Thiamine Deficiency in Cats: Q & A for Cat Families

kittens-in-bedLast week the Food and Drug Administration reported a voluntary cat food recall. The recall was voluntary because routine testing performed by the food manufacturer identified an inadequate amount of thiamine in the cat food. No sick cats had been reported following consumption of the food, but thiamine deficiency in cats can be a serious problem and the company was exercising an abundance of caution.

What is thiamine?

Thiamine is a member of the B vitamin group and is also known as vitamin B1. The liver heart and kidneys are the organs with the highest levels of thiamine. Thiamine and all the B vitamins play a critical role in energy metabolism throughout the body. Thiamine interacts with other B vitamins to improve the efficiency of energy metabolism.

How does thiamine deficiency occur in cats?

  1. Decreased intake. Processing decreases thiamine and additional thiamine is added after processing to be sure our pets’ food has adequate levels.
  2. Destruction by an enzyme known as thiaminase. This enzyme is found in raw fish, shellfish and microorganisms. If you feed your cat raw fish or shellfish, the enzyme could deplete the natural thiamine and lead to thiamine deficiency. Cooking destroys the enzyme.
  3. Increased excretion. All the B vitamins, including thiamine, are water soluble and if your cat consumes more B vitamins than they need, the excess is excreted in the urine. Cats with chronic kidney disease may lose more B vitamins than usual through their diseased kidneys.

How would I know if my cat was thiamine deficient?

If your cat became thiamine deficient, you might notice a decrease in appetite or an increase in drooling. If you have a kitten, it might not grow as expected. The nervous system is most severely affected by thiamine deficiency and you might see weakness, stumbling or convulsions. The handful of cats I have seen with thiamine deficiency held their chins to their chest, or in doctor’s terms had “ventral neck flexion.”

Thiamine deficiency sounds bad. Can it be treated?

Here is the best part of the blog. YES! A simple injection of thiamine under the skin should have a thiamine deficient cat on the road to recovery in a day or so. Thiamine is extremely safe and if your cat’s illness is not caused by thiamine deficiency, the kidneys will filter the excess thiamine and excrete it in the urine with no adverse effects for your cat.

In addition to the FDA website, The AMC website posts food recalls and here is another site that posts information about pet food recalls. If your cat is sick, be sure to tell your veterinarian the brand and flavor of food your cat is eating. If your pet eats a food that is recalled, check with your veterinarian for advice on how best to manage your cat and its diet.

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