urine
- Pain during urination
- Generalized pelvic and abdominal pain
- Moderate to severe blindness
Causes of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
- Genetic (breed) predisposition
- Cystinuria interfering with protein absorption
Diagnosis of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
If you notice your dog is behaving oddly, collapsing, or fainting, see the veterinarian right away. Taurine deficiency has no real symptoms of its own; rather, it causes swelling of the heart and altered metabolism in dogs. These symptoms can arise from many conditions, so be sure to give a detailed history of your pet’s health and past visits to the veterinarian. Some symptoms, such as collapse, bloody urine or trouble seeing may not occur in the veterinarian’s office, so your observations are critical to an accurate diagnosis.
The veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical exam of your dog, and will note any pain present in the abdomen or pelvic regions. The veterinarian should listen to your dog’s heart, and if any abnormalities are discerned, conduct an EKG. This test displays your pet’s heart function with input from electrodes placed on your pet’s chest. To ensure an accurate reading, the areas where the electrodes are to be placed must be shaved. In addition, a chest X-ray may be conducted to visualize further the swelling and/or fluid in the sac around the heart. Other types of medical imaging, such as ultrasound, are also effective for determining the cause of bladder and heart problems. Ultrasound, in particular, is an easy, portable and non-invasive imaging system that can easily be used in your local veterinarian's office.
If your pet’s heart is healthy, blood and urine samples can be analyzed to see where the taurine is being lost, and whether there has been any damage to the kidneys.
Treatment of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
Treatment will vary based on the root cause of the taurine deficiency. The corrective treatment for the deficiency itself will be supplemental taurine, but additional action will be needed to address the heart and/or kidney problems. Pleural effusion, the presence of excess fluid around the lungs, is also a concern and must be swiftly treated by puncturing the area around the lungs and draining the fluid. Kidney stones that are too big to pass on their own must be surgically removed or pulverized using lithotripsy, a sonic tool that shatters stones so they may be passed with reduced pain in the urine.
Supplemental taurine on its own may be enough to stop or reverse the cardiomyopathy, and prevent any further retinal degeneration if the deficiency has affected the eyes.
Recovery of Taurine Deficiency in Dogs
Taurine deficiency can be managed by adding supplemental taurine to your pet’s food at the direction of a veterinarian. Too much taurine can be dangerous as well, so following the proper dosage instructions is critical. This medication must be administered daily for the remainder of the pet’s life or until a veterinarian directs you to stop.
The veterinarian may also prescribe diuretics or other medication to help flush out any kidney stones. Pets on diuretics should be well-hydrated and allowed access to a place to urinate. Make sure there are several water bowls available at all times, and that they are kept full to avoid accidental dehydrations.