by nicole pajer
what are probiotics for cats?
As in humans, most of a cat’s immunity resides in its digestive tract; so keeping it in balance with a variety of good bacteria is a great way to ensure your feline stays healthy. One possible way to do this is to supplement your cat’s diet with probiotics, friendly bacteria that help regulate digestive and overall health. These live microorganisms are believed to help treat or prevent a variety of diseases and conditions, especially those related to the gastrointestinal system.
but how do you know if you should give your cat probiotics? What kind of probiotics should you buy for your cat and how often should you administer them? petmd reached out to a number of experts who have studied the subject to learn more about probiotics for cats.
benefits of probiotics for cats
dr. Patrick mahaney, a los angeles area veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist, is definitely an advocate for feline probiotics. “I am a big fan of probiotics as a means of helping to maintain normal gut health, not only so that there are fewer clinical signs of digestive upset such as decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or stool changes, but also in terms of help promote immune system health, too,” he says.
Mahaney adds that a cat’s immunity is closely related to the health of the digestive tract and when the digestive tract goes astray, a cat’s immunity can be affected. Conditions that can cause this digestive system upset include conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), infections, or a cat simply eating something they shouldn’t.
“They certainly could be cats that are over-grooming and ingesting too much hair or things from the environment,” Mahaney says. therefore, for cats, probiotics can help with a variety of conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. the vet adds that ibd is a common condition that many cats develop throughout their lives, especially during adulthood and old age.
While the cause of ibd in some cats remains a mystery, Mahaney says some commercial pet foods can contribute to cats developing intestinal disease. “kibble, for example, doesn’t actually exist in nature. it’s not really what cats should eat. and if they’re chronically eating something that really doesn’t agree with their digestive tract, then there’s a problem with time,” she says. “The cat could start to vomit or have diarrhea or not eat as it should. therefore, inflammatory bowel disease is a big concern that ends up costing owners a lot of time and money.”
In addition to treating ibd, probiotics are supposed to help stop diarrhea, reseed the gut with beneficial bacteria after a pet has taken antibiotics, improve digestion, and boost the overall immune system. according to richard hill, associate professor at the university of florida college of veterinary medicine, probiotics may also “reduce the duration and delay the recurrence of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis” in some feline patients.
Cat Probiotics vs. Dog Probiotics: What’s the Difference?
Cats and dogs have very different digestive systems. For example, a cat’s small intestine is shorter than a canine’s, resulting in a faster transit time to digest food. The Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition also notes that a cat has a much smaller caecum (the pouch connected to the junction of the small and large intestines) than a dog’s, and the gastric mucosa (inner lining of the stomach) differs between cats. two species.
Mahaney points out that cats are naturally carnivorous, while dogs are omnivorous. “Cats are meant to survive on protein and fat, while dogs must eat more of a variety that includes meat, protein, vegetables, and fruit,” she explains. Digestion begins in the mouth and if we look at the teeth of dogs and cats, the dog’s dentition includes molars intended for chopping plant matter, while cats lack this type of teeth. these differences in anatomy, physiology, and diet are why some vets believe cats may benefit from probiotics even more than dogs.
can I give my cat human probiotics?
Although there are no current studies pointing to the fact that giving cats a probiotic supplement designed for humans is dangerous, veterinarians still advise pet owners to opt for a product specially designed for cats. “The microflora in a cat’s small and large intestine are different than in people, so we can’t assume that human probiotics will work in cats,” says deirdre frey, vmd with a veterinarian at your doorstep, portland, Maine. home care veterinary practice.
types of probiotics for cats
Cat probiotics come in a variety of forms: powders, pills, and even infused into treats. To get the most benefit from a probiotic supplement, Mahaney recommends going for the highest CFU (Colony Forming Units) you can find. diversity is also important. “We want to make sure we have a diverse variety of probiotics, not just one type of bacteria,” adds Mahaney.
The strains that cats do best with are those from the bifidobacteria and enterococci families. bifidobacterium tends to live in the small intestine, while enterococci usually reside in the colon (large intestine). so each strain could have a different role in promoting health. bifidobacterium is more involved with digestion and enterococcus helps with normal stool formation and helps maintain colon health. Mahaney says you really can’t go wrong buying a product with additional bacterial strains, but stresses that it’s important to opt for a supplement that contains both of the aforementioned bacteria.
“Make sure there are at least two different guys there because they do jobs in different locations,” he says. “But ideally there could be five types of enterococci or five different types of bifidobacteria,” Mahaney adds.
how to give your cat probiotics
While some vets prescribe probiotics once a pet has an existing problem, such as diarrhea, Mahaney recommends that pet owners make probiotic supplementation a daily part of a cat’s health routine. “I believe that giving a daily probiotic supplement is a safe way to help prevent the development of digestive problems,” she explains. “If the cat is willing to take it, it’s a very simple thing to do.”
Antibiotics are known to kill off healthy intestinal flora. To combat this, frey recommends giving the cat a daily dose of probiotics when he’s been taking antibiotics to help repopulate the digestive tract. To be proactive, pet owners can also give their cats probiotics at the same time they start a dose of antibiotics. “Probiotics are often carried over for several weeks beyond stopping the antibiotic, since it takes a long time for those good bacteria to take hold,” Frey says.
To administer a dose, it’s best to follow the instructions on the package. if a cat doesn’t swallow a capsule, owners can hide it inside a treat or choose a product that can be sprinkled on the cat’s food. Before giving your cat probiotics or other supplements, be sure to consult your vet to ensure the proper dosage and type for your cat.
risks and considerations of probiotics for cats
adverse effects of probiotics are rare in cats. frey, however, cautions that cat owners need to choose their brands of probiotics wisely. “The supplement industry is loosely regulated and there is no government agency that requires a company to prove what it says on the label about amounts and varieties. companies just have to respond to complaints,” she explains. Human supplement manufacturers are required to have more oversight than veterinarians. however, there is a veterinary organization called the national supplement council for animals (nasc) that provides some oversight. Frey recommends giving cats a NASC-labeled veterinary product or a product from a company that also produces human food and supplements whenever possible.
but at the end of the day, it all comes down to what works best for your specific pet. “We know very little about the populations of normal and probiotic flora in animals. there is a lot to learn”, says frey. “No one product works for all animals, so trying different probiotics and seeing the results is a good common sense approach.”
Optimal health for cats begins with proper nutrition. find out which human foods are dangerous for cats and avoid feeding them to your feline friend.