Should I supplement my dogs’ diets with l-carnitine to prevent DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy)?

In 1988, some scientists speculated that dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs may be related to a deficiency of carnitine, a water soluble amino acid like substance found in animal tissues. DCM causes flabby heart tissue, and a cardiac output insufficient to meet the body’s needs.

Paul Pion, who first discovered the taurine/cardiomyopathy link for cats, stated at the time that: “The evidence is not at all strong enough to prove a cause/effect relationship. Most dogs that we treat for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) with carnitine have NOT responded. It is expensive to treat with carnitine — there is NO reason why owners should go running out to buy carnitine at this time.”

AAFCO’s Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee currently doesn’t consider it a dietary requirement. To our knowledge, no pet food manufacturer includes it in significant quantities in their formulations.

Out of 1000 dogs, 5.5 (mostly purebred) are born with congenital heart conditions. The list of heart diseases another 107.2 dogs will acquire reads like this: heartworms, pericardial, myocardial, and chronic valvular. Some breeds are more at risk for DCM than.

Dogs fed commercial meat based commercial diets are just as much at risk as dogs fed vegetarian diets. Even though carnitine is found in animal tissue, modern processing by pet food companies washes out this highly soluble amino acid, so little if any remains in the final diet.

PETA librarian Karen Porreca, dedicated to keeping up with developments in this unfolding field, shared an interoffice memo with us that she distributed to her coworkers (12/07/94). In it she summarized her research (after talking with Dr. Bruce Keene, at North Caroline State University).

1 — Deficiencies in both taurine and carnitine are highly correlated with dilated cardiomyopathy.
2 — There is evidence that long-term carnitine and taurine deficiency can cause less severe problems, such as an impaired immune system.
3 — Dogs lack the mechanism that herbivores have for storing taurine and carnitine. The amino acids leak out of their kidneys.
4 — Some dogs get DCM from taurine deficiency, and others from carnitine deficiency. If a cure works, some may recover from massive dosages of taurine, and others from massive dosages of carnitine.
5 — Dogs most prone to DCM are: Dobermans, cocker spaniels, boxers, golden retrievers, and any large or giant breed. This list is not inclusive. Karen knows of other breeds having it: malamute, pit bull, Irish setter, and Dalmatian.
6 — Karen recommended supplementation with both taurine and carnitine. Dosage is about 250 mg of taurine per day for taurine (for a 30-40 pound dog), and slightly more for carnitine.

Dogs are scavengers, and normally would eat entire raw carcasses filled with these amino acids. Few dogs are fed that way anymore.

Dr. Mark Kittleson, Professor of Medicine at UC, Davis, wrote us that he has seen an increased incidence of taurine deficiency DCM in American cocker spaniels. Even so, he estimated occurrences at less than 1%.

Personally, we don’t supplement our dogs’ diet with l-carnitine since it hasn’t been proven to prevent heart problems. If it was so simple as to just adding it would prevent DCM, especially among doberman pinchers who have an extremely high rate of DCM, you can be sure research to prevent it would have focussed on carnitine, but surprisingly a high blood plasma content of carnitine doesn’t transmit into a high heart tissue carnitine content.

You can readily order l-carnitine online. Swanson Vitamins sells a superior form called acetyl-l-carnitine for $19.99 per 90 750mg capsules made by NOW Foods. It is difficult to mix into a large amount of Vegedog™ supplement since it readily absorbs moisture from the air which would shorten the shelf life of Vegedog™. Click here to order direct from Swanson Vitamins.

L-carnitine is a helpful supplement to help transport fatty acid into the cells. It, combined with alpha lipoic acid, can literally rejuvenate mitochondria in old animals according to Dr. Lester Packer, director of the Packer Laboratory at University of California at Berkeley. Alpha lipoic acid is the most important antioxidant since it enhances (recycles) other antioxidants such as E and C.
director of the Packer Lab, University of California at Berkeley. Alpha antioxidants such as E and C. diet.

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