Why do cats need taurine in their diets? Taurine is a type of amino acid. These substances are the building blocks of all proteins, and taurine is found only in animal-based proteins. This amino acid becomes critical for kitty to have normal vision, digestion, heart muscle function, normal pregnancy, and a healthy immune system.
The fact that taurine can only come from animal-based proteins gives new meaning to the phrase, “obligate carnivore.” Cats have a limited ability to manufacture taurine, and thus this amino acid must be included as part of the diet. As no large quantities are stored, kitty must consume protein on a regular basis to replenish the supply.
Taurine Has Several Important Uses
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, become essential to form and maintain muscles, skin and coat, and organs. Taurine has the responsibility for health and maintenance of the following systems found in your cat’s body:
- Digestive tract
- Reproductive function
Taurine’s Importance For Eyesight
The rods and cones, light-sensing cells in kitty’s retina, process light entering the eye. These cells which contain taurine, in turn send neurological impulses to the brain for it to interpret. Taurine is also found in the retina itself, and its lack can lead to the following vision problems:
- Night blindness
- Inability to discern colors
- Eventually, complete loss of sight
Ways In Which Taurine Strengthens Kitty’s Heart
In the 1980s, scientists discovered that taurine plays a role in maintaining the necessary and proper level of calcium and other minerals located on either side of a cat’s heart membranes. If these levels become imbalanced, the heart muscles will no longer contract correctly.
Thus, if a cat does not get enough taurine, it can lead to gradual heart failure.
How Taurine Helps Maintain Digestive Tract Health
To digest fat, the cat’s body must have taurine. Without enough of this essential amino acid, your kitty cannot process fats needed for energy, skin and coat health, or the delivery of essential acids to maintain cell structure.
If your cat cannot produce bile, it can lead to diarrhea and nausea, and kitty may even stop eating.
How Does Taurine Aid The Reproductive Function?
If a mother cat’s system falls low on taurine, she may not carry her kittens to full term. As a result, growth becomes retarded. The mother cat might experience poor health.
For a mother cat and kittens, it becomes important that both get high levels of taurine in their food. Its presence will ensure healthy growth.
Best Protein Sources For Taurine
The following weigh in as the most frequently used protein sources. Included is the biological value, which refers to what percentage of the protein source is metabolisable.
- Chicken (98% biological value)
- Tuna, salmon, sardines, or prawns (94% biological value)
- Beef and pork or ham (87% biological value)
Protein sources such as wheatgerm, corn, and other vegetable proteins rank below 65%. Also, though organ or muscle meat contain taurine, your kitty may not find it very digestible. If you stick to a diet based on chicken, lamb, or fish, your kitty should get enough taurine.
Two organizations regulate all commercial cat foods. In the U.S., it’s the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and in Europe, it’s the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). Look for the notice on the food container that one of these organizations has approved the food as “complete and balanced.”
What About A Taurine Cat Food Supplement?
If you become concerned that your cat is not ingesting enough taurine, you can purchase a variety of over-the-counter taurine supplements. However, talk to your vet before you decide which one to choose.
How Can You Ensure Kitty Gets Enough Taurine?
You need to check two things when you select cat food:
- The ingredients list
- The guaranteed analysis
Ingredients appear on the list in descending order of volume, so those with the largest share appear first. Though all ingredients appear on the list, some could be misleading. Be wary of the terms “animal by-products” or “meat and animal derivatives.”
Manufacturers can use such vague terms to get away with adding whatever ingredients happen to have the lowest price. Do you want your kitty eating road kill or diseased meat? These can happen.
Another trick is to split up one ingredient into several. For example, corn in cat food could be split into corn meal, ground corn, and corn gluten. By making this ingredient smaller, meat will certainly stay at the top of the list.
So, What About The Guaranteed Analysis?
The guaranteed analysis is a measure of quantity, not quality. It should contain the percentage of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and moisture. Sometimes it includes the amount of ash and the vitamins or minerals.
Look at both the ingredient list and the guaranteed analysis to get the best picture of the food.
How Does The Vet Diagnose A Taurine Deficiency?
The main reason for such a deficiency is diet. If you feed your cat a homemade diet, make sure to include enough animal-based proteins. Another cause: Does your cat prefer dog food? Not good, as most dog foods do not contain enough taurine.
Perhaps the cause comes from an underlying illness.
The signs of the deficiency can develop very slowly. It could take from several months to several years to become apparent.
The vet will perform a comprehensive physical exam covering all of your cat’s systems, especially the heart and the eyes. For the heart exam, the vet will listen closely to kitty’s heartbeat and rhythm. A chest X-ray or an electrocardiogram may provide necessary information.
For the eye exam, the vet will look closely at the retina, located in the back of the eye. He will check for any signs of retinal damage.
A few blood samples allows the vet to perform routine blood work and to test specifically for taurine.
Here is a video about the necessity for your cat to ingest taurine.
Taurine, A Must-Have For Kitty Health
The amino acid, taurine, stands as a vitally important ingredient that all cats need in their daily diet. If you feed a balanced food that provides all basic nutrition, kitty should do well. If you have any concerns as to whether your cat gets enough taurine, check with your vet. Know what you feed your cat and make sure kitty gets all necessary dietary ingredients.
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