You are probably familiar with the benefits of probiotics for cats, but what about prebiotics? If your cat is on probiotics, do they need prebiotics too? Are probiotic and prebiotic supplements symbiotic? And what is the difference?
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about prebiotics for cats – their definition, working mechanisms, the benefits, and the consideration. Keep reading and set your cat on the path to natural wellness.
What are Prebiotics for Cats?
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates offering nutrients that selectively support the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. From a chemical standpoint, they are sugars, but nutritionally speaking, they lack sugar-associated calories.
They are usually extracted from food sources that are also rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
How does Prebiotics for Cats Work?
Simply put, they work by undergoing fermentation and selectively nourishing the good bacteria instead of the bad bacteria (like, for example Salmonella or E.coli), thus preventing imbalances in the gut microflora.
By supporting good bacteria growth, they help prevent certain diseases, improve digestion and nutrient absorption, and give the immune system a healthy boost. In other words, prebiotics work on various levels.
For example, when it comes to improving stool quality, they can help prevent diarrhea via two mechanisms:
- By feeding the good bacteria and preventing bad bacteria overgrowth.
- By changing the colonic pH, absorbing moisture, and decreasing intestinal motility.
Additionally, once fermented and metabolized by the good bacteria, they produce short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, and acetate), which provide:
- Local effects – strengthen the intestinal barrier.
- Systemic effects – give the host energy.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?
We have already explained that prebiotics are actually fibers and serve as food sources for the beneficial members of the gut microbiota.
They maintain the cat’s gut microorganisms balanced and keep with symptoms like vomiting, nausea, appetite changes, stomach irritation, constipation, and diarrhea.
Probiotics are usually members of the lactic acid bacteria group and include the:
- Bifidobacteria – inhabit the small intestine and improve digestion function.
- Enterococci – live in the large intestine (colon) and support proper stool quality (no diarrhea or constipation).
The Lactobacillus and Streptococcus family are also important probiotics for cats. In addition to enhancing the GI tract performance, lactobacilli and streptococci support the immune system and help with skin allergies and food sensitivities.
All in all, we can conclude that probiotics introduce new bacteria in the intestines while prebiotics support the growth of the already present beneficial bacteria.
The Research on Cat Prebiotics
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, probiotics are defined as “undigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and activities of specific bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and exert beneficial effects on the host.”
Until recently, prebiotics are limited for human use. Today, based on the most recent ISAPP expert consensus, “the prebiotic concept not only applies to humans, but also to companion and production animals.” Therefore, the use of prebiotics in cats is still new, and the research is in its infant years. However, so far, the results are promising.
Benefits of Prebiotics for Cats
Adding fibers to your cat’s menu can have several health benefits. Here are some of the most important pros of adding this supplement.
Restoring the gut microbiome. The gut microflora is easily affected and thrown out of balance by sudden diet changes, dietary indiscretions, prolonged use of certain meds (antibiotics), and intestinal parasites. In such cases, the use of pre+probiotics will help restore balance and ensure normal gastrointestinal function and overall health.
Improving stool quality. Just like kittens and cats have sensitive stomachs and often suffer from diarrhea and constipation. In both cases, the nutrient absorption is compromised, leading to long-term issues. The use of pre+probiotcs improves stool consistency and promotes normal fecal formation.
Easing the symptoms of chronic GI diseases. Common chronic GI tract ailments in cats include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities, and allergies. Supplementing your cat with pre+probiotics will provide inflammation relief and ease the associated symptoms.
Supporting healthy body weight. Increased body weight and obesity are common problems in modern cats, and they increase the risk of diabetes which is also widespread. Prebiotics can help with both issues simultaneously by promoting normal body weight, modulating glucose metabolism, and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Boosting the immune system. The intestinal wall is an important pathogen barrier, and a large portion of the immune system is located in the gut. Therefore, there is a close link between a healthy gut and a strong immune response. Using pre+probiotics is critical for a balanced gut and robust immunity.
Types of Cat-Friendly Prebiotics
There are different prebiotics types in form (powder, capsules, liquid) and structure size (short, medium, and long-chain). Each type has a unique purpose, and to ensure maximum benefits for the host, the right supplement should include prebiotics of different sizes.
Common prebiotic types include:
- Resistant starches
Finally, we should note that certain human foods serve as natural prebiotic sources. Typical examples include chicory root, garlic, onion, dandelion, artichokes, legumes, bananas, honey, and cereals (wheat and rye). However, they are not suitable for cats because of various reasons:
- Some human prebiotic foods (garlic and onion) are toxic to cats.
- Others are safe but do not have cat-friendly flavors.
- Even if cats like their taste, it is unlikely they would eat the right amount.
Therefore, when cats need a prebiotic boost, it is best to stick to commercially available supplements formulated specifically for felines.
Our Final Thoughts on Prebiotics for Cats
Although relatively new in the veterinary medicine field, pet prebiotics are becoming a frequently used supplement. This is because dietary fibers come with several health benefits and improve the cat’s overall health and wellbeing.
To ensure maximum benefits, purchase a high-quality prebiotic supplement from a reputable brand. Always look beyond the label claims and do your homework before buying the right supplement for your cat.
Prebiotics for Cats Frequently Asked Questions
What are good prebiotics for cats?
Although there are many different prebiotics for cats, the most commonly found types in pet foods include fructans – fructooligosaccharides (FOS) or oligofructose and inulin. Other good prebiotics for cats are oligosaccharides, arabinogalactans, and lactulose.
Are prebiotics safe for cats?
Yes, when used in adequate amounts and accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines and the veterinarian‘s approval, probiotics are perfectly safe for cats. In fact, they are more than safe – prebiotics offer several health benefits for pets – from a healthy GI tract to improved immune system function.
Is prebiotic better than probiotic?
Comparing prebiotics to probiotics is like comparing apples with oranges. Namely, probiotics are live microorganisms that promote balance in the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that offer nutrients for the probiotics. In simple words, the two supplements together – the cat’s digestive tract needs probiotics, and they need prebiotics.
How long does it take for prebiotics to work in cats?
Prebiotics in cats start working as soon as they reach the intestines. However, to see an improvement in your cat’s health, you will have to wait for the probiotics to start working, which can vary from several days in cases of managing diarrhea to several weeks in cases of boosting the immune system issues.
How much prebiotics should cats take a day?
Prebiotics are usually mixed with probiotics, and the dosage instructions are provided on the package by the manufacturer. How much pre + probiotics your kitten needs depends on its body weight, the amount of colony-forming units, and the underlying reason for using the supplement.
Can you give a cat too much prebiotics?
In theory, same as with probiotics, it is possible to give your cat too much prebiotics. Luckily, pets cannot overdose on these supplements. Even if you accidentally give too much or miscalculate the dosage, the side effects are mild, temporary, and in the form of loose stool or diarrhea, constipation, gassiness, and vomiting.
What is the best prebiotic for cats?
The best prebiotic for cats should be a general-purpose or full-spectrum supplement that contains all prebiotic sizes – short, medium, and long-chain. This is because each type has different effects and offers different health benefits. The best product must also be made of natural ingredients, contain various strains of beneficial bacteria, and be easy to use.
Effects of short-chain fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides, individually and in combination, on nutrient digestibility, fecal fermentative metabolite concentrations, and large bowel microbial ecology of healthy adults cats | Journal of Animal Science | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics | Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology