Taurine Deficiency in Cats (Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment)

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Today, we are going to talk about cat nutrition. And, at this point, about a particular and important topic, which is taurine deficiency in cats. We will explain taurine, its implications for your cats’ health, and the differences between dog and cat food concerning taurine needs. Also, where do cats get taurine from? Don’t miss this fascinating article! Welcome!

Cute black and white cat

What is Taurine Deficiency in Cats?

Unlike humans or dogs, cats cannot synthesize taurine to meet their daily nutritional needs. Cats have to ingest this amino acid in their diet. Taurine has a role in the functioning of various organs and metabolic processes.

Its deficiency can result in severe and irreversible health problems if not treated in time. 

Symptoms of Taurine Deficiency in Cats

  • Blindness: Taurine is essential for the proper development and function of the eye’s retina cells. If taurine levels are insufficient, retinal cells cannot function and die, causing partial vision problems or blindness. This process refers to feline central retinal degeneration. Unfortunately, once these cells disappear, they cannot be replaced.
  • Heart disease: Taurine is also necessary for the normal function of heart muscle cells. It is a regulator of muscle contraction. Taurine deficiency leads to the weakening of the heart muscle. The heart becomes enlarged, which affects its ability to pump blood. This condition, called dilated cardiomyopathy, can be fatal.
  • Impaired reproductive performance: Taurine is necessary for optimal reproductive performance and growth. Both mother and kittens must maintain adequate taurine levels during gestation, lactation, and growth to ensure proper structural development.
  • Alterations in the immune system: In a healthy cat, the cells of the immune system have high concentrations of taurine. Thus, the feline immune system may develop abnormalities if cats have a taurine deficiency.

The Causes of Feline Taurine Deficiency

Taurine exists almost only in proteins of animal origin. In general, commercial cat foods fulfill this need entirely. A taurine deficiency is rare.

Then, the causes are almost always because the feline receives a vegan or vegetarian diet or because its food consists of kibble made for dogs (not supplemented with taurine).

Taurine Benefits for Cats

Taurine plays a vital role in the correct functioning of the cat’s organism. In particular, for:

  • The activity of the heart, eyes, hearing, and brain.
  • The nervous and immune systems.
  • Reproduction and fetal growth.
  • Bile formation (aids in the digestion of fats).
  • Regulation of body temperature.
  • It also acts as an antioxidant, helping protect cells against aging.

Diagnosing Feline Taurine Deficiency

The diagnosis is difficult because clinical signs develop from months to years before they become evident. The veterinarian will need a complete medical history and monitoring of the progression of symptoms over time.

Of particular importance will be a study of the cat’s diet. If the food is commercial, bringing a bag or photo of the ingredient list will be helpful. If it is a homemade diet, list the ingredients and provide them to the veterinarian.

The veterinarian should then perform a complete blood and urine analysis. These studies usually do not show out-of-range values. Yet, the measurement of taurine in the blood is fundamental data for the particular diagnosis of this pathology. The reference values are:

  • Taurine in plasma > 60 nmol / ml
  • Taurine in whole blood > 250 nmol/ml

Some cats with taurine deficiency have evidence of central retinal degeneration, so an ophthalmologic examination may be necessary. But, the absence of retinal degeneration does not exclude taurine deficiency.

Chest X-rays, cardiac ultrasound, and electrocardiogram will be essential studies to diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy.

Domestic tabby cat

Available Treatment Options

Treatment relies on daily re-feeding with taurine implemented by administering a good quality commercial cat food. 

Besides, taurine supplementation should always occur until taurine levels are normal. The dosage of taurine cat supplement is 250 mg by mouth twice daily, usually in powder or paste.

There are occasions when damage to the heart muscle is irreversible, and in these cases, heart failure should also receive treatment.

Generally, the vision lost due to lack of taurine will not recover. So, providing a safe habitat free of potential hazards is important if the cat has lost sight.

Prognosis

In many cats, symptoms will reverse if taurine deficiency becomes identified and treated before the disease develops.

Cats that get treated and survive the first 30 days have an excellent chance of improvement. Considerable progress in a cat’s attitude and appetite is often seen even within the first few weeks of treatment with taurine-rich cat food and supplements.

When taurine deficiency affects growing kittens, their growth can become compromised, as well as their reproductive capacity. Unfortunately, heart and vision problems are not reversible.

Can It Be Prevented?

Thanks to good quality commercial foods, taurine deficiency is easy to prevent nowadays. In formulating these foods, the first and second ingredients should be of animal origin. Since the taurine concentration can decrease during food processing, manufacturers usually add it at the end to ensure adequate concentrations.

Commercial cat foods with grains or corn as the first ingredient may need taurine supplementation.

If the owner opts for home feeding, a nutrition expert must elaborate on the menu to avoid deficiencies.

Vegetarian cat foods may not contain enough taurine, as taurine is not present in the vegetable proteins used in such products. Supplementation is essential to mitigate the lack of taurine.

Why Do Cats Need Taurine?

Taurine is an essential nutrient for cats because their organism cannot synthesize it to maintain their daily requirements. Thus, the cat’s diet must contain the necessary amount of taurine. Meat is the primary source of taurine for the cat, which supports the concept that felines are strict carnivores.

But what is taurine for cats? Taurine is a breakdown product of an animal protein amino acid. The correct term is amino-sulfonic acid. But many people, including us, speak of taurine as an amino acid.

Humans, canines, and felines all need protein to survive. Proteins are large, complex molecules made up of chains of much smaller molecules called amino acids. Like other animals, cats need protein in their diet to provide them with specific amino acids their body cannot synthesize, known as essential amino acids, in this case, taurine. The cat’s body remodels these in the form of new proteins necessary for tissue growth and the repair and regulation of metabolic processes.

Felines have special nutritional requirements that differentiate them from other carnivores, such as dogs. It requires more protein in its diet than most mammals. At least 25% of a cat’s daily calorie intake is protein. Ingredients of animal origin are the main source of protein and amino acids.

Is Taurine Good for Cats?

Taurine in cats is not only good, but it is indispensable for the proper functioning of specific organs and tissues, such as the nervous, immune, and cardiac systems, and the vision and hearing senses.

Although the lack of taurine can cause many problems in the health of cats, too much taurine for cats never occurs since it does not accumulate in the organism, and the surplus expells through the urine. There have never been any known inconveniences due to high taurine intake in cats.

How Much Taurine Does a Cat Need?

The recommended daily dose for adult cats is about 0.00352 oz (100 mg) kg (lb) of body weight daily, but this figure is an average, as taurine needs may vary depending on the characteristics of each cat. So, it is best to consult a veterinarian for senior or pregnant and lactating cats.

The minimum taurine requirement in commercial pet food for adult cats is 25 mg/100 kcal of dry food and 50 mg/100 kcal for canned food.

Where Does Taurine Come From for Cats?

Above all, Taurine is in meat, fish, and seafood. There are many options to incorporate taurine into the feline diet, such as beef, poultry, pork, lamb, etc. It is in the viscera, liver or kidney, and muscles. Yet, taurine is sensitive to heat, so there will be losses during cooking.

In general, there is no taurine in products of vegetable origin. Some contain taurines, such as garlic or algae, but in minimal amounts and do not usually fit into a cat’s diet.

Sleeping cat

Wrapping Things Up

Taurine deficiency is no longer a common pathology in the veterinarian’s office. Yet, the knowledge about the importance of taurine in the metabolism of cats and the nutritional needs of the same has led to the development of specific cat foods that incorporate it among its ingredients. 

Likewise, having this knowledge helps owners to have the tools to choose the best food for their cats.