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The Muscle-Building Amino Acid Every Dog Needs and Few Receive

l-carnitine for dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • A recent study shows supplementing the amino acid L-carnitine in the diets of working dogs increases lean muscle mass, speeds muscle recovery and lessens oxidative stress during exercise
  • During the two-year study, the L-carnitine supplemented dogs were significantly more active than the control dogs and gained lean muscle mass
  • The best way to increase the amount of L-carnitine in your dog’s diet is not through processed pet food with added supplements, but by feeding whole, fresh foods rich in amino acids, especially red meat
  • Very active working dogs and canine athletes need a nutritionally balanced, nutrient-dense diet that provides optimum energy in a small quantity of food, plus appropriate supplementation

By Dr. Becker

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science suggests that supplemental L-carnitine (an amino acid) is beneficial to both performance and recovery in working dogs, and contributes to a higher percentage of lean muscle mass, enhanced muscle recovery and less oxidative stress during vigorous exercise.1

Researchers Study L-Carnitine Supplement in 96 Dogs Over 2 Years

A Swiss pet food ingredient supplier that makes an L-carnitine supplement called Carniking™ sponsored the study, which was performed at a kennel in Missouri. Researchers conducted two experiments over a two-year period that involved 96 Labrador Retrievers.

In the experiments the dogs were divided into two groups. All the dogs were fed a low L-carnitine commercial diet, but one group was supplemented with 250 mg/day of L-carnitine powder for up to 14 weeks; the other dogs (the control group) did not receive the supplement.

The first experiment evaluated 56 dogs who completed one endurance run and two sprint runs per week. The second experiment included 40 dogs who completed two endurance runs per week. The researchers analyzed the dogs’ performance with running programs, activity monitoring measured by accelerometer collars, body composition scans and evaluation of muscle recovery using biomarkers.

Study Results Show Significant Improvement in Supplemented Dogs

The study authors observed that the dogs whose diets were supplemented with L-carnitine were “significantly more active” than the control group during both sprints and endurance runs.

The supplemented dogs gained 0.74 kg (about 1.63 pounds) in total body weight during the study, while the control group lost 0.12 kg (about a quarter of a pound). The weight gain was the result of an increase in lean mass of 0.68 kg. The control dogs lost an average of 0.41 kg of lean mass, even though they were eating the same amount of calories as the supplemented dogs.

The L-carnitine dogs also had a significantly lower level of creatine kinase, which is a marker for muscle damage. Plasma myoglobin, which is another indicator of muscle damage, was also much lower in the supplemented dogs, both an hour after a run, and 24 hours later. Oxidative stress was also improved in the L-carnitine dogs, who had significant decreases in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS), and significant increases in total antioxidant capacity. The study authors concluded:

“Supplementing L-carnitine in the form of Carniking™ had positive benefits in Labrador retrievers for activity intensity, body composition, muscle recovery and oxidative capacity.”

In a press release, Aouatef Bellamine, Ph.D., Senior Scientific Manager of Nutrition at Lonza, the company that produces the supplement, said this about the study results:

“Carniking L-carnitine at relatively low levels had a significant impact on muscle performance and recovery in working dogs, with similar effects in both genders. However, it is interesting to see that they are more pronounced in female dogs. This data is promising for senior pets, in particular, where muscle performance continues to be an unmet need.”2

Craig Coon, Ph.D., and co-owner of the Four Rivers Kennel where the study was conducted, said:

“The positive results clearly demonstrated that Carniking L-carnitine helps recovery after exercise in active dogs and has significant effects on muscle mass. These effects provide the first evidence of Carniking’s specific positive impact on working dogs. This finding is promising as the increase in lean mass, recovery and activity can provide better quality of life and function for working animals and house pets, for example.”3

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My Advice: Avoid Heavily Supplemented Processed Diets

According to PetfoodIndustry.com:

“Carniking L-carnitine is a special grade of L-carnitine manufactured by Lonza. It can be used in the manufacture of dog foods and treats (wet and dry) and can be added to complete feeds, base mixes or premixes due to its excellent flowability. It is also pellet and extruder stable.”4

Lonza, the company that makes the L-carnitine supplement used in the study, is a pet food ingredient supplier whose interest is in landing business with pet food producers. That’s why their product is suitable to be used in the manufacture of wet and dry pet food. While the ultimate intent of this study was to promote a specific L-carnitine supplement to pet food companies, the results are useful in that they demonstrate the benefits of L-carnitine in the diets of dogs.

However, my recommendation is to skip supplemented processed pet diets in favor of nutritionally balanced, whole, fresh, human-grade food that’s naturally high in carnitine for your dog, no matter his age or activity level.

By eliminating fillers (such as all the starch components comprising the vast majority of major pet food brands) and replacing unnecessary carbs with high-quality meats, your dog will naturally have higher levels of carnitine intake on a daily basis, supplied through species-appropriate food.

How to Insure Your Dog Gets Sufficient L-Carnitine

Dogs in the wild obtain L-carnitine from real food (prey), and their bodies are also able to synthesize it from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. The food sources richest in L-carnitine are red meat, followed by chicken, pork, poultry, fish and dairy products. Plant foods — vegetables, fruits and grains — contain insignificant amounts.

Active athletic or working dogs need a nutrient-dense diet that provides optimum energy in a small quantity of food. The protein source should be good-quality and animal-based, and the food should be relatively high in dietary fat, including supplementation with raw organic coconut oil and omega-3 fatty acids.

The main components of a balanced raw diet for an athletic dog with no health problems include raw, meaty bones, muscle and organ meats, a few dark green vegetables, a constant supply of fresh, clean, filtered water and appropriate supplementation or specific food additions to balance micronutrients.

I have found that dietary micronutrient deficiencies, including manganese, can contribute to ligament weakness, so it's very important to make sure your active dog’s diet is nutritionally balanced. Additionally, supplying an abundance of food-based antioxidants (berries) facilitates free radical scavenging, which is important after a workout.

In addition to nutrient dense, fresh, whole food nutrition, athletes also benefit from supplements that support their musculoskeletal system. I recommend you consult a holistic veterinarian about the right nutraceutical protocol for your athletic pet's individual needs.

If your dog is eating processed pet food and you can't or don't want to transition to a species-appropriate homemade diet, or alternatively, to a commercially available fresh meat-based diet, I definitely recommend supplementation under the guidance of your holistic vet. You need to provide your pet with the amino acids deficient in commercial diets, including L-carnitine, taurine, carnosine and arginine.