Cats even to this day remain strict obligate carnivores, meaning that they rely on vitamins and nutrients found solely in animal and meat products. This differs from their canine counterpart, as dogs are omnivorous mammals who can eat both plant and animal products. Cats have very unique dietary requirements and if these specific requirements are not met it can lead to the development of serious health conditions. This article will cover some of the unique vitamins cats require in their diet to ensure their optimum health.
Which vitamins are essential in cats?
There are approximately 41 essential nutrients required by cats according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). The term ‘essential’ simply means that they are needed in order for the body to work and function correctly. Below lists some of the essential vitamins in cats (this list is not exhaustive):
This vitally important amino acid is synthesised from dietary amino acids (Morris et al, 2008). I won’t expand too much into the complex biological process of taurine synthesis, however, it is important to understand that a cats’ natural body synthesis of taurine is limited and therefore dietary intake of animal-based proteins is their main source. For this reason, taurine is an essential amino acid in cats. So, why is taurine so important in cats? Taurine is critical for normal vision, heart muscle function, normal development and it supports the immune system.
When food is digested and broken down, undesirable and toxic by-products such as ammonia are produced. Arginine plays a vital role in making enzymes that the liver can utilise to eradicate these by-products from the body. Like taurine, dietary intake is the main source of arginine for cats.
This fatty acid is found in animal fat sources, and it is not found in plant-based products. Arachidonic acid has an important role in the fat utilisation and energy production.
Niacinamide (also known as niacin)
This is a form of vitamin B3 which helps to control the phosphorus level within the blood. This vitamin is predominantly sourced via dietary consumption. Ensuring balanced phosphorus levels is particularly significant in cats with concurrent renal disease where their blood phosphorus levels are often abnormally elevated.
Vitamin A (retinol)
Cats are unique animals in that (unlike dogs!) they cannot produce their own Vitamin A and therefore this must be provided in their diet. Vitamin A is essential to optimise a cats’ night vision, helps to maintain healthy skin and it also supports the immune system. Too much or too little of Vitamin A can be detrimental to your cat’s health.
How do I ensure my cat is receiving essential vitamins?
Your cat’s vitamin levels are mostly impacted by what they eat. Most commercial cat foods incorporate an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals required for normal bodily function and health. This hasn’t always been the case, but through the advancement of Veterinary medicine and nutritional research, focus has been made to ensure that commercial pet foods nowadays contain adequate nutritional components to maximise the health of your cat (PFMA).
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly popular to feed home-cooked diets and some people even feed their feline friend meat-free vegan diets! I won’t dive into this topical issue today, but I will stress that vegan or vegetarian diets are absolutely not recommended in cats as they need animal protein and fats in their diet to support normal bodily function (and the safety and effectiveness of artificial substitutes have not yet been fully established – Ed.). Cats remain true carnivores!
What happens if my cat becomes deficient in these vitamins?
Not feeding enough of these essential nutrients can prove harmful to your cat, as can feeding too many!
A dietary deficiency of taurine is associated with many problems in cats and can tragically affect multiple organ systems (Markwell and Earle, 1995). For normal function, literature states that adult cats should receive a taurine concentration of 500mg/kg dry matter in commercial cat foods (Burger and Barnett, 2008). Below lists some of the conditions that can occur as a result of taurine insufficiency (this list is not exhaustive):
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
A taurine deficiency can lead to a form of heart disease called DCM. Taurine supports the heart in depolarising (through complicated ion channel processes) and in taurine deficient patients their heart muscle fails to contract normally. This often leads to progression of congestive heart failure.
A taurine deficiency can impact the growth and development of neonates and young kittens.
Poor reproductive performance
Taurine also plays a role in the structure of many anatomical components within the eye and if taurine sources deplete, this can lead to blindness, which may or may not be reversible.
Additionally, cats who are deficient in arginine display signs of ammonia toxicity, and severe deficiencies are rapidly life-threatening. Toxic levels of ammonia can lead to severe gastrointestinal issues, neurological issues and renal disease (Dor et al, 2018).
All of the above conditions could all be avoided if cats receive an adequate amount of essential vitamins in their diet. Dietary intake remains the main source of many of these essential vitamins in cats. We know that prevention is always better than cure! Speak to your local Vet to discuss the most appropriate diet for your cat.
- Burger, I, H. Barnett, K, C. 2008. The taurine requirement of the adult cat. Journal of small animal practice. 23: 533-537.
- Dor, C. Adamany, J, L. Kisielewicz, C. Brot, S, Erles, K. Dhumeaux, M, P. 2018. Acquired urea cycle amino acid deficiency and hyperammonaemic encephalopathy in a cat with inflammatory bowel disease and chronic kidney disease. JFMS open rep. 4.
- Markwell, P, J. Earle, K, E. 1995. Taurine: An essential nutrient for the cat. A brief review of the biochemistry of its requirement and the clinical consequences of deficiency. Nutrition research. 15: 53-58.
- Morris, J, R, Quinton, R, R. Pacioretty, L. 2008. Taurine: An essential nutrient for cats. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 31. 502-509.Cats’ Nutritional Needs – PFMA