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The importance of a balanced diet (and taurine) for feline heart health

What is taurine?

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 (synthesised 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.

Examples of nutritionally balanced cat foods
All premium quality brands of cat food will be nutritionally balanced. Each of the following brands will provide adequate levels of dietary taurine, as well as containing the correct balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to keep your cat in optimal health: