Taurine Deficiency in Cats
In general, cats, dogs and humans have very similar nutritional needs. Most of the basic vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids that are essential for humans are also essential for cats, but that is not always the case. Taurine is an amino acid that humans and dogs can produce within their own bodies from other amino acids. Cats, however, cannot synthesize Taurine from other food ingredients and must get it from their diet. Taurine is required for healthy function of the eyes, gastro-intestinal tract, heart, and immune system. Pregnant cats especially require Taurine for the kittens to develop and grow properly.
Taurine is found in animal protein. Because cats are carnivores, they should be consuming fresh animal meat in their food daily, which should provide good levels of Taurine. The cat’s body will metabolize Taurine quickly so it is imperative that they get it in their food daily. Deficiencies in Taurine are not easily recognizable. If a cat does not get enough Taurine the cells in the cat’s retinas will slowly degrade and the quality of the cat’s vision will degrade. The cat will develop cardiomyopathy as the heart muscles become compromised. Digestive upset due to impaired bile production can occur, but because GI upset is a common symptom of other conditions it does not necessarily point to Taurine deficiency. Other symptoms include lethargy and an unhealthy skin and coat. While these symptoms are very slow to progress, if untreated Taurine deficiency can lead to permanent blindness and possibly death due to heart failure.
Taurine deficiencies are easy to avoid by feeding your cat good quality commercial cat food. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recognizes Taurine as an essential feed ingredient for cats so it is included in all balanced feline diets. It is important to ensure that cats are getting enough Taurine if you are feeding a home-made diet and a major reason why you should never feed dog food to your cat. Taurine is very safe and there have not been any reports of toxicity from cats eating too much taurine so it is a great idea to give your cat supplements that include Taurine, especially if they have a heart condition.