Taurine For Cats – What You Need To Know

Taurine deficiency in cats

What is taurine?

Also known as 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, taurine is an essential amino acid which was first isolated in the bile of an ox in 1827, hence the name taurus, meaning bull. Most mammals produce taurine from other sulfur-containing amino acids, however, while cats can manufacture some taurine, it is not in adequate amounts to meet their needs. Therefore they must obtain it in their food, making it is an essential amino acid.

Why do cats need taurine?

Taurine has many biological and metabolic functions within the cat’s body including:

  • Formation of bile salts which aids the digestion of fats and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • It is necessary for cardiac (heart) function, brain, and nervous system function.
  • Essential for the development and function of cells in the retina of the eye,
  • Female reproduction and fetal growth.
  • Maintains a healthy immune system.
  • Helps to control blood sugar levels.

What foods contain taurine?

Taurine is found naturally in meat and seafood.  Commercially prepared cat foods have been fortified with taurine since the 1970’s. Taurine deficiency is most commonly seen in cats who are given dog food in their diet or homemade diets which are not adequately supplemented.

Taurine begins to degrade when cooked, especially in water. If you are feeding a home prepared diet, please speak to your veterinarian to ensure that all your cat’s nutritional needs are being met.

Taurine is found in muscle meat but is in its highest concentrations in the heart and brain.

What are the signs of taurine deficiency in cats?

The myocardium (heart wall) and retina contain the highest concentrations of taurine in the cat and it stands to reason that these organs are most often affected by the taurine deficiency.

While the exact mechanism taurine has on these organs is still not understood, what we do know is that a diet deficient in taurine can over time lead to feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD), eventually causing irreversible blindness, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and reduced fertility in female cats.

Taurine helps to maintain a healthy immune response, deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of taurine deficiency are slow to develop. The most common symptoms of taurine deficiency include:

  • Decreased vision which left untreated progress to blindness.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Hair loss.

Dilated cardiomyopathy may present as:

  • Lethargy.
  • Weakness.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Dehydration.
  • Loss of appetite.

In the pregnant or lactating queen who is deficient in taurine the following can occur:

  • Reduction in reproductive performance in females.
  • Low birthrate of kittens.
  • Abortions and reabsorption of unborn kittens.
  • Birth defects.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Poor growth.

How is taurine deficiency in cats diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. He will need to perform some diagnostic tests to determine the cause. This may include:

  • Complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemical profile to evaluate the overall health of your cat. These tests will usually not reveal any abnormalities.
  • A specialised blood test to evaluate for levels of taurine in the blood.

If taurine deficiency is diagnosed, he may want to perform some additional tests to check for dilated cardiomyopathy and feline central retinal degeneration.

  • Ultrasound of the heart to evaluate the muscle for signs of thickening of and the ability of the heart to contract.
  • Detailed eye examination to check the retina for signs of retinal degeneration and lesions on the eye.

How is taurine deficiency in cats treated?

Feeding a diet with adequate levels of taurine. If you are feeding a homemade diet, taurine supplementation may be required.

If caught early enough, dilated cardiomyopathy can be reversed, however, if taurine deficiency goes on for too long, heart failure can occur, which is sadly irreversible.

If feline central retinal degeneration has occurred, taurine supplementation may halt the progression of the disease, however, the damage can not be reversed.

Preventing taurine deficiency in cats:

All good quality commercial brands of cat food will contain adequate levels of taurine to meet your cat’s needs and supplementation should not be necessary.

If you decide to feed your cat a homemade diet, you will need to ensure it is nutritionally complete. There is no exact guide to how much taurine your cat should have per day, with several factors at play including the age of the cat, the type of meat he is consuming, if it is cooked or raw,  how the meat has been processed (ground, in chunks or whole) and how much fibre is in his diet (fibre can reduce absorption of taurine).

Certain processes destroy taurine:

  • Cooking
  • Freezing can also reduce taurine levels, as the meat defrosts, some water is lost, taking taurine with it
  • Furthermore, mincing and grinding meat destroys taurine, so feed meat in chunks, not ground down

As has already been mentioned, cooking meat destroys taurine, so if you are planning to feed your cat a cooked homemade diet, taurine will need to be added. There is no data to suggest excess taurine is harmful to your cat, what isn’t used by the body will be excreted out via the urine. It is recommended you speak with your veterinarian before giving any supplements to your cat.

  • When feeding a raw diet, include organ meats, particularly heart as this contains high levels of taurine

Taurine is water soluble, meaning that it is lost in water. Trying to preserve levels of taurine can help with the following:

  • If you do cook your cat’s meat, try to do so in as little water as possible, and place this water in the bowl with the food.
  • When feeding defrosted meat, again, save the water and add to the food.