The Secret Ingredient in Your Cat’s Food. What is Taurine and Why is it Essential?

What is Taurine?

Taurine is an amino acid that is considered essential for cats. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, taurine is “a crystalline acid C2H7NO3S that is synthesized in the body from cysteine and methionine, is similar to amino acids but is not a component of proteins” (

Unlike humans and most other mammals, cats cannot naturally produce enough taurine on their own to meet their daily requirements ( Taurine deficiency in cats can lead to serious health issues like dilated cardiomyopathy, a fatal heart condition where the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood properly.

Why Do Cats Need Taurine?

Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats. Unlike humans and dogs, cats cannot synthesize enough taurine on their own and must obtain it from their diet. Taurine is crucial for several aspects of feline health:

Heart Health – Taurine supports proper heart muscle function. It helps maintain the correct mineral balance within heart cells to allow proper electrical signaling and contraction. Taurine deficiency can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal heart disease in cats.1

Vision – Taurine is found in high levels in the retina of cat eyes. It is critical for the normal development and function of the feline visual system. Taurine deficiency can cause retinal degeneration and vision loss.2

Reproduction – Female cats need adequate taurine to properly nourish developing kittens. Taurine deficiency in queens can lead to low birth weight and poor growth in kittens.1

In addition to these crucial roles, taurine supports normal muscle function, digestive health, and a healthy immune system in cats.3 It’s clear that taurine is essential for overall health and wellbeing in felines.

Taurine Deficiency

Taurine deficiency can lead to severe health issues in cats, especially heart disease and vision problems. Cats cannot synthesize enough taurine on their own and must obtain it from their diet (source). Taurine helps maintain the health of the heart muscle and electrical signaling activity – without enough taurine, cats are at risk for cardiomyopathy and heart failure (source).

Taurine deficiency also causes retinal degeneration in cats, leading to vision loss and blindness. Taurine supports the retinal cells in the eyes, and when deficient, the cells start to die off (source). Cats will develop lesions in their retinas that grow larger over time.

Kittens and pregnant or nursing cats have increased taurine requirements and are at higher risk for deficiency. Growing kittens need taurine for proper development, while pregnant and nursing cats need extra for their offspring (source). Taurine deficiency can result in vision loss, heart disease, and even death in young and maternal cats if not treated.

Taurine in the Wild

In their natural habitat, wild cats get their taurine from eating whole prey animals. Unlike domestic cats, wild cats eat the entire animal – muscle meat, organs like liver and heart, and bones. [1] Taurine is found abundantly in all these parts.

Raw meat is the natural source of taurine for felines. Cooking degrades taurine, so cats that eat whole raw prey have an adequate intake. [2] Wild cats thrive on diets with generous amounts of raw meat, organ meats, and bones, so they easily meet their taurine requirements.



Taurine in Commercial Cat Food

While taurine is found naturally in meat, the manufacturing process of commercial cat food destroys much of this amino acid. Therefore, reputable cat food brands will add synthetic taurine to their recipes to ensure adequate levels (1). According to the National Research Council, the minimum recommended level of taurine in dry cat food is 0.1% or 1000 ppm, while wet cat food should contain at least 0.2% or 2000 ppm (2).

When shopping for cat food, be sure to read the ingredient label carefully. Look for “Taurine” listed to confirm it has been supplemented. The taurine content may also be specified in the guaranteed analysis or nutritional adequacy statement (3). Choosing a brand that adheres to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards can help ensure healthy taurine levels as well.

Feeding your cat a commercial diet containing adequate added taurine is the best way to prevent a deficiency in this essential amino acid.

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Wet vs. Dry Cat Food

Wet and dry cat foods differ significantly in their natural taurine content. According to veterinary experts, wet cat food usually contains more natural taurine than dry cat food [1]. This is because the manufacturing process for dry kibble requires high temperatures that can degrade some of the natural taurine in ingredients like meat. As a result, dry cat food needs to have synthetic taurine added to boost levels and prevent deficiency in cats.

