Arginine Is Critically Important For Cats. Arginine is an amino acid. Amino acids are critical to life, and have many functions in metabolism. One important function is that they are the building blocks of proteins – linear chains of amino acids1.
It is an essential part of the cat’s diet. Arginine allows the ammonia created in the body after digesting a high protein meal to be converted into urea, which is excreted in the form of urine.
A lack of arginine in a cat’s diet can cause an immediate and catastrophic effect. A cat could develop severe hyperammonemia within several hours of eating an arginine free meal3. This sounds almost shocking. But in truth every meal that we give to our cats if it is a commercially produced cat food or well prepared home made cat food is not arginine free. I guess that is obvious but it is worth knowing.
Hyperammonemia is a metabolic disturbance caused by an excess of ammonia in the blood. It is dangerous. It may lead to encephalopathy and death. It may be primary or secondary1. ‘Encephalopathy’ means any brain disease4. Symptoms of hyperammonemia are:
- muscular spasms
- ataxia (is a neurological sign and symptom consisting of gross lack of coordination of muscle movements1)
- tetanic spasm (sudden and violent, involuntary muscular contraction9)
- leading to coma
The gravity of the cat’s response to a deficiency of arginine is unique amongst all the world’s species, it is thought5.
Kittens cannot even maintain a slow growth rate if their diet is low in arginine6. Food intake for kittens increased with the increase in the levels of arginine in their diet6.
The cat’s particular sensitivity to a lack of arginine in its diet is due to:
- the importance of this amino acid to the normal functioning of its urea cycle and
- the cat’s rate of protein catabolism, which is always high. ‘Catabolism’ means: the set of pathways that break down molecules into smaller units and release energy1.
Food Sources of L-arginine2include (in relation to a cat’s diet):
- animal products such as milk and milk products, pork, beef, chicken, turkey
- sea foods
- legumes – peas are legumes and commercial cat food sometimes contains peas. Cats eat a small amount of vegetation in the wild (see cat that eats vegetation)
Arginine is also very important for people. Its plays an important role in cell division, the healing of wounds, removing ammonia from the body, immune function, and the release of hormones1. It is an essential dietary requirement in dogs5.
Commercial Cat Food Examples
Hills® m/d® – 2.64% (dry matter % of product) – this is a weight reduction and insulin control food.
Hills® Culinary Creations™ Roasted Beef Dinner in a Rich Gravy Kitten – not listed as a nutrient on their website probably because it is in the beef.
Hills® Adult Indoor Cat Savory Seafood Entrée Minced – not listed as an ingredient probably because it is in the sea food.
Purina® Naturals does not contain arginine7. This may mean as a specific supplement, which may not be necessary as stated above.
Purina® Cat Chow® Complete Formula – arginine not listed as a separate ingredient.
Feline herpesvirus type 1
Oral lysine administrationto cats infected with FHV-1 is associated with a significantreduction in the severity of clinical signs and basal viralshedding. Excess dietary lysine does not cause lysine-arginine antagonism in adult cats8.
Arginine Is Critically Important For Cats — References:
3. Effects of arginine-free meals on ureagenesis in cats — P. M. Stewart, M. Batshaw, D. Valle and M. Walser
5. The Cat, Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P Case – Arginine Is Critically Important For Cats