The discovery of taurine as an essential element of feline nutrition is actually very recent. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that pet food companies became aware of the damage foods lacking taurine were doing. It took the deaths of many kitties to establish reasonable taurine requirements for cat food. Now that we know more about taurine, with good management of their nutrition, our cats can thrive.
What is taurine?
Foods deliver proteins to the body which give the body energy and the necessary parts to rebuild/repair itself. Every protein (whether plant or animal based) is made up of specifically sequenced building blocks called amino acids. There are a total of 22 amino acids that a cat’s body uses. Some of these amino acids can be synthesized (made by the cat’s body) from other materials. Other amino acids, called essential amino acids, must come directly from food because the cat’s body can not synthesize them. One of the 11 essential amino acids for cats is taurine.
Taurine & your cat’s body
Taurine is very important to your cat’s body. As it turns out there are several organs and systems in a cat’s body that depend heavily on having taurine available to them. Some of the functions of taurine in a cat’s body include:
- Development and maintenance of the retinas
- Development and maintenance of the muscles of the heart wall
- Helps skeletal muscles to function normally
- Helps regulate blood sugar and body weight
- Helps regulate defects in the blood flow that supplies the nerves
- Maintenance of the immune system
- Development of fetuses during pregnancy
As is testified to by this list, if a cat does not take in enough taurine in their food, a lot of bad things can happen. They symptoms of taurine deficiency are slow to appear, taking anywhere from 5 months to 2 years. This deficiency can cause blindness, tooth decay, Dilated Cardiomyopathy (a heart disease where the heart is enlarged), fetal abnormalities (in pregnant cats), and more. Depending on how far the problems have progressed, they may be able to be reversed by the correct use of supplements. As always, speak to your veterinarian if you think that your cat may be having a health issue. Don’t try to diagnose things yourself because too many problems look similar without specific testing.
Taurine in cat food
Taurine is only found in meats and fish. Some examples of foods with high taurine levels are Alaskan Salmon, White Mackerel, beef heart, beef liver, lamb, chicken liver, and shrimp. One reason that some cat owners choose a raw diet is because much of the taurine in a meat is lost when it is cooked (anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the original taurine content). Talk with your veterinarian or a feline nutritionist if you are considering making your own cat food to ensure that your recipe includes enough taurine and other essential nutrients. There is nothing wrong with using veterinarian approved taurine supplements with your cat’s diet, but they are not a substitute for high quality animal-based proteins.
The exact amount of taurine that cat’s need daily is a bit unclear. Taurine is not stored in the body, but rather what is needed is used as it cycles through the body and the excess is eliminated in the cat’s waste. According to VCA Hospitals, there have been no reports of cats having problems with overdosing on taurine. The AAFCO requires that all canned wet cat foods have a minimum taurine content of 0.2% on a dry matter basis.You can compare your cat’s favorite wet food to this standard with this dry matter calculator or using the calculation in the image below.
Do you look at taurine content when you choose a food for your kitty?
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