Peas and Potatoes and Taurine, Oh My!

By Laurie S. Coger, DVM, CVCP

A recent article in Pet Food Industry magazine carried the title “Popular novel pet food ingredients lack in-depth research.” The article focused on the current problem with dogs, especially Golden Retrievers, eating grain free foods and developing dilated cardiomyopathy, a sometimes fatal heart condition. The thrust of this article, which you can read in the link above, is that we don’t know enough about these ingredients to use them in commercial kibble. However, the pet food industry has “long conducted scientific research on dogs’ and cats’ nutrient needs and usage of pet food ingredients, yet most is on “traditional” ingredients: proteins like chicken and beef, as well as grains such as corn, wheat and rice.” In fact, at least one veterinary nutritionist has encouraged owners to go back to grain containing kibbles, made by large companies who have been in business for many years, utilizing traditional ingredients and grains.  Hmmm….

Regardless of the amount of research that has been done regarding the use of potatoes and legumes such as peas, chickpeas, lentils, and their by products such as pea protein isolate, I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room. That is the answer to the question of why these ingredients are being used in the foods at all.

First, these ingredients are being used to provide starch, in order to create the dry food form we commonly call kibble. Most kibbles contain around 40% starch. The problem with this is the dog has no nutritional requirement for starches (carbohydrates).  None.

Second, the legumes and their by products are being used in kibble manufacturing to provide protein. And while, as pointed out in the article, we know a fair amount about how these ingredients impact human nutrition, we don’t know a lot about their bioavailability or other factors in dog nutrition. We do know that peas are low in taurine, as well as methionine and cysteine, which the dog’s body can use to make taurine. And we also know which foods are high in taurine. Shellfish, such as clams, mussels and oysters contain abundant taurine, as does dark poultry meat, like chicken or turkey thighs. Sardines are another good source. Heart is logically rich in taurine, while eggs contain a high level of cysteine, allowing the dog to make his own taurine when combined with methionine.

Does it make sense to you to feed your dog a diet that:
  • Is largely composed of a nutrient category (carbohydrates/starches) that he has no requirement for
  • Uses ingredients to supply protein that are not meeting the dog’s amino acid (protein) needs

I don’t think so! Even if you don’t have a Golden Retriever, even if your dog does not have heart disease, why would you feed him things he doesn’t need and risk shorting him on things he does?

You are probably now wanting to take action, to make sure your dog is getting the taurine he needs. You are also trying to figure out what you should be feeding, where to get it, how to do, etc. The first thing to do, especially if you have a Golden Retriever, is read about the study at the UCDavis Veterinary School, and possibly submit your dog’s blood sample to them for a taurine level. This Facebook group has a great files section with all the info you need. Second, you might want to add some whole foods, such as sardines or oysters, to your dog’s current food to boost taurine. (It is very important to wait to do this until you have had blood drawn for a taurine test, if you are testing.) Commercial taurine supplements are also available, and dosing can be obtained from your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist. I find whole food sources more appealing, and more easily given, but either option is effective.

For those of you contemplating changing diets, I heartily (pun intend) recommend a balanced whole food diet. My recommended books with recipes you can easily make are listed on my page. These include both raw and cooked meal plans. Want a personalized approach? I’ll be launching a meal plan formulation service at the end of the month — stay tuned for details. Most of all, I encourage you to read more, research your options, and make you best decisions for your best friend. After all, when we know better, we do better.

As always, please comment on my Facebook page, and like and follow to get more info about how to naturally care for your best friend.


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