Carnitine is another nutrient that was not considered a vitamin until recently. However, it has been proven to support vital functions, particularly the metabolism. Carnitine has a regulatory effect on the metabolism because it is involved in fatty acid transport. It takes long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria (the “power plants” of the cells) to be converted to energy, then transports the waste products back out to be disposed of.
But the research on carnitine is far from complete. Other possible roles of this nutrient are still being investigated and may include:
- Membrane maintenance.
- Protection from free radicals.
- Support of liver health.
- Intrauterine nutrition.
- Regulation of the degree to which genes produce visible effects.
All adult farm animals can synthesize carnitine in their livers. Young animals receive it in their mothers’ milk.
Plant-based feeds are low in carnitine, so an animal-derived source is necessary when supplemental carnitine is desired. For example, meat and fish meals are good sources of this nutrient, as are dairy products.
Causes of Deficiency
Stress in some form is almost always the cause of a carnitine deficiency. Other than disease, examples of stress include unbalanced diets (including vegetarian diets for cats and dogs) and high levels of performance.
Treatment with anticonvulsant drugs may cause animals to need higher levels of carnitine in their diet.
There also appears to be a genetic component to carnitine deficiency in cats.
Symptoms of Deficiency
- Muscle pain and weakness.
- Cardiac arrhythmia.
- Heart failure.
Symptoms of Toxicity
Little is known about the toxic effects of carnitine at present. There is a possibility, however, than an overdose may cause reduced egg production in poultry. Symptoms that have appeared in pets include:
- Body odor.
- Appetite loss.
Giving supplemental carnitine with food and reducing the dosage if necessary appears to prevent these side effects.
Supplemental carnitine is still largely in the experimental stages, but it shows promise. In most types of livestock, it markedly benefits growth, reproduction, and body condition. Not only does this result in improved weight gains and production of lean meat in meat animals, but can also reduce the risk of metabolic disorders in pets and dairy animals.
Carnitine may also help animals cope with the effects of stress. For instance, it appears to be useful in keeping performance horses at the top of their game, and it may benefit broiler chickens in hot weather.
As a treatment for specific diseases, carnitine appears to have potential in combating heart disease in pets. Some work has also been done using this nutrient to treat fatty liver syndrome and other metabolic problems in cats. The results are promising, but not conclusive.
Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice. Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.