And we know how much pet owners enjoy talking about the differences between their cats and dogs.
Dogs are pack animals and need to be with their pack. Cats are solitary and are more interested in their environment than they are in other animals or people. (What is it people say…cats stay with the house, dogs go with the family?)
Dogs run down their prey in the wild so they’re built for long distance running. But cats stalk and pounce so they’re built for sprinting.
Dogs are easier to teach a command. Cats are difficult if not impossible to train…except when it comes to potty training which they do instinctively. If you’ve ever had a new puppy, you know it’s not so instinctive for them.
And don’t make your cat angry because they’ll remember it for 16 hours…but your dog will be licking your face in 5 minutes. Cats have much longer memories than dogs.
The behavioral differences could go on and on. But what about the biological differences?
Here’s one that you’re probably not aware of.
There are around 20 amino acids in an animal’s body. In case you were wondering what amino acids are, they’re the building blocks that make up body-tissue protein. The body is able to make many of them but some you can only get through diet–the ones called essential amino acids.
Taurine is an essential amino acid in cats. Interestingly, it’s not an essential amino acid in dogs. Dogs are able to make taurine, so they don’t need to get it from their diet.
Why does my cat need taurine?
By now you’re wondering, “Why does my cat need taurine at all?” Well, taurine is really critical to your cat’s health. It’s important for normal vision, digestion, heart muscle function, reproduction, and for a healthy immune system.
If your cat is deficient in taurine, there are some pretty serious consequences, the biggest being feline central retinal degeneration (vision impairment) and dilated cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle).
Feline central retinal degeneration usually affects the central portion of the retina. Here’s a photo of a case where the entire retina was affected.
The central part of the retina is the area where your cat can see the best. So they would have a hard time seeing stationery objects in front of them with this condition. They usually do still have some peripheral vision though.
Take a look at the illustration below, which shows the effects of dilated cardiomyopathy.
This ailment causes enlarged heart chambers and the walls of the chambers become thin. Thinning of the heart muscle makes it difficult for it to contract. And that makes it difficult to push blood out of the chambers. This overload often leads to congestive heart failure.
In the wild, a cat’s diet would give them the taurine they need to avoid these problems. Cats are strict carnivores and taurine is found in animal-protein, specifically in the muscle meat of animals. So in the wild they would get the taurine they need from their animal prey.
But cat food is not made solely from animal protein. In fact, dry food often has a fair amount of cereal grains. Grain is needed to make kibble. Cereal grains and other plant-based proteins do not have taurine.
And the heat that’s used to make dry food…it reduces the taurine naturally found in animal protein.
Luckily, cat food is supplemented with taurine, at least since the 1980s.
If you feed your cat dog food–DON’T. Dog food isn’t supplemented with taurine, and it doesn’t provide enough taurine for a cat naturally. It has more plant-based protein than cat food does.
What can cause a taurine deficiency in my cat?
Besides feeding your cat dog food, a lack of taurine can be caused by:
- Feeding a home-cooked diet low in taurine-rich foods
- Your cat not eating enough cat food to get the needed amount of taurine
- Feeding a frankenprey diet, or prey model raw diet, if you freeze the food. (Freezing may reduce taurine levels.)
Do I need to give my cat a taurine supplement?
If you feed your cat a food formulated for cats, the answer is no, as long as your cat is eating enough of the food.
If you’re feeding a home-cooked diet, you should talk with your vet about taurine deficiency and whether or not you should test your cat’s taurine level. If your vet thinks you should give your cat a supplement, they’ll be able to recommend the right one for your kitty.
What if my cat has vision impairment or dilated cardiomyopathy as a result of taurine deficiency?
Your vet will suggest a taurine supplement and monitor your cat’s taurine level regularly. Supplementation may be lifelong or temporary, depending on the severity of the deficiency, the cause of the deficiency, and your cat’s ability to maintain taurine levels.
Supplementation won’t reverse blindness but it will stop the progression of the degeneration if you catch it early. As for dilated cardiomyopathy, it can usually be reversed, if not fully than at least partially.
Husse premium dry cat food is formulated with taurine. And Husse’s dry food contains a lot of poultry and eggs–animal protein that provides all the essential amino acids in the right proportions. Try Husse’s Exclusive Lean or Exclusive Sensitive dry cat foods. If your cat prefers a wet food, try Husse’s Chicken in Jelly or Tuna in Jelly.
Not all proteins contain sufficient levels of essential amino acids. The high quality of the protein found in Husse’s food is just as important as the amount of protein in the food.
Has your cat experienced a taurine deficiency? Share your insights in our Comment section above.
An interesting note…
Although taurine is not an essential amino acid in dogs, there are two breeds that are predisposed to a taurine deficiency—the Newfoundland and cocker spaniel. If you have a Newfie or Cocker, talk to your vet about taurine.