What is Taurine Deficiency?
Taurine is an essential amino acid in cats, responsible for a variety of important bodily functions such as vision, heart function, digestion, and fetal development. Amino acids are fuels the body needs to function properly and are typically derived from protein that cats and other animals digest and break down. Cats are especially susceptible to taurine deficiency since they are unable to convert other amino acids into taurine, unlike some other species.
Symptoms of Taurine Deficiency in Cats
Symptoms of taurine deficiency in your cat are slow to progress and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms will often be degenerative, which means they become progressively worse over time. Signs of taurine deficiency include:
- Retinal degeneration
- Irreversible blindness if retinal degeneration is not addressed
- Weakening of the muscles of the heart leading dilated cardiomyopathy
- Death if cardiomyopathy is not addressed
- Digestive issues
- Fetal abnormalities
- Small litter sizes
- Low birth weights
- Delayed growth and development in kittens
Causes of Taurine Deficiency in Cats
Taurine is naturally found in uncooked meat which makes up a considerable portion of diets in wild cats. Cooking food can often degrade or destroy taurine, which is why commercial cat foods typically supplement their recipes with this nutrient. Taurine deficiency typically occurs when your cat is eating a commercial diet or some home prepared raw diets that do not include organ meat, which is where the highest concentrations of the amino acid is found. Recent recalls of cat food have focused on lack of appropriate levels of taurine in the final product.
Diagnosis of Taurine Deficiency in Cats
Taurine deficiency will often be a difficult diagnosis to make on its own. Your veterinarian will need a thorough medical history and a recounting of the progression of any symptoms. Of particular importance will be a full accounting of your cat’s diet. If you feed your pet a commercial cat food, bringing the bag or a picture of the ingredients list will be useful. If you use a home prepared diet you should carefully document the ingredients and provide a full list to your vet.
Next your veterinarian will run a full blood panel and urinalysis. This will involve collecting a small sample of blood from your cat in a painless and quick blood draw procedure. Since taurine deficiency often will not cause elevated levels that would appear, these tests will generally help rule out conditions with similar symptoms.
Other diagnostic tests will depend on the symptoms your cat is displaying. Your vet may perform a detailed eye examination in order to look for retinal degeneration. The retina requires high amounts of taurine in order to function properly and low levels will cause irreversible degeneration. If dilated cardiomyopathy is suspected, ultrasound or chest x-rays will help to diagnose the condition or rule out a more serious genetic heart defect or damage. Your vet may also want to perform an electrocardiogram in which the electrical function of your cat’s heart is monitored for normal rhythm.
Treatment of Taurine Deficiency in Cats
Treatment of your cat will begin with supporting your cat’s underlying symptoms. Once your cat has become stabilized, the standard treatment for taurine deficiency is supplementation of taurine. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and how long your cat has been suffering, ongoing supplementation may be needed for the life of your cat. Synthetic taurine will be required for supplementation, as once deficiency is present the conditions have progressed too far for dietary changes alone to resolve the condition.
Recovery of Taurine Deficiency in Cats
The long term prognosis for recovery from taurine deficiency in your cat will depend on the progression of the condition and the level of damage incurred from the deficiency. If the taurine deficiency has been short-term or has not caused permanent damage, after sufficient taurine supplementation has allowed levels in the body to regulate, your cat will have a good chance at full recovery.
If significant damage has occurred as a result of the deficiency, your cat may need additional medications or support. Medication may be needed to help support your cat’s heart if it has developed dilated cardiomyopathy. If your cat has suffered from vision damage you may need to alter the living environment in order to support your cat’s daily life. Vision damage should not affect your cat’s ability to live a long and healthy life.
Management of taurine deficiency will also require rectifying the dietary deficiencies that caused the condition to develop. Your cat should be fed a balanced diet with the adequate amount of nutrients. Pet owners should also pay attention to any recalls of commercial cat food in order to ensure that their cat is receiving adequate nutrition.