This study was performed to investigate whether dietary lysine concentration influences the carnitine status of pigs. Therefore, an experiment with twenty young pigs with an average body weight of 21 kg was performed which were fed either a control diet (9·7 g lysine/kg) or a diet with a moderate excess of lysine (16·8 g lysine/kg). Concentrations of all the other amino acids did not differ between the diets. Pigs fed the high-lysine diet had lower concentrations of free and total carnitine in plasma, liver, kidney and skeletal muscle than control pigs (P < 0·05). Pigs fed the high-lysine diet moreover had an increased concentration of trimethyllysine (TML), a reduced mRNA abundance of TML dioxygenase and reduced concentrations of γ-butyrobetaine (BB) in muscle, indicating that the conversion of TML into BB in muscle was impaired. Concentrations of BB, the metabolic precursor of carnitine, in plasma, liver and kidney were also reduced in pigs fed the high-lysine diet while the activity of BB dioxygenase in kidney was not different and that in liver was even increased compared to control pigs (P < 0·05). In conclusion, this study shows that a moderate dietary excess of lysine lowers plasma and tissue carnitine concentrations in pigs. Reduced concentrations of BB in liver and kidney suggest that the depressed carnitine status was likely caused by a decreased rate of carnitine synthesis due to a diminished availability of carnitine precursor, probably mainly as a result of an impaired BB formation in muscle.