At Homescape Pets, we are continually astounded by what we learn in our regular research to improve the lives of our pets and yours. Recently, we read about an important historical phenomenon in veterinary science: a mysterious illness that plagued pets in the 1970s.
Thousands of cats and dogs were suddenly experiencing dilated cardiomyopathy, a kind of heart failure. Cats were also going blind due to eating dog food, and later, they were found to be going blind due to certain cat foods sold by none other than their own veterinarians. (Remember: things were a lot different 40-50 years ago… nowadays we always encourage you to consult and follow a trusted veterinarian’s recommendations!)
Thankfully, by the 1980s, veterinarians and researchers were able to find the source of this frightening occurrence: a lack of taurine, a basic amino acid.
Amino Acids and Taurine
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and there are 22 of them. Many of these building blogs can actually be manufactured by your pet’s liver, but a lot of amino acids are derived from their diets, and these are what’s known as essential amino acids.
For humans and pups, taurine is not considered an essential amino acid. However, they are essential for cats, and a taurine deficiency can cause serious heart and eye diseases in cats. Taurine deficiency may also lead to infertility, impaired fetal development, fur loss, tooth decay, and even abnormal skeletal growth.
Don’t get us wrong; taurine is beneficial for dogs, too. It’s just that dogs are able to manufacture taurine from two other amino acids found in meat—methionine and cysteine—while cats cannot. However, it’s still a good idea to make sure your pups are getting extra taurine in their diet. Taurine, for dogs, is still good for reproduction, fat digestion, and healthy hearts and eyes.
The History of Taurine
Okay, back to our history lesson. You may have wondered why it took until the 1970s for this problem to occur when so many cats and dogs have been eating the same commercial foods since the 60s.
Believe it or not, World War II had a huge impact on commercial pet foods. Before the war, almost all commercial foods came in cans that contained meat. This was obviously optimal for pet health! However, the military needed those metals and tins that were used for canned goods, and by the end of the war, the majority of all pet food was dry food. (Sidenote: this is not dissimilar to the war’s impact on human food, too—human food became fast, packaged, and preserved.)
The process of producing these dry commercial foods depleted pets’ diets of the essential taurine that cats, in particular, needed. That’s because taurine is found in muscle meats, and it was much cheaper to produce foods that relied heavily on meat production by-products, leftover animal bits, and tissue from slaughter. Essentially, most commercial pet foods were high in grain, low in quality protein, as remains the case today.
Thankfully, the Association of American Feed Control stepped in and now requires all manufactured cat food to contain synthetic taurine. While this is a relief for keeping cats alive, it’s not necessarily the most reassuring for pet parents who are interested in natural solutions for pet care.
Naturally Occurring Taurine
Taurine occurs naturally in meat, but up to 50% or more can be lost during cooking which is why companies add extra taurine or synthetically derived taurine in their products. So where can you find natural sources of taurine, especially for cats?
- Shellfish: scallops, shrimp, squid, oysters, krill, and clams
- Fish: Tuna, sardines, salmon, capelin
- Poultry and other meats: turkey, beef, organ meats like liver and heart
- All-natural taurine supplements for pets
Like we mentioned, a lot of taurine can get lost during the cooking process. However, you’re most likely not going to slap down a whole, raw salmon in front of your cat and call it a day. Raw, whole fish is great for your cat in limited and bite-sized morsels but not as the only diet. These options should be considered supplemental to your cat’s pre-existing and veterinary-approved diet.
Canned, pet-safe options are the best way to go for cats in particular. And if you’re a homemade DIY kind of pet parent, by all means look into raw, frozen, or freeze-dried sources of meat that will be high in taurine.
And that, our friends, is where Homescape Pets come in. We’ve been bragging about our Simply Natural Air-Dried Chews recently for a reason: they help support such a huge variety of functions when it comes to pet health, and they are widely accessible to dogs and cats, big or small, young or old.
Because taurine is found in muscle meats and animal organs, that means our Air-Dried Beef Heart Treats are a GREAT source of taurine for both cats and dogs. Not only do these treats help build muscle, but they also help support cellular function, boost energy, and provide natural sources of B-vitamins, zinc, iron, and taurine.
And if your feline is finicky, or if your dog has other tastes, try our Chicken Heart Treats which are great for taking on the go, as a training reward, or as an addition to meals!