AAFCO Chart

Taurine: All about this CRITICAL Heart Health Amino Acid

What is taurine?

Most cat owners today have heard the word taurine and know to a general extent that it is required to keep their cat healthy. Beyond that, most are unaware of what exactly taurine is and why it is a vital part of the feline nutritional needs. This is exactly what you will be educated on in today’s article!
Taurine is a type of amino acid, and amino acids form the main constituents of all proteins. Taurine is exclusively found in animal-based proteins. It is critical for normal vision, normal digestion, normal heart muscle function, to maintain normal pregnancy and fetal development, and to maintain a healthy immune system.
What is an essential amino acid?
When a human or animal eats proteins, those proteins are broken down into their individual amino acid components before they are absorbed. Of the twenty common amino acids, some can be manufactured within the body from other amino acids while others are ‘essential’, meaning that they must be included as part of the diet. Different species of animals have different essential amino acid requirements. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats.
Most mammals are able to manufacture enough taurine from other amino acids to meet their needs. However, cats have a limited ability to manufacture taurine; therefore taurine is classified as an “essential amino acid” in the cat. Fortunately, taurine can readily be obtained from the diet, as long as the diet contains animal-based proteins on a regular basis as the cats’ body cannot effectively store this essential amino acid either.
What happens if taurine levels are deficient?
One of the biggest problems with taurine deficiency is that clinical signs of taurine deficiency are slow to develop. It can take between five months and two years before symptoms become apparent, depending on the cat’s life stage. Also the symptoms can be overlooked or misdiagnosed as other diseases.
If taurine levels are deficient, the retinal cells of the eyes will eventually degenerate, impairing the vision. This condition is referred to as feline central retinal degeneration (CRD). Deficiency of taurine will also lead to a weakening of the muscle cells in the heart, causing a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. Taurine is also a component of bile salts, and its deficiency may cause digestive disturbances. Left untreated for too long, retinal degeneration will lead to irreversible blindness, while dilated cardiomyopathy will progress to heart failure and death.

How to prevent Taurine Deficiency?

Feeding your cat a species appropriate diet is the best way to prevent taurine deficiency. A cat’s, species appropriate diet, should consist of a very high percentage of protein, some fats and very little carbohydrates. Ideally your cat will receive this protein in its raw “undenatured” (non-cooked) form. This is because heat destroys about 50% of the taurine content; (some research says heat destroys anywhere between 50%-100% of taurine). Heat also destroys other essential amino acids, enzymes, and a high percentage of nutrients. This becomes a problem when you feed your kitty a cooked meal…whether homemade or processed.
You may be wondering then, how you can be feeding your cat a commercially prepared “cooked” canned or dry food diets for years and they are okay? Well this is due to the fact that pet food companies add taurine back into their cooked formula diets to help prevent deficiencies. Okay so great you should be good to go with feeding your cat the same food you have been right…? Not so fast let’s dig a bit deeper.

How much Taurine does my cat need?

Now this may come as surprise, but no long term clinical studies have been done on the daily required allowance of taurine in a cat’s diet. The reason being is it can take months, or years, to see the results of a taurine-deficient diet. Therefore, just like in human nutrition; very few dose experiments have been done. However, in the few clinical controlled studies that have been done it was observed that cats given 500mg of taurine in their daily diet showed no signs of deficiency. At a higher dose, researchers saw a slight improvement in reproduction, and a lower dose caused heart abnormalities.
In spite of no long term studies on the feline requirement of taurine, the AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) determined the minimum amount of taurine required for cats is 0.2% in canned foods and 0.1% in dry foods. Sadly these numbers are merely the minimum required to keep a cat from developing a deficiency related disease, not the amount needed to maintain good or optimal health. It is theorized that many cats cannot maintain optimal health at these low levels. This is thought to be especially true for the hairless breeds, with their challenged metabolisms due to their extra energy output to maintain their body temperature.
Another sad truth is the pet food companies settle for only achieving these minimum levels in the pet food to be allowed to say it meets the standards. This is similar to you maintaining only the minimum amount of vitamin A so that you will not go blind. Wouldn’t you want to be sure your food provided you with an ample amount of vitamin A so that you not only do NOT go blind, but have 20/20 vision?

AAFCO Chart

What DO we know about Taurine levels for cats?

