Amino acids are the individual compounds that make up all proteins in plants and animals. Taurine is one of those amino acids. Most mammals are able to synthesize taurine from other amino acids in their bodies, but cats cannot synthesize it in sufficient concentrations, making it an essential amino acid for them. That said, cats need to get taurine from their diet.
What does taurine do, and why does my cat need it?
Taurine can serve several purposes in your cat’s body. The main function it is known for is to aid retinal function as well as heart function, but can also aid with digestion and reproductive development.
Cats who do not get enough taurine in their daily diet can develop a number of symptoms related to these functions. Symptoms don’t show up right away, but they can appear anytime from five months to two years. If your cat isn’t getting enough taurine, you may see:
- Feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD)
- Reproductive Failure and Impaired Fetal Development
- Feline Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM
- Problems with your cat’s digestion, especially fats
Persistent retinal degeneration that is left untreated can lead to blindness in your cat. While supplementing your cat with taurine can slow or even stop the progression of retinal degeneration, it will not reverse any blindness your cat may have suffered before the supplementation.
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Similarly, if your cat’s taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy is detected early enough and treated with nutritional supplements, the effects can be reversed. However, if left untreated, DCM can lead to heart failure and death.
In pregnant cats, low taurine levels can lead to smaller litter sizes and smaller birth weights, along with other congenital abnormalities. In turn, if the kittens are fed a lack of taurine, they can delay growth and development.
How does my cat get her taurine?
Taurine was first discovered as an essential amino acid in cats in the 1980s. Therefore, all commercial cat foods have been supplemented with taurine to give your cat the concentrations it needs. Taurine is only found in animal tissue, which makes cats carnivores.
Pet food companies and researchers have found that not all of the taurine they put in canned cat food can be used by your cat’s body. This is partly due to the heat applied in processing canned cat food. The pet food companies have compensated for this by adding more taurine than dry food to their wet food formulations. As long as you are feeding a commercial cat food that is suitable for your cat’s age group (growth, adult maintenance, pregnancy/lactation), you can be sure that your cat’s diet contains sufficient taurine.
It is important to note that when reviewing the cat food’s life stage, you should rely not only on the huge writing on the front of the bag but rather on what the AAFCO says. AAFCO is the regulator for pet food. An AAFCO statement is usually on the back or side panel and near the guaranteed analysis and/or ingredients list. The AAFCO declaration states for which phase of life the food is intended and whether it is a food formulated or if it has been tested. Formulated means that the pet food company has followed guidelines set by AAFCO to produce pet food for this species and for this stage of life. Tested means that the pet food company not only followed the guidelines but then dieted the food to make sure it was healthy, whole, and safe for your pet.
If you are putting your cat on a prescription diet, the levels of taurine in the diet will be taken into account when formulating the diet to treat your pet’s disease. When cooking for your cat at home, it is not necessary to add a taurine supplement if your protein source contains adequate taurine levels. However, check your specific prescription with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is getting all of the nutrients it needs, including vitamins and minerals.
Do I have to give my cat a taurine supplement?
It is not always necessary to supplement your cat’s diet with additional taurine. Again, all commercially available cat foods contain enough taurine for their marked phase of life. If your cat has a taurine deficiency-related disease, your cat may need adequate dietary supplementation, at least until the symptoms go away. Supplementation may also be needed if the majority of your cat’s diet is not from commercial food.
It is relatively safe to supplement your cat with taurine, and supplements are available over the counter. However, you should always check with your veterinarian before starting your cat on a taurine supplement. This is because the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements like drugs, so not all dietary supplements are created equal. Your veterinarian can help you in the right direction in choosing which taurine supplement to use.
Taurine is an essential amino acid that all cats need in their daily diet. If you are concerned that your cat is not getting enough taurine, speak to your veterinarian. They can help you troubleshoot areas of your cat’s diet and help you answer any questions about your cat’s food.