go back

The role of taurine in a cat's diet

Anna Suaro
Anna Suaro
Veterinary nutritionist
The role of taurine in a cat's diet

You've probably seen and heard more than once that "cats need taurine!". What it is, and why they need it so much, let's break it down below.

Taurine is a unique beta-amino-sulfonic acid. It can be found as a free amino acid in many tissues, including the brain and retina, in the myocardium, skeletal muscle, liver, platelets, leukocytes, and in complexes with bile salts.

Taurine is not synthesized in cats and is therefore an essential amino acid for them. Cats, in particular, have a limited ability to produce this amino acid but must consume it regularly due to the need to link bile acids with taurine. In contrast to other animals, which need glycine for the synthesis of bile salts, domestic cats only use taurine. 

In addition, cats lose taurine with their feces.

Why does taurine need to be in cat food?

If taurine is deficient, it will lead to a number of pathologies.

Documented signs of taurine deficiency include reproductive failure in cats, developmental abnormalities in kittens, central retinal degeneration and dilated cardiomyopathy.

Feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD) was the first clinical syndrome recognized to be caused by taurine deficiency in cats. The main role of taurine in the proper functioning of the retina is related to the photoreceptor cells, where it regulates the flow of calcium and potassium ions through the photoreceptor-pigment-epithelial cell barrier. Without taurine, photoreceptor cell membranes are destroyed, eventually leading to cell loss.

Symptoms include dilated pupils, reduced vision, and even blindness. A visit to a veterinarian ophthalmologist should be made for diagnosis and the cat's diet should be analyzed to see if there is a taurine deficiency in the cat's diet or not. 

In addition to vision problems, a taurine deficiency can lead to a dilated cardiomyopathy (a heart condition).

Finally, taurine is essential for fertility. Taurine deficiency in pregnant cats can provoke a miscarriage, and kittens may be born with either low body weight or dead.

Taurine requirements in cats vary greatly depending on the ingredients in the food and how they are processed.

The effect of heat treatment on taurine

Thermal processing of some proteins produces a Maillard reaction, which can contribute to the depletion of taurine reserves.

Maillard products are complexes of reducing sugars and amino acids that are formed by heat treatment. These products are less digestible than unprocessed protein and create an intestinal environment that promotes more taurine-degrading bacteria.

Situations provoking the development of taurine deficiency

  • Feeding cats with dog food. Remember that dogs and cats have different nutritional needs! 
  • Following vegetarian diets that are not suitable for cats.
  • An abundance of food and foods that lack taurine in the diet.
  • Use of thermally processed foods without the additional introduction of taurine into the diet.

What foods contain taurine?

Product Maximum taurine content in 100 g
Tuna 964 mg
Scallops 827 mg
Mussels 655 mg
Clams 520 mg
Turkey 306 mg
Chicken 170 mg
Cod 120 mg
Salmon 94 mg
Beef 40 mg

If you give your cat industrial full-fat cat food, read the assured composition on the back of the bag; most cat food manufacturers include taurine in their diets, so there's no need to add it as a supplement. 

For example, BOWL WOW cat food contains 220 mg or more of taurine per 100 grams, which is enough to cover a cat's need for this amino acid.

Prevention of taurine deficiency in cats

Use only all-in-one feed to prevent taurine shortage; if the cat is on a natural diet (particularly a cooked diet or one with less red meat), consult a specialist to alter the cat's diet. 

There is taurine in the form of individual supplements, as well as complex vitamin and mineral complexes with taurine (but they do not always meet the needs of cats in this amino acid).

Of drugs that contain taurine, you may consider Canina Taurin, "Dibikor", "CardioAktiv Taurine" and others. Although taurine is not toxic, taking too much can be dangerous, so talk to a doctor before taking the supplement. 

Standards of taurine content in the diet for cats

AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) recommends including at least 1 g/kg taurine in dry feeds and at least 2 g/kg in wet feeds.

The NRC (National Research Council) recommends 1000 mg taurine/kg dry feed and 1700 mg/kg wet feed.

In order for your cat to be healthy and not have heart and vision problems, you need to choose diets that contain adequate amounts of taurine. 



[2] Nutrition requirements of dogs and cats (2006)