Well we do have a few experiments to base our knowledge on, although limited; they are both extremely insightful. Firstly, we can see the long-term results of taurine deficiency in cats in the work of Dr. Frances Pottenger. From 1932 to 1942, Pottenger conducted a feeding experiment of cooked food vs raw food and its effect on feline health. There was nothing known of taurine and its importance to cats at the time of his experiments, so there were NO added taurine supplements into the cooked diets as with today’s commercial pet foods. To summarize his experiment: he divided about 100 cats into two groups: one group was fed raw milk and raw meat, and the other group was fed cooked meats and pasteurized milk. The cats fed raw foods, thrived and reproduced. The cats fed cooked foods, disintegrated in health, and had blindness, heart disease, high mortality rate of kittens, until they failed to reproduce altogether. It is very clear that the process of cooking the food damaged the critical amino acids and the cats on the cooked foods all had the classic symptoms of a taurine deficiency. To read more visit this link; http://www.beyondveg.com/tu-j-l/raw-cooked/raw-cooked-1h.shtml
A second example, researchers at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California conducted a feeding experiment using 22 kittens between the ages of 7 to 20 weeks old. The idea behind the experiment was to see if diet played a role in Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD). The cats were divided into two groups. One group was fed raw ground rabbit, and the other group was fed commercial cat food. After one week, the researchers noticed the kittens on raw ground rabbit meat had improved stool quality. After one month, the raw fed cats had firm stools, while the commercial fed kittens had soft to liquid stools. As the experiment continued, the raw fed had shiny, soft fur; and the commercial fed, did not. Then by the 10th month, one of the cats who had been eating the ground raw rabbit meat suddenly developed dilated cardiomyopathy. Moreover, 70% of the remaining raw rabbit diet fed cats, which appeared outwardly in great health, also had heart muscle changes compatible with taurine deficiency and could have developed heart failure if continued on the raw rabbit diet. For the remaining three months of the study, the raw rabbit diet was supplemented with taurine and taurine levels returned to normal and most of the cats regained normal heart health. http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccah/local-assets/pdfs/Role_of_diet_feline%20health_Glasgow.pdf

Need MORE Proof that Taurine Deficiency is causing heart Disease including HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy)?

Anthea Appel, an Animal Naturpath, who writes the “Cats & Dogs Naturally” blog writes about her experiences. “Earlier this year, I’ve had a couple of clients who came to me with cats suffering from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is a heart disease that causes the thickening of the heart. And, what I found interesting was that both these cats were fed the same brand of a “holistic,” processed cat food; (how can processed food be holistic? Now that’s what I call an oxymoron!). To me, this was a Red Flag. {that the food is suspect to be deficient in taurine}
Most veterinarians will tell you the cause of HCM is unknown, or that some breeds are predisposed to HCM. But I feel nutrigenomics should be taken into consideration. Nutrigenomics is the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression. I suspected that this particular brand of cat food may have been deficient in taurine.
Nonetheless, this reminds me of a story: In 1988, a cardiology veterinary student noticed that one of his feline patients he was treating for congestive cardiomyopathy had extremely low blood serum of taurine. Now, this cat was fed one of the so-called best “high quality” “premium” commercial cat foods’ which according to its label contained all the daily requirement of taurine. This puzzled the veterinarian, so he went back to check other clinical cases of feline congestive cardiomyopathy. And to his amazement, he discovered that virtually all of the cases of this disease had low taurine levels in their blood. When the cats were given a taurine supplement many of them showed a dramatic improvement. Read more by visiting this link: http://catsndogsnaturally.com

How can my cat acquire Taurine Deficiency if I am feeding a commercial cat food which is AAFCO approved to meet the taurine requirements?

Well, the answer to this lies within the system. The amount of taurine required in pet foods is only the minimum amount needed so that the animal does not die or suffer apparent health conditions. The first thing wrong with that is that we should be aiming for food quality that does not just keep the pets alive but makes them Thrive! The second issue is that pet food manufacturers’ “feeding trials;” only last about 6 months. So, if the animal is still alive and appears to be healthy after 6 months then the pet food is approved to sell to the public. However, it takes longer than 6 months to see the effects of a taurine deficiency in a cat; they could maintain health with no serious side effects for several years until one day out of the blue they are showing symptoms of heart disease. Or sadly what is often the case with HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) is they will die suddenly.

