Unhealthy Cat Diets: Blindness and Heart Disease

Taurine is a Critical Nutrient

Like humans thriving on a healthy diet, properly fed pets feel better and live longer. If you have a creative bent with nutrition or a restricted budget you’ll need to be careful.  Cats whose diets are deficient in the organic acid taurine can end up blind or facing life-threatening heart disease.

Taurine is essential for all of us. Humans can manufacture their own but cats must get it from their diets. A kitty eating cheap food or a homemade concoction without supplemental taurine can develop feline central retinal degeneration. FCRD is a disease of the nerve rich layer at the back of eyes that makes vision possible. A veterinarian peering into the depths of an affected eyeball will recognize an unmistakable sharp border separating the still normal part of the retina from the band- like shiny diseased area.

Blindness is bad enough but it can get even worse. Taurine deficient cats are also prone to a severe heart disorder called dilated cardiomyopathy. Typical symptoms are lethargy and shortness of breath. A blood test can determine if taurine deficiency is responsible.

Taurine supplements, started early in the course of disease, can reverse some of the damage. But cats should never have to struggle with FCRD or dilated cardiomyopathy. Both are preventable simply by feeding a balanced diet formulated specifically for kitties. Dog food is a big mistake because it contains inadequate taurine levels for cats.

There are dozens of cat food brands available, not to mention components for the amateur dabbler in raw diets. Making an informed choice seems daunting. Pet food labels list a veritable glut of detail, little of which is useful in determining the bioavailability of the nutrients. The price tag may be the best indicator of quality. Better diets are all supplemented with taurine and, not surprisingly, they cost more than feline junk food. Or, put differently, you won’t get what you don’t pay for.

Finally, I want to wish every pet family that reads my weekly diatribes in this fine publication a merry Christmas. To those who don’t even like pets, I thank you for putting up with those of us who do. My best to you for a safe and happy holiday.