Taurine & Vitamin A: Experiment
A Strong n=1 Hypothesis Tested
I thought I might dedicate a whole page to this new finding. I was pretty blown away by my little experiment today: That my cat was eating grass and vomiting/puking it up, in order to get more Taurine in her diet. She thought she might get it from the grass, but grass contains too much Vitamin A and is toxic to cats, so their bodies reject it if their Taurine levels are not less toxic than the Vitamin A. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, unless you have a better one! Explanation below…
Here is the article on feline dietary needs from the Canadian Veterinary Journal that set off my experimentation. I came across it while doing research for my upcoming book (The Most Interesting Story: A Health Autobiography).
Me & Baby Fea – 2004
I started wondering about my cat, Fea, a couple years after I got her. She acted more like a dog. She would follow me into every room of the house, meow sometimes for attention, and didn’t like being left home much. She would run to greet me at the door after work, without fail, and roll over onto her back, showing me how cute she was. I did some internet research at the time, and I basically settled on the conclusion that I had made my cat love me too much. One website described it as an attachment disorder. As if I had developed some kind of co-dependent relationship with my cat that I always wanted her to be by my side or something. That *I* was making her act that way.
Not knowing how to change that, besides not calling at her when she wasn’t by my side, I just resigned to the fact that my cat was just too co-dependent.
Fea in 2010
She had other strange habits. She would jump up onto the ledge of my bath while I showered, and then jump in the bathtub when I finished to lap up the minerals in the water. After noticing how much she liked water from the bathtub, I made it a habit to turn the faucet on for her in the mornings as I used the toilet. She loved it. She looked so happy and cute just lapping up bathtub faucet water that I couldn’t say no. I was trained. I even bought her a state-of-the-art fountain water bowl so that she could have fresh moving water all the time. She still liked having the faucet turned on the best, and I found the fountain bowl was subject to getting slimy too often, so I gave up on it after a few weeks.
As a kitten, she would sit at the end of my bed at night. Over the years, she would get closer and closer to my head. Now, she stays on non-blanketed parts of the bed, or sometimes crawls up and sits on my heart. I love it when I’m feeling sad and she does this. She’s been a good pal.
Cuddling up on my Heart
My house had a s a visit there, and I think she was very traumatized by her surgery.
We moved out of that house 3 years later to San Francisco. She lived with a male cat for 8 months at our new home, and seemed to calm down a bit, though she was always a bit bitchy to him. We moved into a new home after those 8 months. That place was a zoo. They already had 2 other female cats and 2 dogs. Another dog and 2 older male cats would join us down the road for 8 animals and 8 humans total under one roof!
She seemed to be pretty stressed out at that new house, and understandably. She established that she was the dominant cat, and spent a lot of time chasing the other cats around and establishing her territory by sitting wherever the hell she wanted to and making others keep their distance. She gained a bit of weight there, and the other roommates noticed she was really attached to me, always greeting me at the door and following me room to room and always coming when I called her. I noticed that her stools were really dry, and that she would often have a little poo hanging from her butt after going.
Fea in 2009
I thought she was too thirsty so in addition to the bowl of water always in her room, so I placed another small bowl of water on the living room coffee table for the cats to share. They drank this water frequently and it had to be replaced often.
Fast forward five years and I move to Berkeley, CA to a new house. I started feeding her the holistic Natural Feline Formula from Trader Joe’s, which contains some Taurine, because Trader Joe’s is 3 blocks from my house. Our front porch is on the street level here, so she feels comfortable going outside again, where she hadn’t gone outside really at all for 5 years at the previous house. Way back in Bakersfield as a kitten she would routinely “ask” to go outside and she would spend her time chasing other cats out of “her” yard and doing who-knows-what.
I notice she starts eating grass right away and then puking it up. In my head, I’m thinking she’s got a hairball or something, but no hair comes out with it, so I don’t think it’s a fiber issue. Her stools are way more healthy at our new house, so I know she is well-hydrated. I had a ponytail palm plant that she would routinely eat the leaves of when I would have it in reach of her. At first, I scolded her, but I figured she must be doing it for a reason. I would buy her grass from the pet stores, even a little chia pet, but she would never eat real grass at that house. Just my coarse-leaved ponytail palm.
Google searches were no help. I got articles like this. And I would see stuff like “Even veterinarians don’t know why cats puke grass after they eat it.”
Then I came across the Taurine-Vitamin A article, and it clicked: What if she is trying to get her Taurine by eating plants? I researched Taurine content of wheatgrass (It looked like the kind of grass sold at pet stores), and sure enough it had a tiny bit. But what it had a lot of was Vitamin A. And Vitamin A was the number one cat toxin, according to the Canadian Veterinary Journal article.