How does this relate to the Sphynx Cat & other Hairless Breeds?

The need for more taurine (along with many other nutrients), above the minimum requirements set by the AAFCO could not be more true for the hairless breeds of cats because of their unique metabolic systems. Most people, who know the breed, know that due to their lack of fur they require more energy than a typical furred breed of cat; and that energy comes in the form of food. Any Sphynx owner can attest that they eat at least twice as much as other cats that they either currently own or have previously owned. However, with this knowledge most people do not look deeper into what this actually means, and asking why they are eating more than the average cat?
Hairless cats eat more food, and need more energy, because they expel more energy. This increased energy expulsion (loss) is due to their precious body-heat freely leaving due to the lack of fur. This increased loss of energy requires more calories to meet the extra energy demands. However beyond the increase in calories, they also require an increase in all of the nutrients; including minerals, vitamins, and amino acids like taurine to sustain their high need for energy. When we really gain the appreciation for the already known fact that the hairless breeds increased energy requirements, it is all very clear and easy to see the connection to the breeds increased need for taurine. This consideration really helps drive it home, when you also consider the fact that the body systems which require the MOST amount of energy are, the Brain, and the HEART! Energy, which is derived directly from nutrients like Taurine of course!

Why HCM rates in the Hairless Cat Breeds is so high; putting it all together…

So now that we have all of the information laid out in front of us, I feel it is very clear to see the huge connection between diet, specifically taurine, and heart disease in cats. This can be true for all breeds of cats, but especially in the hairless breeds which are unfortunately known for their severely high incidence rates of HCM. It is all very simple really; hairless cats require more energy, the heart muscle requires more energy than any other organ, the heart makes energy from taurine, taurine must be acquired from diet, diets consisting of only the minimum amounts of taurine are leading to deficiencies and heart disease in the hairless cat breeds.

Should I supplement my cat with Taurine?

This answer is YES, and NO. First of all, you do not want to be supplementing your cat with added taurine without being under the supervision of a veterinarian who has recommended dose/need for your cat; as there is risk of illness from overdose. Also, most all available taurine supplements are synthetic, “lab created” forms of taurine; this type of taurine is not the best or natural form for your cat. The best thing to do for your cat if you are worried about how much taurine they are getting in their diet; as I suspect you are after reading this article; is to feed your cat a high quality balanced diet which will naturally contain high amounts of taurine, along with the MANY other critical amino acids which will NOT be found in a single supplemental product of taurine.

In regards to health and nutrition it is always best to receive the nutrients your body needs from its whole food source, not in supplemental form whenever possible. Even if you are feeding a high quality diet to your cat and you still worry about the taurine levels in their diet (as I do), there are a couple of other ways you can safely sneak in some extra punch of this great heart, and health promoting amino acid! You can simply add a beef liver supplement to their diet, or add beef liver treats 3-4 days per week. The great news is that unlike our picky palate’s these days, cats LOVE beef liver and will gladly enjoy the addition to their weekly diets!
Beef liver is one of the best and most concentrated sources of taurine found naturally available. Gram for gram, liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods available to us. It contains a large amount of high-quality protein, an easily absorbed form of iron, all of the B vitamins (including B12 and folic acid in significant amounts), balanced quantities of vitamin A, many trace elements and minerals including copper, zinc, chromium, phosphorous and selenium, essential fatty acids EPA, DHA and AA, as well as the powerful antioxidant CoQ10; (another very important heart health constituent… but that is a whole separate blog article).

What if my cat is diagnosed with HCM or another form of heart disease?

