4 min read

Taurine for Cats

wellness-taurine-for-cats-hero-image

By Aurus Sy

Published: 02/21/2024, edited: 02/21/2024

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Overview


Taurine is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and like all mammals, cats need them to function. Felines can synthesize 11 of the 22 amino acids they require, but must consume the remaining 11 as part of their diet. Since cats cannot make taurine on their own, it falls under the latter category and is considered an “essential” amino acid. Many other animals can covert the amino acid cysteine to taurine, but kitties cannot.

Taurine was first extracted from ox bile in the 19th century, and gained its name from taurus, the Latin word for ox or bull. Taurine is only found in animal tissue, with high concentrations in the heart, brain, retina, and muscles. 

What is taurine necessary for cats? Read on!




Functions

What does taurine do? A lot—and needless to say, it’s important to your cat’s health. 

Taurine supports your cat’s vision, heart health, digestive system, and immune system. It’s critical for normal pregnancy and fetal development as well. Additionally, taurine has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Specific functions of taurine in the body include:

  • Preventing eye diseases, such as retinal degeneration
  • Producing bile for digestion
  • Strengthening the heart muscle
  • Generating and regulating nerve impulses
  • Stabilizing cell membranes
  • Helping transport calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium in and out of cells. 




How much taurine does a cat need in a day? The recommended allowances set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for cats of all life stages (kittens, adults, and pregnant and nursing cats) are a minimum of 0.25 g per 1,000 kcal ME in extruded food and a minimum of 0.50 g per 1,000 kcal ME in canned food. 

The average adult cat consumes 120 to 160 kcal ME in a day, so they should get at least 30 mg to 40 mg of taurine per day if they’re eating extruded food, and at least 60 mg to 80 mg of taurine per day if they’re eating canned food. 

If based on dry matter, AAFCO recommends a minimum of 0.10% taurine in extruded food and a minimum of 0.20% taurine in canned food, for all life stages. 

If your cat is at risk of taurine deficiency, your vet may recommend supplementing with 500 mg of taurine daily.  




Taurine-rich raw meats and seafood

Food sources

Taurine is naturally found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood. Plant-based foods generally do not have taurine except for red seaweed. 

Foods high in taurine for cats include: 

  • Chicken (especially dark meat)
  • Fish
  • Mussels
  • Clams
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Beef 
  • Pork
  • Organ meats (especially hearts)
  • Red seaweed

Heating or freezing does not destroy taurine, but it does dissolve easily in water, so you’ll want to save the broth and give it to your cat too if you’re cooking for them. 




Signs of taurine deficiency in cats

What happens if a cat lacks taurine? Depending on the cat’s life stage, signs of taurine deficiency can take months to develop. Taurine deficiency can lead to the following conditions:

  • Feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD)
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
  • Digestive disorders
  • Small litter sizes, low birth weights, or fetal abnormalities
  • Delayed growth in kittens

Unlike other forms of retinal degeneration, FCRD often does not have any obvious symptoms, and blindness is only seen at the end stage of the disease.

Dilated cardiomyopathy used to be the most common cardiomyopathy in cats until the mid-1980s, when it was discovered that taurine deficiency was the cause of most cases. Since then, commercial cat food has been supplemented with taurine, and DCM in cats is rare nowadays. 

DCM is characterized by thinning of the walls of the heart, dilation of the ventricles, and a decreased forward flow of blood from the heart. The most common symptoms of DCM in cats are: 

Cat breeds that seem to be more prone to developing DCM include:

Treatment of taurine deficiency

Taurine supplementation is the recommended treatment for taurine deficiency. 

If left untreated, retinal degeneration can lead to irreversible blindness. While supplementing with taurine can slow or stop the progression of retinal degeneration, it usually won’t reverse any damage your cat has already suffered. 

If caught early enough, dilated cardiomyopathy can be reversed with taurine supplementation. If left untreated, however, it will progress to heart failure and death. 

Taurine deficiency in cats can be prevented by feeding a complete and balanced commercial diet. During pregnancy, a cat must consume enough taurine to maintain her health and ensure the proper growth and development of her kittens. 

For more information, check out our guide to taurine deficiency in cats. 




Signs of taurine overdose in cats

Supplementing with taurine is safe and there are no known side effects of too much taurine in cats.




white cat taking a pill

Taurine supplements for cats

Available over-the-counter without a prescription, taurine supplements come in tablet, liquid, capsule, and powder forms. Supplemental taurine is used as a treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy in cats and is usually effective if the disease is caught in its early stages. It’s also recommended for other conditions such as retinal degeneration, epilepsy, and fatty liver disease. 

As mentioned earlier, commercial cat food has been supplemented with taurine since the 1980s, so if your cat is eating a high-quality cat food appropriate to their life stage, they won’t need a supplement. 

But if you’re worried about a taurine deficiency, talk to your vet. They can perform a blood test to confirm if your cat is deficient and recommend a supplement if needed. Note that the quality of supplements can vary among manufacturers, so your vet may have a preferred brand that they will recommend.


Taurine is an essential amino acid that’s vital to feline health. Cats can’t make taurine in their bodies so they must get it from their food. Taurine deficiency can lead to conditions such as  dilated cardiomyopathy but can be prevented or treated through diet or supplementation.


The symptoms of a taurine deficiency can be expensive to treat. Avoid high vet care expenses by securing pet health insurance today!


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