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What is Arginine and Why Is It Important for My Cat?

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When you start to explore the world of feline nutrition you’ll most likely come across something called arginine. You might be asking yourself what is arginine?

Arginine is an essential nutrient for cats, like our old friend taurine! Yet unlike taurine, even a single meal without arginine can be bad news for your cat, and could even spell death.

Is there any basis in these terrifying claims?

It’s time to take a closer look at:

  • What arginine is
  • Why cats need it
  • How much arginine cats need
  • What arginine deficiencies look like
  • The benefits of arginine supplements

What is arginine?

Arginine, like taurine, is one of the 11 essential amino acids your cat needs in their diet. As one of your cat’s essential amino acids, arginine is one of the building blocks of protein and is a nutritional requirement for cats.

Unlike many other animals, cats don’t have the right enzymes in their bodies to create their own arginine. They rely on their diet, especially ones high in meat and muscle meat to satisfy their daily requirements!

Why do cats need arginine?

Along with being a crucial part of how your kitty builds protein, arginine has detoxification properties. Starting by giving your cat’s liver the enzymes it needs to start breaking down ammonia.

Ammonia is the natural result of broken-down proteins in your cat’s body. Arginine is vital for releasing ammonia from your feline friend’s body by jump-starting the breakdown process in your cat’s liver and filtering the ammonia out of your cat’s body through their urine. It’s what gives cat pee its signature acrid stench!

Without arginine to convert the ammonia into urea, your cat wouldn’t be able to excrete out ammonia. Instead, it would build up inside their body with potentially lethal consequences.

Beyond ammonia detoxification and liver functioning, arginine is also essential to ensure proper growth in kittens and maintain healthy kidneys.

Arginine for cats kitten

Can cats synthesize arginine?

As obligate carnivores, cats have different metabolisms and nutritional needs than omnivores like dogs.

This also means that cats have different enzymes. And, in the case of arginine, kittens, and cats don’t have the proper enzymes to be able to synthesize this amino acid on their own. Cats rely on their diets to get the arginine they need to function and thrive.

What’s a good source of arginine for cats?

The best natural sources of arginine for cats come from animal proteins. Specifically meat. Chicken, turkey, beef, and rabbit are all meats that are high in natural arginine. Feeding your cat raw cat food is a great way to make sure it gets the arginine it needs.

How much arginine does a cat need?

The National Research Council says the nutrient requirements for a typical ten-pound adult cat are 855 mg of arginine per day. They recommend 190 mg of arginine per every 2.2 pounds your cat weighs.

What are the symptoms of arginine deficiency in cats?

Cats who eat low protein diets, vegetarian diets, or homemade cat food are at more of a danger to develop arginine deficiencies.

Unlike taurine deficiencies which could take days or weeks to start showing, studies have found that arginine deficiency symptoms can begin in a single day.

Symptoms of an arginine deficiency typically manifest as:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling and foaming at the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Convulsions, muscle tremors, and seizures
  • Neurological problems

These are also symptoms of ammonia intoxication. Without arginine to flush the ammonia out of your cat’s body, it builds up inside their bloodstream.

Is arginine safe for cats?

Yes! Generally speaking, arginine supplements are safe for cats.

However, the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, urges cat parents to use common sense when purchasing supplements and vitamins. Regulation in the animal supplementation and companion animal nutrition industry is still a bit lacking.

The AVMA warns that pet supplements “don’t have the same oversight as [human] drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration” and that there may be some issues with “efficacy and quality control.”

Arginine for cats

Should I add arginine supplements to my cat’s food?

If you feed your cat commercial cat food that’s high in animal protein and meat you typically don’t need to add arginine supplements to your cat’s food.

The AVMA says that the only instances when you should add arginine supplementation to your cat’s food is if your veterinarian recommends doing so. This could be the case if you’re feeding your kitty raw cat food or homemade cat food.

The short of it

There’s a reason arginine is considered an essential nutrient for felines. This essential amino acid is crucial for building protein, liver function, and releasing ammonia in your cat’s urine.

It’s true that arginine deficiency symptoms can manifest in a single day and that they can have deadly consequences. Cats cannot create their own arginine, so they rely on their diet to get this crucial nutrient.

The good news is commercial cat foods, especially high protein ones that feature meat and animal protein like turkey, chicken, and beef are good sources of natural arginine.

As long as you feed your cat foods formulated to meet their daily requirements, they’re in no danger of developing any complications from insufficient amounts of arginine!

Victoria Tomis
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