The Use of Carnitine in Dogs & Cats
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Carnitine (L-Carnitine) is an amino acid nutritional supplement. It has been prescribed for dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy and heart disorders due to chemotherapeutic treatments. It has also been recommended for cats with hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), however, research has not shown it to be of benefit in these cats. Carnitine is needed by the body for the metabolism of fatty acids into energy in the cells. Thus, it helps the body utilize fat for energy while maintaining the lean muscle mass which helps reduce the overall body fat. It may also help decrease the levels of cholesterol and lipids (fats) in the blood. Because L-carnitine is essential in the process of converting fatty acids into energy, a deficiency may result in increased fat storage, decreased performance, and in humans, an increase of heart disease associated with mitochondrial defects.

Carnitine is found in meat and dairy products and it is also made by the body. Dietary deficiency is rare except in cases of starvation or dramatically lowered protein intake. The major reason for a deficiency is a genetic defect preventing carnitine from entering the cells.

There are two forms of carnitine: levocarnitine (L-carnitine) and dextrocarnitine (D-carnitine). L-carnitine is the form that can be used by the body. It is recommended to use only the purified L-carnitine preparations, as D-carnitine decreases the amount of L-carnitine absorption.

Side effects of therapeutic doses of oral carnitine may include nausea, vomiting, loose stool, diarrhea, and increased body odor. Give with food to decrease the gastrointestinal side effects.

Carnitine is included in smaller amounts in some pet foods designed for use in animals with heart disease (Hill's h/d) or on weight managment programs (Drs. Foster and Smith Adult Lite Dog Food). The Food and Drug Administration has reviewed the safety of L-carnitine and allows it to be used in these types of dog and cat foods at specified levels.

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