When it comes to feline nutrition, taurine is an essential amino acid or building block of protein that all cats require. Taurine is considered essential because cats are not capable of making enough taurine themselves. Cats get taurine from meat-based proteins and most commercially-available cat food is adequately supplemented with taurine. Taurine in cats is critical for normal vision, heart function, digestion and to maintain a healthy immune system.
A cat that is not getting enough taurine will most likely not exhibit clinical signs immediately. VCA Animal Hospitals reports that clinical signs can take anywhere from five months to two years to develop. The two main areas that taurine affects are the eyes and the heart. A lack of taurine will cause the retinal cells in the eye to degenerate, eventually impairing the cat's vision. Meanwhile, the cells in the heart have also been known to be weakened by a lack of taurine, which could lead to a heart disease known as feline dilated cardiomyopathy. Although reversible, this condition will eventually be fatal if the cat does not begin receiving taurine.
Most cats that are eating a high-quality commercial cat food will have their taurine needs taken care of. However, supplements for animals are available for those that require more or may not be eating a complete or balanced diet for whatever reason. Owners who suspect a taurine deficiency in their cat should talk with their veterinarian to learn more about how to supplement taurine as well as the proper types of cat food to use.