6 signs your dog or cat has an L-carnitine deficiency

If you have any fitness-obsessed friends, you might’ve heard of L-carnitine. It’s touted as a fat burner and performance enhancer for people looking to, well…burn more fat and enhance their performance.

But for your dog or cat, it can be a game changer.

What is L-carnitine and why would my pet need it?

L-carnitine is an amino acid that turns fat into energy. And it can be found in almost every cell in the body. It helps the body to be efficient by using fat for energy while maintaining lean muscle…the reason why gym rats love it.

Here’s how it works for your pet.

The body produces L-carnitine. But it’s also found in the meat your pets eat. Because L-carnitine is found in almost all your pet’s cells, a shortage can wreak havoc on their entire system.

Fortunately, it’s rare that your pet will suddenly have a deficiency, unless they are suffering from starvation or not getting enough protein.

But there seems to be a genetic defect that prevents L-carnitine from entering the cells in some animals.

Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to a deficiency. Boxers, Doberman Pinchers, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds and other giant breeds are at greater risk.

How do I know if my pet has an L-carnitine deficiency?

It’s a tough diagnosis.

It’s difficult to know for sure if a pet lacks this amino acid. The only real diagnostic tool is a biopsy of the heart tissue to measure carnitine levels. And that’s not something your vet’s going to rush to do.

If your pet shows signs that go hand in hand with an L-carnitine deficiency, your vet may just treat your pet as if they’re deficient.

Some of the signs, like disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), will not be evident without some tests being done by your vet.

Besides cardiomyopathy, a shortage of L-carnitine can cause a lot of other problems like fatty liver syndrome, obesity, diabetic ketoacidosis (cells don’t get the sugar they need), and hyperlipidemia (a high concentration of fat in the blood).

So it’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms. Here are 6 signs your dog or cat may have a deficiency:

Rapid and excessive breathing

Shortness of breath

Muscle pain



Exercise intolerance

These signs are pretty nonspecific. They can be associated with a laundry list of health issues. You’ll need to see your vet to be sure what’s going on.

Some times a dog or cat may even have a mild deficiency that goes unnoticed because the signs are so subtle.

How is an L-carnitine deficiency treated?

If your pet is truly deficient, your vet will recommend a supplement. With a true deficiency, supplements work.

But because most vets won’t biopsy the heart muscle, there is no assurance that L-carnitine is causing the cardiomyopathy your pet is suffering from…or the diabetic ketoacidosis…or the obesity…or any of the other problems that could be connected to a deficiency.

And that makes supplements less effective for treating those conditions.

If your pet is suffering from one of these conditions, and the vet isn’t sure a deficiency in L-carnitine is causing it, a supplement should only be used as part of an integrated treatment plan. It shouldn’t be the sole treatment.

L-carnitine supplementation has been very effective in some instances.

If you happen to have an American Cocker Spaniel or Boxer that suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), L-carnitine supplementation really works. Talk to your vet to learn more about how it might help your dog.

Be aware if your pet is on an L-carnitine supplement to treat cardiomyopathy, your vet will likely want to do an EKG every 3 to 6 months once they’ve started taking it to be sure it’s working.

Using an L-carnitine supplement is also works well to manage obesity and fatty liver syndrome in cats.

Are there any risks associated with L-carnitine?

There are two forms of carnitine: levocarnitine (L-carnitine) and dextrocarnitine (D-carnitine). The body uses L for fat metabolism. But D decreases the amount of L the body absorbs.

That’s bad. Be sure to use only pure L-carnitine supplements for maximum absorption.

L-carnitine is not a supplement your pet can overdose on. If they get more than they need, their body will excrete it. It’s safe. That’s why a vet will treat with L-carnitine if they suspect a deficiency…even without doing a biopsy.

It is not, however, recommended for dog’s that have hypothyroidism. It will mess with their medication. If you think your dog may benefit from L-carnitine and they have an underactive thyroid, talk to your vet before giving them any supplement.

The one downside of too much L-carnitine is diarrhea, which can sometimes happen if your pet is on a high therapeutic dose.

Is there any benefit to giving my healthy dog an L-carnitine supplement? 

If your pet is generally healthy, there is probably no reason to give them a separate supplement.

However, the FDA allows pet food companies to add low doses of L-carnitine to their recipes, and some do.

Husse adds L-carnitine to their Lax & Ris and Light Optimal formulas. These foods are specifically formulated for the dog that could benefit from more L-carnitine in their diet— one on a weight management program, one with higher energy needs (working dog, competitive athletic dog), or one with heart disease.

Has your pet been diagnosed with an L-carnitine deficiency? Are you supplementing with L-carnitine or a pet food with added L-carnitine? Tell us about it in the comment section above.




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