Hearts are high in natural taurine and make an excellent treat or topper!
Taurine Dr Karen Becker DVM says, “Taurine, especially essential for cats, is an important amino acid for liver and gallbladder support. It’s essential for optimal blood flow, eye health, cardiovascular health, and the production of bile in both cats and dogs. Pets with less-than-optimal levels of taurine may be at greater risk of adverse effects from toxins. Although a minimal level of taurine is included in most commercial pet foods, taurine is easily depleted in stressed pets”.
Taurine can be found naturally in milk, eggs, meat, and seaweed, however, amino acids like Taurine are easily damaged by high heat cooking, which is why you’ll generally see kibbles and cans supplemented with synthetic taurine for cats, and with cysteine and methionine, which are the building blocks for taurine synthesis in dogs). If cats don’t get enough taurine from the foods they eat they can die, but many holistic vets believe that it’s incredibly important for dogs as well. Though dogs can manufacture taurine from other amino acids, pet foods that are deficient in muscle meat (think corn-based “food” with only meat by-products or flavors, or homemade or vegan diets without without enough meat or otherwise supplemented sources of taurine) can cause dogs to develop dangerous eye and heart problems (generally reversible with taurine supplementation). Though synthetic taurine is far better for carnivores than no taurine, studies have shown natural taurine does some important jobs better. This study showed that natural taurine can help to regulate the gut micro-ecology, which might be of benefit to health by inhibiting the growth of endotoxins and harmful bacteria, and also accelerating the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids.
To this end, providing natural sources of taurine can go a long way towards supporting the health of both cats and dogs. Normally we don’t advocate feeding raw meats obtained at grocery stores meant for human consumption, as there are much higher allowable levels of bacteria on human meats than on commercially prepared raw food for animals (it is assumed you will cook meats for human consumption, but raw food for animals made by reputable companies are sourcing, handling and preparing raw foods intended for raw consumption, and are sensitive to the FDA’s fairly unrealistic expectation of completely sterile meats), but if you source your meats from a butcher you trust that is handling raw hearts as if they were food and not waste, or you have a connection with a farmer at your farmer’s market, you might feel comfortable buying chicken hearts (or hearts from other species if they’re there) for your pets. If you’re seeking taurine in fresh muscle meats, beef has the highest levels in commonly found meats, and lamb has the lowest. Here are instructions for how to disinfect raw meat if you’re nervous. Use fresh hearts as treats or toppers. A cat or tiny dog probably shouldn’t eat more than 6 hearts per day, as more might provide a bit too much sodium (more here).
You can also find taurine-rich freeze dried hearts in easy shelf stable packaging at your local independent pet supply store. Here are a few examples, all great for both dogs and cats, but there are many more brands out there! :