One study found that the average taurine content in wet cat food was about 0.1% compared to only 0.05% in dry cat food formulations [2]. However, both wet and dry foods still aim to provide sufficient taurine for cats’ health when supplemented appropriately.

Some veterinary nutritionists recommend feeding cats a combination of wet and dry food to ensure adequate hydration and taurine intake. However, feeding exclusively wet or dry cat food that is nutritionally complete and balanced with enough supplemented taurine can also meet a cat’s needs.

Homemade & Raw Diets

Homemade and raw cat food diets have become increasingly popular, but they require careful formulation to ensure cats get all the nutrients they need. Unlike commercial cat foods which are nutritionally balanced, homemade and raw diets must be supplemented with enough taurine.

Taurine is essential for cats, but it gets destroyed when raw meat and fish are cooked. Raw diets require supplementation too since the natural taurine content can vary. According to one source, cats need around 200 mg of taurine per day based on eating 4 ounces of food daily. (

Taurine must be added after cooking or preparing homemade cat food. It should not be added during cooking when high heat can destroy it. Powdered taurine supplements are available to mix into homemade raw or cooked cat diets.

It’s best to consult your veterinarian to formulate a nutritionally balanced homemade cat food recipe. They can advise proper amounts of taurine and other essential nutrients cats need in their diet.

Signs of Taurine Deficiency

Taurine deficiency can lead to a number of serious health issues in cats if not treated properly. Some of the main signs of taurine deficiency include:

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

One of the most dangerous effects of taurine deficiency is the development of dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, dilated cardiomyopathy is the primary cause of heart failure in cats suffering from taurine deficiency.

Reproductive Issues

Taurine deficiency can also lead to reproductive problems in cats, such as low conception rates, small litter sizes, and high rates of stillborn or premature kittens, according to PetMD. Female cats need adequate taurine levels for proper fetal development.

Vision Loss

Over time, taurine deficiency causes the retina in a cat’s eye to slowly deteriorate leading to visual defects and eventual blindness, according to the WagWalking pet resource. Taurine supports proper eye and retinal health.


General symptoms like lethargy, weight loss and lack of appetite can also be signs of a taurine deficiency, according to VCA. Cats deficient in taurine often become inactive and lack energy.

Diagnosing Taurine Deficiency

Veterinarians will start by performing a physical exam and looking for signs of potential taurine deficiency like dilated cardiomyopathy, reproductive issues, or eye problems. They may also run an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check for heart arrhythmias that can indicate taurine deficiency.

However, the main diagnostic test is a blood test to directly measure taurine levels. Blood taurine levels below 40 nmol/mL are considered deficient. Ideally, levels should be between 60-120 nmol/mL. Cats are also prone to relative taurine deficiencies where blood levels fall within normal ranges but are still too low for that particular cat’s needs (1).

In many cases, taurine deficiency is reversible if identified and treated early enough. However, it depends on the severity and duration of the deficiency. Cats with advanced dilated cardiomyopathy may continue to deteriorate even with taurine supplementation. But cats diagnosed in earlier stages have a good chance of improving their heart function with appropriate treatment (2).



Treating Taurine Deficiency

There are two main treatments for taurine deficiency in cats:

Veterinary prescribed taurine supplements: Once a cat is diagnosed with taurine deficiency, the vet will likely prescribe a commercial taurine supplement, such as Taurine Plus. The taurine is usually given orally, either as a pill or powder mixed with food. The dose and duration depends on the severity of signs. Supplementation may be needed lifelong for some cats.

Diet change to quality commercial food with adequate taurine: Switching to a balanced commercial cat food that contains sufficient amounts of taurine is important. Cats with taurine deficiency should not continue eating food that is deficient in this amino acid. According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, all complete and balanced canned and dry foods contain enough taurine for healthy cats.

With proper supplementation and diet change, many cats with taurine deficiency can make a complete recovery. However, in severe, prolonged cases, some heart damage may be irreversible.

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