Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Taurine is an essential amino acid that is required by cats. It is essential because it must be supplied to cats in the diet as they cannot make their own like dogs and humans. This amino acid is essential for proper heart and eye health (1). Taurine is also important for growth and development, reproductive and neurological health, the immune system and much more (2). Without taurine, conditions like dilated cardiomyopathy (3), blindness (4), skeletal and structural problems, problems with low birth weights, abortion and resorption, birth defects and death in kittens and adults can result (5, 6) .
Although taurine can be found in small amounts in various meats, it is found in abundance in hard working muscle meats. Tongue, heart, brains and thigh meats are the biggest sources of this amino acid (7). Smaller whole prey such as mice and other rodents as well as insects are also a great source especially compared to larger animals like beef. A 4-ounce mouse alone contains over 2400 mg of taurine (8) not to mention as whole prey it contains the ideal ratio (9)!
Chart Source (7)
Taurine in plants however is either found in extremely minute amounts or no amount at all (7,10,11). This is one of many reasons why cats absolutely cannot live on a vegetarian or a vegan diet.
Although taurine content is always a hot topic when it comes to home prepared diets, some owners believe that since taurine is water soluble you can’t feed too much as it’s excreted in the urine. Understandably so one should still practice “everything in moderation”. Chicken hearts for example are usually the go to for providing taurine in the diet. If given too many for example 7 or more hearts a day, sodium levels are increased. The daily recommendation is 16.7 mg per day but 7 chicken hearts contain about 30 mg which does not account for sodium levels in the rest of the meal (12, 13). Although in the short run your cat may just drink a little more water, in the long run it can affect blood pressure and even the function of the kidneys (14). Heart is also high in phosphorus (12) like all other meats and it is essential to maintain a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio which can be hit off kilter by too much heart. Finally, heart can be very rich which when given too much can result in stomach upset or diarrhea. In general, about 15% of the 80% meat portion should be heart especially if no other hardworking meat is provided.
Although taurine supplementation is another option it should never be advised. All supplemented taurine is artificial and made in a laboratory (15) (there is one method that is more natural however it entails extracting taurine from ox bile (16). (The reason it is not used is because this method is unsavory to many and would cost more money). Most taurine is also sourced from China who is not only the number one exporter but also owns 40 manufacturers of taurine (17). Considering only 1-3% of imported items are inspected by the US and China has a history of contaminated products (18), I would avoid supplemented taurine all together.
Taurine is sensitive to heat just like many nutrients with a loss between 50-100% when exposed. This is why it can be extremely detrimental to provide a cooked diet to your cat over a raw diet (7, 19). Cat owners also have to be weary of processed pet foods. During the cooking process taurine can be depleted and because food trials (if any are performed) only last 6 months a deficiency usually isn’t observed. If the cats survive no one questions if the taurine content is high enough. However, there have been several cases of cats who have developed a deficiency from dry pet foods (6) and we aren’t just talking about low quality grocery store brands, we are talking about high quality brands as well.
Another concern is taurine and frozen meals and meats. There is no research so far to show that when frozen, taurine can be depleted. If you are concerned you can compensated for this by making sure to feed any juices that result from defrosting the meat or meals. This also has the added benefit of adding more liquid to the diet which also is essential for cats.
Grinding can also cause a decrease in taurine content (20). In addition to being sensitive to heat, taurine is also sensitive to oxygen (20). When meat is ground, the surface area is increased exposing more of it to the air and thus oxidizing the taurine, limiting how much is then available to your cat for consumption. Feeding whole prey or at least chunked meats in a franken prey style is much more advisable.
As far as requirements, there are surprisingly few studies done on the topic as experiments usually need to last many months or even years before a deficiency is observed. In a few studies 500 mg/kg of dry matter (21) showed no deficiency and when increased, reproduction was improved. 250 mg however was too low and produced heart abnormalities (22). One notable study however was conducted by Dr. Francis Pottenger who ran an experiment comparing a raw vs cooked diet on his group of cats for around 10 years. Report results included heart problems, blindness, high mortality rates and a complete failure to reproduce in the cook fed cats (5). All of these symptoms are definitely a sign of a taurine deficiency.