I had a hypothesis. It was time to test it.
I ran to the veterinarian’s office less than a block from my house. They didn’t sell it, only “prescription diets,” and referred me to a local pet store. I told them my theory, they thought it was very helpful, and I bought my $10 bottle of (human-approved) Taurine.
I brought it home and decided to sprinkle it on her cat food. I used about a quarter teaspoon and just sprinkled it all over her dry cat food. She was suspicious and wouldn’t touch it.
I put a little on my finger and put it next to her mouth. She smelled it, then licked it off. Enthusiastically. Then she did something unpredictable – went straight for her water bowl and started lapping up water.
This gave me the idea to add it to her drinking water instead.
I had always read that cats are prone to getting dry stools when fed dry food, and that they should be fed wet food. Well, I tried feeding her wet food as a kitten, even buying a whole pallet of Fancy Feast from Costco and she refused to take even one bite. Several attempts were made, then I gave up.
So I added about an 1/8th of a teaspoon of powdered Taurine to roughly 1 cup of her water, and stirred it to dissolve. She came over to the dish, and instead of doing what she normally does to test water, stick her paw in it first, she dove right in and started slurping away. She drank about 1/16th of the cup of water after nibbling on a tiny bit of food, then left satisfied. The experiment had begun!!
She proceeded to jump up onto my bed and look around her very strangely, like she was on drugs. She was looking at objects and at me like it was her first time seeing them. Then she sat down calmly and just chilled out. I should mention she is now going on 9 years old.
That in itself was cool, her just chilling out.
I’ve been spending a lot of time at home the past 2 weeks, and spending a lot of time on my computer. Every hour, she is prone to meowing at me and making me get up, for seemingly no good reason. She’ll start to lead me toward the bathroom, or toward the living room, where she will then just sit in the middle of the room and make you look at her.
But she was just quiet today. All afternoon.
I went downstairs to make some dinner, and she followed me, but not as closely as usual, and stopped off to go into the living room. She visited me once in the kitchen, accepted a shorter pet than usual, then left.
Twenty minutes later she hadn’t meowed at me at all. That was very unusual. She has interrupted my every meal preparation in the last 2 weeks. I went back upstairs, and didn’t see her on the way. She wasn’t in my room. She wasn’t in my roommate’s room, which she will sometimes go when she is mad at me.
Then, I remembered I had left the attic open with the ladder down, after fetching something down earlier in the day. My heart skipped a beat at her up in the attic hunting a mouse. Gosh I would be so proud. She has been too scared to even climb a ladder the past couple of years. I put her up on a ladder one day at our old house and she nearly fell off it in terror.
I called her. No answer. I climbed up into the attic and continued to call her. I felt her presence, but she didn’t appear for about a minute. And she was in hunting mode. I beamed in pride, and went back down the ladder.
My cat had her personality back.
Calm when resting. And a focused and high-alert hunter. Momma is so proud. That was fast-acting. My vision isn’t so good, so I took some myself. That was quite an experience, and will probably go in my book :-)
- After re-reading about Taurine for this article, I also read that a lack of Taurine can lead to hair loss. I had noticed she was starting to lose hair between her eyes and her ears, and I thought at the time it might be mite or fungal-related, and tried to find a link between lack of UV exposure and her hair loss. Turns out it might be Taurine-related. Stay tuned!
- She has also had some gold spots forming in her right eye. I am guessing this is related to the eye-dengeneration-Taurine issue so I will be keeping my eye on her eye for changes. Hopefully it is reversable!
- She has taken a few more sips of the Taurine water between going upstairs to the attic to hunt a few more times. She’ll go up and hunt, then come down, nibble a few kibbles, sip some Taurine, and go back up. I also filled a plain-water bowl and placed it next to the Taurine bowl so she would have options.
- I brought my ponytail palm down from a high shelf just to test her. She nibbled at it to get the taste, but didn’t rip any leaves off. And didn’t swallow any or puke any. Progress? We shall see…
1/8/13 Update: I took away her regular water bowl for a day and just had the Taurine water bowl. She likely consumed too much of the Taurine because she ended up puking up all her food later. :-(
So it is important to keep a separate water bowl from the Taurine water bowl. I tried adding more Taurine than 1/8 teaspoon for 1 cup and she wouldn’t drink it. Seems a max of 1/8 tsp/cup is a good amount.
She seems to be pickier than ever about her food, breaking it up and not eating it all, letting it sit on the ground outside her bowl, then eating it later. I don’t get it yet.
But she has been much more calm still.