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Importance of Arginine & Deficiency Symtoms

In 1981, a seminal research paper titled “Arginine: An Indispensable Amino Acid for Mature Dogs” was published in The Journal of Nutrition (Volume 111). It became the go-to report on the importance of arginine, a type of amino acid, to dogs – especially aging dogs.

Arginine gave poultry a boost as our go-to protein source:

In our evaluation of dog food and specifically protein used in the production of any pet food, we review the amino acid profile of each protein source.

This way of being detailed to the point of evaluating the amino acid composition of protein sources has given us an edge here at DogFoodSpy to accurately rank various dog and cat food based on their protein sources.

For example, we have a bias towards poultry as a source of protein for pet food, over other sources such as beef as poultry has arginine amino acid which is lacking in beef, lamb, pork, soybeans, and herring, among others.

As shown in the image below, Arginine is only available in 3 of the 9 proteins listed below and those protein sources are chicken, turkey and tuna.

Image showing protein sources with and without arginine
Image showing protein sources with and without arginine

Humans are able to endogenously synthesize arginine, meaning we don’t have to consume it in our diets. But dogs are different. For dogs, arginine is an essential amino acid that must be consumed through their diet or supplementation.

The Journal of Nutrition paper classified arginine as an “immunonutrient” based on its ability to support the immune system. The paper also reported that “arginine is a precursor for nitric oxide (NO) synthesis.”

What is an amino acid and what is arginine?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

There are 20 amino acids that occur naturally, and of these, arginine is considered “indispensable” because dogs cannot produce it on their own – they must get it through their diet.

Arginine is a key intermediate in the glucose metabolism pathway. It has a positively charged nitrogen side chain that may be used as a binding site for other molecules and is classified as a gluconeogenic amino acid.

image showing the chemical composition of arginine

Importance of Arginine amino acid to dogs:

What is a gluconeogenic amino acid?

Gluconeogenic amino acids are those that can be converted into glucose. In other words, they have the ability to raise blood sugar levels.

Arginine is also involved in the urea cycle, which is the process by which the body eliminates waste products from protein metabolism.

The urea cycle takes place in the liver and is essential for removing ammonia from the blood. Ammonia is a by-product of protein metabolism and is toxic to the body.

Arginine plays an important role in the urea cycle by converting ammonia into urea, which is then excreted in the urine.

Arginine is also a precursor for nitric oxide, a molecule that plays a key role in many physiological processes.

Nitric oxide is involved in blood pressure regulation, blood clotting, and immunity. It also has potent vasodilatory effects, meaning it can help to widen blood vessels and improve circulation.

Nitric oxide is produced through the action of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS). There are three types of NOS:

  • -neuronal NOS (nNOS), which is found in the nervous system
  • -endothelial NOS (eNOS), which is found in the lining of blood vessels
  • -inducible NOS (iNOS), which is found in immune cells

Arginine is required for the activity of all three forms of NOS.

Summary – What are the benefits of arginine for dogs?

The most important benefit of arginine for dogs is its role in the urea cycle.

As we mentioned earlier, the urea cycle is responsible for removing ammonia from the blood.

Ammonia is a by-product of protein metabolism and is toxic to the body.

Without arginine, ammonia would build up in the blood and cause serious health problems.

Arginine is also important for proper circulation.

As we mentioned earlier, nitric oxide has potent vasodilatory effects, meaning it can help to widen blood vessels and improve circulation.

This is important for all dogs, but it is especially important for senior dogs, who often suffer from poor circulation.

Arginine also has immune-boosting properties.

Nitric oxide has been shown to have potent antimicrobial effects.

It can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

It also has anti-inflammatory effects and can help to reduce swelling and inflammation.

All of these benefits make arginine an essential amino acid for dogs – especially senior dogs.

Arginine has many important functions in the body, including:

  • – Acting as a precursor for nitric oxide, a molecule that helps relax blood vessels
  • – Helping the liver remove ammonia from the body
  • – Supporting immune function
  • – Wound healing

Chemically, arginine is classified as a “basic” amino acid because it contains a nitrogen group. It is one of the larger amino acids and is considered “semi-essential” in young dogs because they can synthesize small amounts of it on their own.

As dog’s age, their ability to synthesize arginine diminishes, which is why it becomes “indispensable” in the diets of older dogs.

Arginine deficiency; What the 1981 study revealed:

The 1981 study by three scholars; R A Burns, J A Milner and J E Corbin found that deletion of the amino acid from dogs’ diet resulted in the following;

  • ‘Slight but significant loss of body weight.
  • Severe episodes of emesis were observed in all experiments.
  • Muscle tremors and frothing around the mouth’

The study went further to reveal that dogs fed an arginine-deficient diet had increased amounts of plasma ammonia and orotate, as well as urinary citric and orotic acid. In adult dogs, a diet devoid of arginine resulted in an increase in urinary citric and orotic acids.

The study is now available at the National Library of Medicine(here) and at the Journal of Nutrition, Oxford (here)

Another study with contributions from Milner found that ‘All arginine deficient dogs and dogs fed the 28% L-AA with arginine showed signs of emesis, excessive salivation and muscle tremors.”

Studies have also shown that when puppies are fed a diet deficient in arginine, the appetite decreases and will a decreased food intake and hyperammonemic episodes, which include vomiting and ptylism. Urinary orotic acid excretion and muscular tremors also increased.

Arginine is recognized by AAFCO as an essential nutrient:

In 2006, the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recognized arginine as an essential nutrient for all life stages of dogs.

