The Great Grain Free Taurine Debate

July 24, 2018

On July 12th, the FDA issued a broad and rather confusing announcement about a possible link between certain grain-free foods and heart disease Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. While this could have serious implications for the health of many canines, there is a serious lack of information behind this announcement—and that could very well result in an unnecessary panic in the dog food world and especially among consumers.


Here are MY thoughts and a few articles I suggest reading:


What Is Taurine


Taurine is a powerful amino acid that dogs, cats and humans need. In fact, some people take Taurine supplements! Unlike other amino acids, Taurine does not build proteins. It’s found in the brain, eyes, heart and muscle.


So what does it do?


Taurine has many roles in the body, here are some of the big ones:


  • Neurological development, including supporting the central nervous system and eyes.

  • Regulates level of water and minerals in the blood

  • Antioxidant properties

  • Regulating immune system

  • Forming bile salts (important part of digestion)

  • Prevent muscle degeneration

  • Strengthen the heart muscle

  • Prevent arrhythmias


Taurine is found naturally in fish, shellfish, muscle meat and organs (especially heart and liver), milk (fermented goats milk has 20 times more taurine then cows milk), cheese and eggs.


Taurine is NOT found in any ground grown plant:  corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, peas, legumes


Taurine is broken down by heat, so cooking lessons the amount of Taurine in the meat anywhere from a half to two thirds. 

Is Taurine Added To Kibble During The Manufacturing Process?


Dogs (unlike cats) do not require Taurine added in their processed diet, but instead use two other amino acids (Cystine and Methionine) to manufacture the Taurine that they need. For this reason, AAFCO does not have a requirement for Taurine for the manufactures to add taurine in processed dog food, but does have a requirement for Cystine and Methionine. All kibble we carry meet the AAFCO requirements for Methionine and Cysteine.


How Do I Get Natural Taurine Into My Dog's Diet?


As I've said in previous blogs and conversations, my first choice to feed any dog is a raw diet.  If you can't feed an all raw diet then try to get some raw or freeze dried raw in the diet.   Suggestions for taurine rich foods to add to your pets diet if you are not feeding a 100% raw diet:


Any raw or previously frozen meat, poultry, fish or heart, liver or organs

Any freeze dried or air dried meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or heart, liver or organs 

Fermented goats milk, goat cheese, cow Kelfir


Here are some of our favorite taurine rich foods that are available at Howl To The Chief to add to your pets diet:


Freeze Dried Green Lipped Mussels

Freeze Dried Liver And Hearts

Answers Fermented Goats Milk

Answers Raw Cows Milk Kefir

Answers Fermented Goat Cheese

Primal Complete & Balanced Raw Meals, Raw Mixes & Grinds, Freeze Dried Meals & Goats Milk

K9 Kraving Complete and Balanced Raw Meals & Supplemental Mackeral

Stella & Chewys Freeze Dried Meals & Mixers

Frozen Whole Sardines (raw fish contains high levels of taurine)


Should I Stop Feeding A Grain Free Kibble Diet?


Disclosure: This is my opinion. The announcement by the FDA doesn't provide enough information to warrant anyone to stop feeding a grain free diet.  There are many unknowns and variables that aren't answered.  Is the FDA saying there's not enough meat in SOME grain free diets?  Is there not enough meat in grain diets?  Do SOME foods have too much vegetable protein vs meat protein? Is it all legumes, peas or just food whose protein is coming from plant protein?  Is there some mysterious link that certain fillers are blocking the bodies amino acids used to process taurine? Maybe none of the above? 


The announcement really didn't say, it was a very broad statement with no specifics.  So my assumption is ....they really don't know but are suspecting that too much protein in certain grain free diets that are rich in vegetable protein is coming from plant protein vs meat protein. 


The FDA Statement to me is full of holes, lacks data on other variables such as genetics (which plays a big role in DCM since the AKC has no breed suitability test and any pure bred dog - with genetic defects or not - can continue to breed), and is inconclusive (It MAY or may not).   What about all the MILLIONS of dogs that eat a grain free diet and have had NO issues? 


The way it's written gives the consumer a false sense that all grain free is now bad and grain is good. Which makes no sense because grain diets don't offer any more taurine then grain free.  Rice, wheat, corn and soy don't contain taurine either.  What matters is meat content.  Meat and meat meal should be the primary source of protein not vegetable protein.


So my answer: 

Yes - If you want to switch to a COMPLETE AND BALANCED raw diet.  NOT a do it yourself at home diet.  There is a fine balance between muscle meat, organs, bone and vitamins.  It you want to cook for your dog consult a pet nutritionist!   While some vets don't like raw diets, there are many conventional and holistic vets that do. 

Yes - if the grain free food you feed now is getting its protein PRIMARILY from a plant based protein (err on the side of caution) . This does not mean to switch if it contains peas, legumes, potato somewhere in the ingredient deck.

Yes -If you're pet is eating an exotic protein and does not have an allergy to other proteins such as lamb, beef, chicken and fish.  

No - if you are already feeding a grain free food with a high meat inclusion. If you've been feeding the same protein over and over, try a new protein. We encourage ROTATION within the same brand so your pet eats several different proteins.


If you aren't comfortable with your food because you're now afraid that peas and legumes are the anti-Christ,  then switch to a food will help you sleep better at night. BUT consider switching to grain free diet with a higher meat inclusion if what you currently feed now is mainly filler or plant protein. All grain free diets are NOT CREATED THE SAME!  There are grain free diets with a different range of meat inclusion percentages Look for meat meal and meat to be in the top 5 ingredients.  Plant protein should NOT be in the top 2.  Meat meal should be.   Orijen's first 15 ingredients are all meat and include taurine rich foods such as heart and liver! It has 85% meat inclusion! 

There are many high quality wholesome grain based foods to choose from too.  Fromm Gold is one of our favorite lines.


Adding NATURAL taurine rich foods to any grain or grain free pet diet is also a healthy way to increase taurine levels and give your pet a guilt free nutritious treat too.  


Need peace of mind?  Ask your vet to do a Taurine test (don't switch foods or add supplements prior to the test).


Rest assured, I'll be watching this closely and see what transpires and keep you informed!  I will continue to research and talk to the food manufactures and see what their response is.  I have already reached out to the brands we carry and asked to clarify the meat protein vs plant protein percentages in their food.  But whatever their answer is...we aren't even 50% sure that it has anything to do with an increase in DCM...


Please feel free to email me at with any questions or comments!  I'm slowly recovering from a torn tendon issue so am usually only an email away!  I will only carry lines in my store that I would feed to my own pets!



Articles Worth Reading:


Investigating The Grain Free Link With Blinders On

More FDA News....


An Update From The FDA:


A History On Pet Food & Taurine Issues In The Past

Article by Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian


FDA Article


Peas & Processing


More Info On The FDA Article






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