Just like us, our kitty’s digestive tract needs a healthy balance of microorganisms to keep working smoothly. With most of kitty’s immunity residing in her gut, keeping her gut balanced with an array of good bacteria is necessary to help her stay healthy. One possible way to do that is by supplementing her diet with friendly bacteria that help to regulate digestion and overall immune health.
Benefits of probiotics for cats
A cat probiotic supplement can offer many benefits including boosting good gut flora and alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress like gas, bloat, constipation, and diarrhoea. These friendly bacteria can outcompete and “crowd out” bad microorganisms in the cat’s intestine, improving symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). They help support normal gastrointestinal function.
A probiotic supplement can help to improve a cat’s immune health too. Most of the cat’s immunity resides in her gut. A healthy gut translates to a balanced immune function that responds to threats, neutralizes them, and then goes back into “watch and wait” mode. The proper functioning system does not underreact or overreact. On the contrary, an immune system that’s out of balance simply can’t work properly and often overreacts or underreacts. An underactive immune system will fail to protect the cat from infections, leading to chronic, recurring infections. An overactive immune system leads to inflammatory conditions like allergies and autoimmune disorders. A good probiotic supplement helps to rebalance the gut microflora and alleviate allergies and inflammatory conditions.
Some vets may recommend probiotics after a round of antibiotics. Probiotics help to restore essential good bacteria in the cat’s gut as antibiotics eliminate both good and bad microflora. Probiotics may help to reduce anxiety in cats. Since the gut and the brain are connected by millions of nerves, an inflamed gastrointestinal tract can affect a cat’s mood, increasing anxiety or behavioural issues.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
It’s easy to confuse prebiotics and probiotics because they sound and look similar, but they are very different. Probiotics are live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the "good" bacteria in the cat’s body. Prebiotics are not live bacteria. They are the dietary fibre that feeds the probiotics. They fuel the probiotic, helping them grow and thrive in the gut. Some probiotic supplements have prebiotics added to help fuel the friendly bacteria. While it is not necessary to have prebiotics for probiotics to work, taking them might make your probiotics more effective.
How to choose a good cat probiotic
When it comes to choosing a good everyday probiotic for your cat, opt for a product with the highest CFU (colony forming units) and diversity. CFU indicates the number of live and active microorganisms in one serving of a probiotic dietary supplement. A higher CFU means a higher number of live and active microorganisms per serving.
Strain biodiversity is another important factor to consider. For an everyday probiotic, you want to make sure that there’s a diverse array of probiotics (multi-strains) — not just one type of bacteria (single-strain). You’ll want to look for strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus. Different strains could have different functions when it comes to promoting health. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains are more involved with digestion and immunity, while Enterococcus strains aid with the maintenance of colonic health. The Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains are most common in cat probiotics. For an everyday probiotic, at the very least, choose a probiotic supplement with 2 different strains. Here’s an everyday cat probiotic with 8 different strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium - Dom & Cleo Probiotics Supplements For Dogs & Cats. This probiotic helps to support a healthy balance of microflora in the intestines and improve assimilation of nutrients.
The single-strain probiotic supplement has its role too. Single-strain products are often used as targeted therapy for a specific health condition. One example is Saccharomyces boulardii, which is often recommended to manage chronic yeast infections in humans and pets. When it comes to specific health issues, it is best to consult with your vet before giving probiotics to your pet.
For cat parents looking to give natural probiotic-rich foods to their kitty, try kefir. Kefir is safe for both cats and dogs and often has a much lower lactose content than yogurt. It's important to start slow as cats can still develop gastric symptoms, so proceed carefully. Another probiotic-rich food is Green Tripe. Green tripe is a natural superfood for carnivores like cats. It’s not easy getting unbleached green tripe from your local butcher or supermarket. If you intend to add green tripe into your kitty’s meal for that added boost of probiotic, try this freeze-dried meal topper - Feline Natural Lamb Green Tripe Booster Freeze Dried Cat Food – an excellent source of protein and contains live naturally occurring microorganisms and healthy prebiotics and probiotics.
Some cat food has friendly bacteria strains added to aid in digestion and promote intestinal health. This can be a good option for cat parents looking for an all-in-one solution – minus the hassle of having to feed your kitty a probiotic supplement separately. The Wellness Core Kitten Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal & Deboned Chicken Dry Cat Food has various strains of Lactobacillus and a strain of Enterococcus added into their formula.
When you should give probiotics
Cats can take probiotics on a regular basis to promote everyday digestive health and well-being. Choose a multi-strain probiotic supplement or give your cat some probiotic-rich foods. A regular probiotic regimen could be good for a cat prone to getting an upset stomach.
Cats can also benefit from taking probiotics temporarily during times of stress or after a round of antibiotics. Stress from changes in routine, adding new members to the household (human or another pet) and other life changes can lead to an upset tummy in cats. There are various situations that may disrupt the healthy bacteria and microbiome in your cat and short-term probiotic use can help get their digestive function back on track.
Risks and considerations of probiotics for cats
Adverse effects of probiotics are rare in cats. However, as with any food or supplements, beware of potential adverse effects, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Always start slow and monitor your cat’s progress. If necessary, start at a much lower dose and slowly work your way up to the recommended dose.
If your cat just does not seem to tolerate a probiotic very well, she could possibly have an allergy or intolerance to the ingredients in the supplement. If you suspect that your cat may be intolerant to a certain ingredient in the supplement, stop the supplement and discuss it with your veterinarian to find a better fit for your cat.
Cat probiotic supplements can be a helpful addition to your cat’s diet and overall wellness plan. They can improve digestion and boost the immune system. Some probiotic supplements are formulated for everyday use while others are made for specific health conditions. Based on your cat’s health condition, choose a probiotic supplement with the bacteria strains best suited to her. Know that no one product works for every animal. Do consult with your vet, check the strains, and read the product description and reviews before making a purchase.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.