Although taurine content is something that needs to be considered when raw feeding, the addition to your cat’s raw diet doesn’t need to be daunting. By feeding hard working muscle meats like thigh meat, heart (which can make up 15% of the meat portion) and small whole prey like mice, your cat should be more than supplied with taurine to live a healthy and thriving life on a species appropriate raw diet.
1 McCusker, Sarah et al. “Amino Acid Content of Selected Plant, Algae and Insect Species: A Search for Alternative Protein Sources for Use in Pet Foods.” Journal of Nutritional Science 3 (2014): e39. PMC. Web. 23 Feb. 2018.
2 Committee on Animal Nutrition, National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Cats, Rev Ed. 1986.
3 PD Pion (1987). "Myocardial failure in cats associated with low plasma taurine: a reversible cardiomyopathy". Science. 237: 764–768. doi:10.1126/science.3616607. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
4 "Taurine And Its Importance In Cat Foods". Iams Cat Nutrition Library. 2004. Archived from the original on 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2006-08-22.
5 Pottenger, Francis Marion. Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition. 2nd ed., Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
6 THOMAS H. MAUGH II | Times Science Writer. “Thousands of Cat Deaths Traced to Pet Food Deficiency.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 Aug. 1987, articles.latimes.com/1987-08-14/news/mn-805_1_cat-food.
7 AR Spitze, DL Wong, QR Rogers and AJ Fascett, "Taurine Concentrations in Animal Feed Ingredients; Cooking Influences Taurine Content," Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 87, 2003, 251-262.
9 Christine M. Ruessheim, “Tissue Percentage of Some Common Prey of the Cat”, Baton Rouge, June 2002
10 Hiroyuki Kataoka & Naomi Ohnishi (1986) Occurrence of Taurine in Plants, Agricultural and Biological Chemistry, 50:7, 1887-1888, DOI: 10.1080/00021369.1986.10867664
11 McCusker, Sarah et al. “Amino Acid Content of Selected Plant, Algae and Insect Species: A Search for Alternative Protein Sources for Use in Pet Foods.” Journal of Nutritional Science 3 (2014): e39. PMC. Web. 21 Mar. 2018.
12 “Chicken, Heart, All Classes, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., nutritiondata.self.com/facts/poultry-products/664/2.
13 AAFCO. “AAFCO METHODS FOR SUBSTANTIATING NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY OF DOG AND CAT FOODS.” AAFCO.org, AAFCO, 2014, AAFCO METHODS FOR SUBSTANTIATING NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY OF DOG AND CAT FOODS.
14 Buranakarl, C, et al. “Effects of Dietary Sodium Chloride Intake on Renal Function and Blood Pressure in Cats with Normal and Reduced Renal Function.” American Journal of Veterinary Research., U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15141883.
15 Tully PS, ed. (2000). "Sulfonic Acids". Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. doi:10.1002/0471238961.1921120620211212.a01.
16 F. Tiedemann, L. Gmelin; Gmelin (1827). "Einige neue Bestandtheile der Galle des Ochsen". Annalen der Physik. 85 (2): 326–37. Bibcode:1827AnP....85..326T. doi:10.1002/andp.18270850214.
17 Amanda Xia (2010-01-03). "China Taurine Market Is Expected To Recover". Press release and article directory: technology. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
18 Nestle, Marion. Pet Food Politics the Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. University of California Press, 2010.
19 Laidlaw, S. A.; Grosvenor, M.; Kopple, J. D., 1990: J. Parent. Ent. Nutr. 14, 183.
20 Glasgow, Angela G, et al. “Role of Diet in the Health of the Feline Intestinal Tract and in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Vet Med.UC Davis, UC Davis, May 2002, www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ccah/local-assets/pdfs/Role_of_diet_feline%20health_Glasgow.pdf. 21 BURGER, I. H. and BARNETT, K. C. (1982), The taurine requirement of the adult cat. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 23: 533-537. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.1982.tb02514.x
22 Xu, Yan-Jun et al. “The Potential Health Benefits of Taurine in Cardiovascular Disease.” Experimental & Clinical Cardiology 13.2 (2008): 57–65. Print.