The minimum recommended level of arginine for adult dogs is 0.51% on a dry matter basis and 1.0% for puppies or growing dogs(AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles).

snapshot showing AAFCO guidelines on min recommendation of arginine in dog food
A snapshot showing AAFCO guidelines on min recommendation of arginine in dog food

The minimum recommended level of arginine for adult cats is 1.04% on a dry matter basis and 1.24% for kittens or growing cats(AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles).

snapshot showing AAFCO guidelines on min recommendation of arginine in cat food
A snapshot showing AAFCO guidelines on min recommendation of arginine in cat food

Sources of arginine:

Chicken, turkey, and tuna are the key sources of arginine as it is lacking in some protein sources such as beef, lamb, pork, soybeans, and herring, among others.

L-arginine can be found in;

  • Meat (chicken, turkey).
  • Fish (salmon, haddock).
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds).
  • Legumes (soybeans, chickpeas).
  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats).
  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese).

Arginine is an amino acid that is found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.

It can also be found in some plant-based proteins, such as nuts and seeds.

Here are some good sources of arginine for dogs:

– Chicken

A 3-ounce serving of cooked chicken breast contains about 2.3 grams of arginine.

– Turkey

A 3-ounce serving of cooked turkey breast contains about 2.1 grams of argin 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon contains about 1.8 grams of arginine.

– Cottage cheese

A 1/2-cup serving of cottage cheese has about 1.3 grams of arginine.

Plant-based sources of arginine for dogs:

There are also some plant-based sources 1/2-cup serving of cooked lentils contains about 0.9 grams of arginine.

A 1/2-cup serving of cooked soybeans has about 0.8 grams of arginine.

A 1-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds has about 0.7 grams of arginine.

Argin 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds has about 0.6 grams of arginine.

Symptoms of arginine deficiency in dogs;

  1. Lethargy
  2. Vomiting
  3. Muscle tremors and weakness.
  4. Foaming around the mouth.
  5. Excessive salivation.
  6. Anorexia.
  7. Urinary citric and orotic acids

The importance of arginine in the production of nitric oxide. Do dogs need nitric oxide?

Arginine is necessary for the production of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide number of studies have shown that nitric oxide has a number of important functions in the body, including:

  • – Acting as a vasodilator
  • – Regulating blood pressure
  • – Boosting immune function
  • – Enhancing cognitive function
  • Arginine is necessary for wound healing.

What this means to you as a dog owner:

When evaluating the protein in your dog food, consider if the protein source has arginine and whether your dog will be able to get this crucial nutrient. As shown above, only some protein sources, specifically chicken and turkey are great sources of arginine. Others such as beef lack this nutrient.

Lack of this nutrient can have dire health consequences for dogs of all ages. For puppies,

  • They’ll get hyperammonemic episodes which include vomiting and ptylism as a result of feeding an arginine-deficient diet.

For adult and senior dogs, if you feed an arginine-deficient diet, they’ll experience;

  • Rough, scaly skin
  • Hair loss
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Fertility problems

Conclusion:

I hope this article on arginine for dogs was helpful. Arginine is an important amino acid for all life stages of dogs and cats. It’s crucial for many bodily functions, including wound healing, immune function, and cognitive function. Make sure your dog food has this essential nutrient by checking the protein source.

Happy tails!

FAQs on Arginine for Dogs and Cats including Deficiency Symptoms

Should I give arginine to dogs with cancer?

Arginine may also be used in dogs with cancer as it is thought to have anti-tumor effects as it boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing.

What are some symptoms of arginine deficiency in cats?

actions to an arginine deficiency in cats can vary depending on the severity of the deficiency. Some symptoms may include:

– Gastrointestinal issues

– Hair loss

– Lethargy

– Muscle weakness

– Rough, scaly skin

In severe cases, an arginine deficiency can lead to death. The effects of an arginine-deficient diet can be seen as early as 3 weeks of age in kittens and may include:

– Vomiting

– Diarrhea

– Muscle tremors

– Seizures

Kittens who are born to mothers who were fed an arginine-deficient diet during pregnancy and lactation to an arginine deficiency can be seen as early as 3 weeks of age in kittens and may include:

Why do cats need arginine?

Cats need arginine as it aids in the production of nitric oxide. Like dogs, nitric oxide has a number of functions including;

  1. Acting as a vasodilator: Arginine is a vasodilator, meaning that it helps to dilate ( widen) blood vessels. This can help to lower blood pressure and improve circulation.
  2. Arginine has been shown to improve exercise performance by increasing blood flow to muscles.
  3. Boosting immune function: Nitric oxide has been shown to boost the activity of certain white blood cells, which are important for immunity.
  4. Arginine is also necessary for the production of creatine. Creatine is a substance that is stored in muscle cells and used for energy. Creatine has been shown to improve exercise performance and help build muscle mass.
  5. Arginine is involved in wound healing. Arginine has been shown to improve blood flow to wounds and help promote healing. Arginine may also have benefits for cognitive function.
  6. Arginine has been shown to improve memory and mental function in animals.

What is a healthy diet for a dog?

References:

  • R. A. Burns, J. A. Milner, J. E. Corbin, Arginine: An Indispensable Amino Acid for Mature Dogs, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 6, June 1981, Pages 1020–1024, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/111.6.1020
  •  Ha YH, et al. Arginine requirement in immature dogs. J Nutr 1978;108:203-210.
  • Hoppe A, et al. Urinary excretion of amino acids in normal and cystinuric dogs. Br Vet J 1993;149:253-68.
  • https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/ktudor/2012/sept/canine_heart_disease_part_2-27320
  • AAFCO Nutritional Guidelines