Cats are strict carnivores who require all of the nutrients they’d get in the wild from eating prey animals like birds, reptiles and small mammals.
Replicating this in our pet cats presents the challenge of providing all the must-have nutritional components of a balanced diet. And certainly one of the absolute most important ingredients is the amino acid taurine, which is essential for cats.
Frequently Asked Questions about Taurine and Cats
What is taurine?
Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats. Amino acids (of which there are many types) are protein building blocks.
Cats do not synthesize enough of their own taurine and so require it from their diet. This includes ALL species of cats, not just our domestic furkids.
Everything from lions to leopards to servals and all in between have the same requirements (at different quantities, obviously).
The amino acid taurine is found in many critical parts of the cat’s body, including the retina in the eye, the brain, muscles and more.
Additionally, taurine is essential for much of the normal functioning of a cat’s body from the skeletal system, to blood, to immunity and brain function. So when taurine levels are low or deficient in a cat, critical health problems occur as these essential parts and processes of the body are deprived of this must-have amino acid.
In short, taurine is not optional for cats; it’s vital.
How important is taurine for cats?
Not just important – ESSENTIAL!
Taurine contributes to much of the parts and processes in a cat’s body, and is really important for their vision, their digestion, the functioning of their heart, in reproductive health, for their immune system.. just to name a few.
Probably the most talked about effect of low or lack of taurine in cats is the effect on their vision, including blindness. There are many other complication and severe life threatening problems that occur with taurine deficiency as well. These horrific effects are so easily avoided with a balanced diet that contain quality animal proteins.
Wild cats and stray cats are highly unlikely to ever experience taurine deficiency as they subsist on natural animal prey items, which is where cats naturally obtain taurine from.
The cats who are at risk are those pets who are not being fed a balanced, nutritionally complete cat diet. Fish such as tuna does not contain taurine and thus is not an appropriate food for cats besides as an occasional treat.
Can cats make taurine?
No they can’t. Unlike many other animals, including us, cats don’t produce their own taurine in the body.
Instead, they get it from the prey animals they eat. And our pets get it from the food we provide them. Importantly: cats don’t retain their taurine levels for long so they need a constant and sufficient supply of it coming into the body.
In other words, they need a quality, nutritionally complete diet on an ongoing basis in order to maintain a suitable level of taurine (and everything else) in the body.
These days, all the top commercial cat foods are carefully formulated to contain the right amount of taurine. In the past this was not the case, with instances of taurine deficiency even in well known brands.
However, low quality and highly questionable commercial cat food sold today (often from scrap fish ingredients from countries such as Thailand and China), are not only often completely devoid of any taurine, but contain little to no nutritional value at all for a cat. Staying away from questionable, low quality, cheap brands of commercial cat food can not be recommended enough. Is it worth risking your cat’s health?
Do cats need taurine supplements?
A healthy cat who is fed a nutritionally complete balanced diet for cats does not need taurine supplementation. Quality cat food has a regulated amount of taurine in it.
People who make their own raw food diet must ensure adequate taurine levels, whether that be through the ingredients in the food itself, or by using an approved supplement.
This is something to speak with your vet about.
Cats that have been diagnosed with taurine deficiency must have a veterinarian’s advice and treatment followed.
Cats that have been diagnosed with other health issue that a veterinarian believes may be affected by taurine are sometimes prescribed a supplement to increase the levels of the amino acid.
Can cats live without taurine?
No, they can not. It is an ESSENTIAL amino acid, meaning cats must receive taurine in their diet. And they must receive it adequately and regularly, as large amounts aren’t stored in the body and levels need to be constantly replenished.
With increased awareness of taurine requirements over the past few decades, and its inclusion in all quality commercial diets, deficiency in this amino acid is relatively rare.
But the cats who are most at risk of taurine deficiency are those who are given dog food (there is no reason to ever give a cat a diet of dog food), and cats who eat a home made diet that does not contain added taurine.
How do cats get taurine in the wild?
While the main meat of an animal, the muscle, contains some taurine, it’s actually the organs that are richest in this amino acid. When a cat eats the heart and brain of its prey, this is where it receives much of its taurine.
Symptoms of low taurine in cats
Signs of deficiency in taurine doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that comes on as a result of a prolonged lack of taurine-containing food consumption. This can be anywhere from a few months up to 2 years before you might notice any signs, depending how old the cat is.
Clearly, any responsible cat owner will not allow their cat to subsist on an inadequate diet but it’s something to be aware of if, for example, you have rescued or adopted a cat that you suspect may have been deprived of suitable food throughout his or her life.
This is (some of) what happens to a cat when he or she is suffering from taurine deficiency:
- Vision impairment due to degeneration of the cells in the retina. Without treatment, blindness occurs.
- Digestive problems due to lack of taurine required for bile salts
- Heart muscle cells become weak, leading to heart failure and death if left untreated.
- Pregnant cats will suffer from poor health and her kittens will have delayed growth as well as the above mentioned issues.
What other nutrients are vital for cat health?
Along with Taurine, another must have in the diet is Thiamine, otherwise known as Vitamin B1. And if we needed another reason to limit the fish intake of our cats, it’s to do with thiamine as well because there are enzymes in fish which have a negative effect on the vitamin B1 levels. And we need to absolutely avoid having that happen.
So once again, if a formulated “cat food” contains nothing but fish, it is NOT a balanced diet nor is it even close to a suitable diet. These cheap fish-byproduct foods really need to be avoided and can be so damaging to cats. It is indeed sad and concerning that they’re even allowed to be sold at all.
Recently, a case in Australia involving a low quality, fish-based cat food whereby thiamine levels were inadequate in the food, causing untold number of cats to become gravely ill, hospitalized, and in some cases, lives were lost.
This vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency in the food indicates a severe lack of quality control and quality ingredients. Once again, it can not be recommended enough to caring cat owners steer clear of cheap, poor quality commercial cat food brands.