Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taurine in a cat's diet: What is it and why is it essential to feline feed

In response to a recent post titled "Cats eating people food" our friend Kathy commented, adding a very important sideline for pet and cat lovers to be aware of when considering a cat's diet: the presence of taurine in kitty's meals! I used to hear quite frequently that cats benefit more from their own cat food rather than sharing a meal prepared for pet parents but I never really knew why. I do know that recently caring for so many homeless cats who hadn't received  the balanced cat diet contained in most well known brands of feline feed, that many had serious respiratory infections that caused them to wheeze, have problems breathing and the all too common weepy eyes which seriously impacts their vision and eventually their lives! At this point, they really need antibiotics but I tried to minimize early symptoms by crushing up an amino acid called Lysine and mixing into their food.  As Kathy pointed out, amino acids are imperative for cats and as outlined below, it is typically present in most of your cat food brands, so if you do provide people food, be sure to supplement with their cat food as well.
Taurine is an amino acid that is required for many cellular functions. Cats can synthesize (manufacture) taurine in their bodies; however the rate of synthesis is low and taurine supplies are used up quickly. Taurine is produced in the liver and then absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestines, it is found in highest concentration in the heart, central nervous system (CNS), retina, and skeletal muscle.

Why do cats require taurine?

  • To maintain integrity of photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye,
  • To support proper development and functioning of neurons in the cental nervous system,
  • To sustain heart function ,
  • To bond bile acids.

Causes of Taurine deficiency in Cats

Feline taurine deficiency is a syndrome most commonly caused by inadequate intake of taurine in the diet. Cats eating an improperly balanced diet or a vegetarian based diet are most susceptible. Other less common causes are loss of taurine via the intestinal tract and insufficient production of taurine (synthesized by the cat). Most commercial cat food diets are nowadays supplemented with taurine to provide a balanced diet.

Taurine deficiency most commonly results in an enlarged, weakened heart. This condition is usually reversible with taurine supplementation. Deficiency can also cause blindness, poor growth and diminished reproductive performance.

Symptoms of taurine deficiency

  • Heart disease - Taurine is necessary for normal function of the heart muscle cells. Taurine deficiency leads to weakening of the heart muscle, which in turn can lead to heart failure. This condition is known as dilated cardiomyopathy and can be fatal.

  • Blindness - If insufficient taurine is present, the retinal cells can’t function properly and this eventually leads to impaired vision and in some cases, blindness.

  • Reduction in growth

  • Reduction In reproductive performance

Prevention - Checking your cat’s diet

If your cat’s diet is primarily made of high quality animal protein it will contain taurine as this is found naturally in animal-based proteins. Taurine is added to manufactured, dry cat foods that are low in animal-based protein. Wet cat foods are supplemented with twice the amount of taurine found in dry food for cats to maintain adequate blood taurine.

Ingredients labels will only list taurine if it has been added during the manufacturing process, therefore, taurine found naturally in animal based proteins will not be listed.

The best way to ensure your cat is receiving a nutritionally balanced diet is to ask your vet to recommend a food suitable for your cat taking into account age, breed, activity level and any illnesses or problems which may be able to be corrected through diet. In most cases, complete and balanced diets are scientifically formulated to provide all the nutrients to meet your cats dietary needs and ensure sufficient levels of taurine.

A Kat's Tale welcomes your comments, suggestions, tips and of course - your own experiences - so please feel free to express yourself and even share a picture of your precious pet with us! We will post on our special "friends page" so show your baby to the world! Thank you!

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