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Let’s talk taurine for cats! If you’ve been a cat parent for any respectable amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard of taurine. Especially if you’re the type to pull up Pet Web MD anytime your kitty does something unusual and then proceeds to doom scroll through worst-case scenarios. (Hi! We see you!)
One thing is for certain. This nutrient and its relationship to cats is discussed on websites far and wide.
So, how important is taurine for cats? And are the terrifying tales of taurine deficiencies true?
It’s time to take a deep into the vital role of taurine for cats.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an essential nutrient for cats. Capital E, essential in fact. And we’re not being dramatic. Taurine is an amino acid that is crucial for cats to be able to digest proteins and fats.
One of the building blocks of protein, taurine is considered one of the 22 amino acids your kitty needs in their diet.
Cats need taurine to properly function, fight disease and avoid severe health complications. It cannot be substituted for anything else or omitted from their diet.
And here’s the thing, cats can’t create it on their own. They rely entirely on the foods they eat to get their daily dose of this essential nutrient. Yes. You read that correctly. Cats need to eat taurine every single day.
What does taurine do for cats?
Let’s start with the basics. Taurine is vital for cats to maintain:
- normal vision
- heart muscle function
- a healthy immune system
- digestive system and metabolism wellness
This essential amino acid is quickly processed by cats’ bodies. It’s distributed into their retinal tissues, heart muscle, and gastrointestinal system.
But that’s not all taurine does! For one, this amino acid plays a huge role in the formation of bile salts. These are necessary for cats to break down fats to digest their food and absorb nutrients.
Taurine also helps your kitty regulate their blood sugar, fight off infections, and maintain strong, healthy teeth.
For pregnant cats, taurine is crucial to their kittens’ fetal development and ensures they have a healthy pregnancy.
What’s a good source of taurine for cats?
The best natural sources of taurine are muscle and organ meats and animal proteins like eggs.
Poultry meat like chicken and turkey provides the most taurine. Likewise, canned wet foods are a better source of taurine than dry cat food. This is because when it’s manufactured, kibble is exposed to high temperatures, which decreases its taurine levels.
How much taurine does a cat need?
An average-sized adult cat of 10lbs needs 45mg of taurine a day.
Cats can’t create enough taurine on their own, so they rely on getting the levels they need from the food they eat. Their bodies can’t store large amounts of taurine, so they need taurine in their diet every day.
Luckily, all commercial cat foods are fortified with taurine. The best cat foods are the holistic brands that use high-quality meats and animal proteins that provide a natural source of taurine to complement the added supplements.
What are the symptoms of taurine deficiency in cats?
When taurine deficiencies rampaged through the feline population in the mid-1980s, the symptoms were horrific. Tens of thousands of cats were going blind, developing neurological problems like seizures, and dying from heart failure.
So, yes. The rumors you’ve heard about taurine deficiencies are correct. It is deadly serious, so brace yourself for this.
At its worst, a lack of taurine can result in permanent blindness and heart disease.
Loss of vision, or feline central retinal degeneration, is one of the major complications that come from a taurine deficiency.
Insufficient taurine can also lead to dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, in cats. This is a type of heart disease where the cells in your cat’s heart muscles weaken. Their heart becomes enlarged and unable to properly pump blood.
Dilated cardiomyopathy often results in irregular heartbeat, blood clots, and difficulty breathing. The condition, although reversible if caught quickly enough, often ends in heart failure and death.
There are a slew of other potentially fatal health problems and diseases linked to insufficient taurine. Other signs to look out for include:
- Significant hair loss
- Bone fractures
- Tooth decay and cavities
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive tiredness and lethargic behavior
- Diarrhea and poor digestion
- Reproductive complications: underweight kittens and potential birth defects
Why do some brands add taurine to their cat food?
All AAFCO labeled cat food brands are required to follow specific nutrient guidelines and add enough taurine to their cat food to meet your kitty’s daily needs.
But why do some nutritionally complete and balanced brands choose to add more taurine than the standard amount to their cat food?
It goes back to the cat food manufacturing process! The highest concentrations of taurine are found in animal muscle and organ tissues. However, because many cats typically don’t eat live prey diets and instead eat commercial cat food, the cooking process has a direct effect on taurine levels.
High heat cooking, like boiling, has been found to greatly reduce the number of taurine meats and animal proteins, as the water directly “leeches” the amino acids out.
Baking and frying also directly lower taurine content, although not as significantly as boiling the meats and animal proteins.
This is why supplementing taurine in commercially cooked cat foods is a must to ensure cats get enough of this essential nutrient.
It’s for this reason that brands more often add extra taurine to their dry cat food, or kibble recipes, as they often undergo high heat cooking processes.
Brands that typically add extra taurine to their cat food add it to their dry cat food, or kibble recipes. Orijen and Blue Buffalo Wilderness are brands that use naturally occurring taurine from meat and add supplements.
Is taurine safe for cats?
Yes. Taurine supplementation is safe. There are rarely problems associated with high levels of taurine in cats’ diets.
Should I supplement my cat’s food with taurine?
It all comes down to diet. Eating a diet that doesn’t contain taurine (or that doesn’t have enough of it) is the leading cause of taurine deficiencies.
If you’re buying commercial cat food that’s labeled nutritionally complete, you don’t need to add taurine supplementation to your kitty’s diet.
But, if you opt to feed your kitty homemade cat food, a vegetarian or vegan diet, or only complementary foods, they are at serious risk to develop a taurine deficiency.
If caught early enough and treated with supplements, the symptoms from taurine deficiencies can be reversed. Unfortunately, vision loss and heart disease from taurine deficiencies cannot be reversed, but can only be slowed and managed through supplements.
Besides that, there are some cases where even if you are feeding your kitty the “right” foods, you may still need to give your kitty taurine supplements.
For instance, if your cat has a pre-existing condition or illnesses like heart disease and seizures that are not due to a taurine deficiency, giving your kitty taurine supplements can help treat and manage their condition.
Taurine supplements can be prescribed by your veterinarian and are also available over-the-counter. The supplements come in powdered, capsule, tablet, and gel form.
Key takeaway: taurine is crucial for feline health
Taurine is an essential amino acid that is a must for your kitty’s health and longevity.
The good news is that all commercial AAFCO pet food companies fortify their cat food with enough taurine to meet your kitty’s daily needs.
Holistic cat food brands like Orijen, provide some of the best sources for taurine in wet cat food diets. These brands use high-quality poultry, organ, and muscle meat to provide taurine naturally.
In short, taurine is one of the single most important ingredients in cat food and nutrition.