The Challenge of Maintaining Thiamine Levels

Manufacturers do their part, but we need to be aware, too

As carnivores, cats have a high requirement for the essential amino acid thiamine in their diet. Cats require about five times as much thiamine compared to an omnivore, who eats both plants and meat. Since thiamine is a water-soluble B vitamin, it isn’t stored in the body. Instead, excesses are excreted. That means a cat needs to consume thiamine daily. Signs of a deficiency can appear within four weeks.

For most cat owners, you simply need to be aware of this possibility, especially if your cat is on an all wet food diet and begins to exhibit signs of deficiency. Initially, a cat may show some vomiting and lose her appetite. This condition can rapidly progress to serious neurological signs, which include vision problems, ataxia, tremors, seizures, and death.

While the cat food you choose should have a label on it stating that it meets AAFCO nutritional standards, there is some concern about the difficulty pet-food manufacturers face in maintaining adequate thiamine levels in canned food.

It isn’t easy to do, according to Greg Aldrich, PhD, writing for Thiamine degrades when exposed to heat and moisture, both conditions that are essential for canned cat foods. Since the length of time and the temperature the food is exposed to are important factors that can only be adjusted so much, canned food manufacturers closely follow food safety protocols.

Additional factors affecting thiamine levels include food pH, food preservatives such as sulfites, which are mainly used for dried vegetables (think cat food “stews”), and high levels of various marine source proteins such as fish and mussels, which contain thiaminase enzymes naturally.

One potential source for adding thiamine is yeast. Some yeasts produce thiamine, and yeasts are healthy additives to boot. Levels equal to those achieved with more conventional thiamine sources such as thiamine mononitrate have been achieved. Research is ongoing, including on utilizing yeast as a dietary supplement.