It is a well established fact that cats must consume taurine in their diet. Taurine is a sulfur containing amino acid that dogs and humans can synthesize from other dietary amino acids-but cats cannot. Amino acids are the smaller parts that make up protein; protein digestion releases amino acids to the body for essential functions including building muscle.
In the 1950s, researchers discovered cats consuming taurine deficient diets would develop heart disease, along with other lesser known effects like infertility and blindness. Taurine is naturally occurring in meat – in ample concentration for ALL feline life functions.
Prior to the 1950s, cats ate whatever they caught – rodents, birds, small prey like rabbits and squirrels. These prey animals contained (obviously) meat, therefore taurine. In fact, the mouse has the highest level of taurine of any meat source tested to date.
The 1950s was when mass-production of pet food, all foods really, began. Mass-production was synonymous with experimentation of ingredients and sources. Some cat foods contained predominantly plant protein (meat was ear-marked for soldiers) while others did contain meat. However, the meat in these early canned foods was processed at such extreme temperatures that the taurine was so badly destroyed that cats were unable to maintain healthy life functions – heart disease and retinal damage being the most common effects of feline taurine deficiency.
Subsequent to manufacturing errors of the 1950s, the public has been warned that without taurine cats will die. Fast forward six decades – cat owners are now terrified to make their own food for fear that it does not contain enough taurine.
As previously stated, taurine occurs naturally in meat – all meat. As long as the meat is not overcooked (extremely high temperatures and pressures) there is ample taurine in a meat-based diet for vibrant cat health.
This discussion creates much debate and confusion. The debate is not whether cats need taurine, but the debate is how much taurine cats need as well as how much occurs naturally in meat.
To answer these questions, research into older literature is needed.
Veterinarians get their information from textbooks and research journals. In United States, we have the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Four times a year, there’s a section called Timely Topics in Nutrition. It is intended to provide general information to the general practitioner to help with every day veterinary functions.
In December 2002, “The carnivore connection to nutrition in cats” was published in JAVMA. At the end of this article, in appendix 3, the reader is informed that cats require 250 to 500 mg of taurine a day. Interestingly, in the Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, as published by the National Research Council in 2006, the recommendation is for pet food manufacturers to include equivalent of 23 to 29 mg of taurine for daily consumption by cats eating said food. This is a massive discrepancy! So what is the true answer?
The answer is contained in the the fourth edition of Small Animal Clinical Nutrition (this book distributed – free of charge – to all veterinary students by Hills/Scoence Diet). In Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, taurine deficient cats should consume 250 to 500 mg of taurine a day until their physiologic status returns to normal. (This is for cats that have demonstrated clinical illness due to insufficient dietary taurine.) Once the cat returns to normal body function, these cats thrive on 50 mg of taurine a day. (All numbers presented in thus discussion are for an average adult 10 pound cat; kittens and pregnant or lactating queens need up to twice as much taurine as an average adult. A 20 pound cat will made twice as much taurine as a 10 pound cat.)
How did this mistake happened? How is it that a an internationally recognized journal published recommendations for 10 to 20 times necessary taurine levels? This information has been in print for almost 15 years and misguides general practice veterinarians who do not have the time to do more research.
Mistakes happen and editors cannot possibly fact check all the data presented in an article in a peer reviewed journal. However, it’s disheartening when veterinarians reference the same article for 15 years and that article has a major mistake. The result is veterinarians admonish pet owners, and the pet owners are afraid to feed real food to their cats, while they are completely capable of feeding their kids. It is ill logical!
When it’s all said and done, the pet owner wants to know if real meat will provide enough taurine for their cats’ vibrant well-health. Can a cat get enough taurine from an every day carnivorous diet?
The average 10 pound cat should consume about 250 to 280 kilocalories a day. If that diet consist of 90% beef, that three fourth’s cup serving provides over 70 mg of taurine. That number comes from straight from the USDA database for cooked beef. Cooked. (Taurine is present in even higher concentration in uncooked beef.)
This point brings up the other fear that has worked its way into public perception: that cooking meat destroys all taurine. In truth, the statement should really say: “cooking meat lightly does not significantly affect taurine levels; over cooking meat destroys not only taurine levels, but other health benefits of real food.”
Consequently, we find another myth destroyed – not taurine.
Ultimately, pet owner should feel comfortable feeding their dogs and cats real food. The point of this discussion is to understand that a normal diet containing real meat truly provides more than adequate levels of an essential nutrient, taurine, for feline well-health.
For the cat owner who takes the plunge and feeds real meat, just a few guidelines: the food should be 90% meet. It calcium sources needed, and I make a fatty acid sources needed, and variety leads the way.
Note: technically speaking, taurine is no longer considered to be an amino acid but an amino sulfonic acid. The difference has to do the chemical structure. However, in most of the older literature, taurine is still considered to be an amino acid. Regardless, it is a vital nutrient and is incorporated into proteins in mammals.