I would be highly suspicious that your cat may be suffering from a taurine deficiency if they are diagnosed with any type of heart disease. The first thing I would do is asses your cats current diet and consider switching to a higher quality diet which will naturally provide more of the critical amino acids like the taurine your cat needs for optimal health. No matter what the diagnosis, or what your veterinarian/specialist are saying, it is never too late to get your cat on a heart-healthy diet NOW! Many veterinarians are vastly undereducated in nutrition and understanding the biological impacts of nutrition on the body systems. Not to imply any blame, it just simply is not taught in any depth in veterinary school. I do advise however if you are going to switch your cats diet, especially if they are currently ill with a heart health problem, be sure that you have researched how to properly and slowly switch your cats diet so as to avoid additional stress to their bodies.
I would also highly suggest that you discuss with your veterinarian or cardiac specialist the impact of taurine on your cat’s health, and ask for a taurine level test to be performed on your cat. Although not very well utilized, there are labs which offer taurine level analysis in the veterinary field. All your vet’s office need do is to locate an appropriate lab to send the sample out to be tested; which can be done right along any other routine blood work check up on your cat. It is theorized that even on a good quality diet, some cats, particularly some specialized breeds of cats do require more than the average or certainly minimum intakes of taurine in their diets to maintain a health promoting level within their body systems. Be your cat’s health advocate, as they rely 100% on you to make the best decisions for their lives and health.

Where do we go from here?

I feel strongly that so many beautiful cats, and specifically the hairless cat breeds, are suffering and dying every day due to the low standards in the commercial pet food industry. However there is a simple solution to helping prevent many cases of heart disease; simply feeding our cats a balanced species appropriate diet that they were made for. The ideal diet for a cat should be primarily meat, including organ meats, and bone. This diet is best eaten in its raw form as that is how the nutrients in the food are retained in their highest potency. This diet should contain a few additional crucial vitamins and minerals and a very small amount of carbohydrates. A diet fed in its raw form typically doesn’t need additional taurine supplements unless it is sourced from a protein which is naturally low in taurine like rabbit and some types of fish. Otherwise, most meat sources are naturally so high in taurine that when it is consumed as the primary part of the cats diet and fed in the raw form they will be ingesting enough of the levels they need for optimal health, just as they did for thousands upon thousands of years in the wild; just as their wild relatives do today.
However, I note that this diet MUST be a complete and balanced diet; either a commercially prepared balanced raw food diet, or a very meticulously prepared raw home-made diet, which has been prescribed and balanced by a professional. The reason for this is because some of the worst diet related illnesses come from the well-meaning owner, who is lacking in the understanding of what it requires to make a complete and balanced diet for their cat. If there is not the correct ratio of muscle meat, organ meat, and bone to properly mimic a cats natural prey diet, than they can fall victim to severe deficiencies in more than just taurine. The LOWEST quality, commercially prepared, cooked dry food, would be a better option for a cat than a home cooked, or raw homemade diet, which has not been balanced properly!

To help simplify the vast array of choices as to what to feed your cat; the following list illustrates the best diet for you cat in order from the highest quality for BEST long lasting health to lowest quality:

1. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages Raw Food Diet
2. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages Freeze-Dried Raw Food Diet
3. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages Dehydrated Food Diet
4. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages Home-cooked Diet
5. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages High Quality Holistic/Organic Canned Food Diet
6. Any Quality ONLY Canned Food Diet
7. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages High Quality Holistic/Organic Canned & Dry Food Diet
8. Any Quality Canned & Dry Food Diet
9. Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages High Quality Holistic/Organic ONLY Dry Food Diet
10. Any Quality ONLY Dry Food Only Diet
11. Incomplete Home-Prepared Raw Food Diet
12. Incomplete Home-Prepared Cooked Food Diet
I think most people truly want what is best for their cats; often times everything which may seem like a poor decision is simply a non-educated decision. Now take this knowledge and apply it to your cat and decide which steps you can take to give your beloved cat a better life. Which is the food of the highest quality that you can work into your life and your schedule and your budget? Remember too that often times even making seemingly small changes can have a BIG impact. Like learning to swap out your afternoon cookie for a piece of fruit can make a big impact giving your body more of what it needs not what hurts it. You may make a simple change of removing all dry food from your cat’s diet and just keep them on the same brand of canned food they were eating and that can make a HUGE positive health impact!
***Please refer back to the main blog page to find my other blog articles recommending my TOP Raw, Freeze-dried/Dehydrated, and canned food diets. LiLNudists.com/blog1***

 

Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible. A raw food diet may not be appropriate for all cats in all stages of health and we always recommend having your cat examined and discussing diet changes with your veterinarian.

 

Keep those Hairless Kitties Healthy and Happy Everyone!!!

Text: Copyright © April Arguin RDH, Founder of LiLNudists Sphynx, Bambino, SphynxieBob, & BamBob Cattery. All rights reserved.