Taurine is an amino acid (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) - a chemical that acts as building block of proteins. It was discovered in 1846 by English chemist Edmund Ronalds.
Taurine is involved in many fundamental biological processes of cats and dogs (and humans too), such as fetal development and growth. It is essential for cardiovascular function, development and function of skeletal muscles, vision, and the central nervous system.
Dogs are able to produce their own taurine from sulfur-containing amino acids (primarily cysteine, but also methionine). For this reason, taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs.1 Cats, by contrast, lack the enzyme necessary to produce taurine and must therefore acquire it from their diet.
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), cats require a minimum of 0.1% taurine in their food. All quality plant-based products must meet this standard for proper health maintenance of cats.2
Note: If you are considering a plant-based diet for your cat, it is important to ensure that he or she receives all required nutrients. This can only be achieved with properly formulated, well-balanced products that contain enough taurine and other essential nutrients. Simply feeding your cat the plant-based food you are eating for dinner will not be enough.
Taurine is a Common Ingredient in Food for Companion Animals
Here is some history of synthetic taurine. Back in 1990’s, there was an animal cardiologist who found cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats. He also found that these cases were associated with feeding cats canned food (meat-based canned food, as this was back before plant-based food was around).
Investigation found that during processing of the canned food, too much of the protein, particularly amino-acid taurine, was being destroyed. This cardiologist was then able to reverse these DCM cases with a simple addition of synthetic taurine to the food of these cats. This is when it was first discovered that synthetic taurine acted in the body the same way as naturally derived taurine.
Did you know that in 1993, about 5,000–6,000 tons of taurine were produced for commercial purposes world-wide, and 50% of that amount was made exclusively for pet food (the other 50% was used in pharmaceutical applications)? 3 Taurine is also a common ingredient in popular energy drinks.
Taurine is a common additive in commercial meat-based pet foods, which is an interesting and perhaps a surprising fact. Many dog and cat guardians assume that meat- and fish-based products already contain natural taurine, which can be easily utilized by animals that consume these products. However, what they don’t realize is that high-heat processing destroys most of natural taurine, so it must be added back in as a supplement. The same taurine is also being added to plant-based products for cats, such as a popular Ami Cat Kibble.
‘Vegan’ taurine is well absorbed by cats
Research demonstrates that lab-produced taurine is well utilized by cats. In one university study, researchers investigated blood level taurine levels in cats who were maintained either on a vegetarian diet or on a conventional diet for at least one year. Most of the caregivers in both groups described their cats as healthy or generally healthy. Researchers found that cats fed well-balanced vegetarian diets had normal levels of taurine, and cats that were fed vegetables only (dinner scraps) had lower than normal blood level of taurine.4 These results further underscore the importance of a nutritionally complete, well-balanced diet for all cats.
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- Dodd, S.A.S., Adolphe, J.L., Verbrugghe, A. Plant-Based Diets for Dogs. Timely Topics in Nutrition. 253:11, 2018.
- The American Association of Feed Control Officials - https://www.aafco.org/
- Tully PS, ed. (2000). "Sulfonic Acids". Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Wakefield, L.A.; Shofer, F.S.; Michel, K.E. Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2006, 229, 70–73. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]