From digestion to mental health, your cat’s digestive health affects almost every aspect of their health and happiness. Your cat has a unique collection of hundreds of different types of single-celled microorganisms (bacteria and other microbes) in its digestive tract, referred to as the gut microbiome. Gut bacteria are crucial for digestion and obtaining nutrients from the food your cat eats.
We are seeing a rise in inflammatory diseases in both our pets and ourselves. Beneficial gut bacteria can be harmed by exposure to broad spectrum antibiotics, antimicrobials, food additives, medications, and more. When gut bacteria are out of balance, chronic digestive disorders, such as feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may result. It’s more important now than ever, to take care of our cats’ gut health. But how do we do this?
Below we’ve pulled together nine ways to improve your cat’s gut health through nutritional changes, health interventions, and environmental enrichment. Please check with your veterinarian when making changes to your cat’s diet and care, as these suggestions are not intended to substitute for standard veterinary care.
Because gut bacteria help your kitty digest food, the types of food your pet eats will influence which bacteria thrive in the gut. Cats eating high-carb cat food (ingredients like rice or potatoes) often have gut microbiomes with excessive amounts of carb-loving bacteria. Some of these bacteria have been linked with excessive inflammation, potentially resulting in cat health issues.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that for most cats, the best diet is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Some cat parents even feed their pets exclusively raw meat, which maximizes protein content and minimizes carbohydrate content.
Prebiotics are special kinds of dietary fiber that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Although many foods naturally contain these ingredients, some people supplement their cats’ diets with extra prebiotics. In mice, it has been observed that the microbiome shift induced by prebiotics can counteract inflammation caused by a high-fat diet. If you introduce prebiotics to your cat’s regimen, begin with small doses to see how your cat responds.
Many pet parents administer cat probiotics that contain high quantities of live bacteria. However, because the bacteria in these probiotics were not isolated from cats (typically they contain strains of bacteria from soil), they will probably be out competed by bacteria living in your kitty’s gut.
Thus, these probiotic microbes generally do not become permanent residents in your kitty’s microbiome, which is why many probiotic users find the most benefit from daily supplementation. Because cats are carnivores with very acidic stomachs, far more acidic than humans or dogs, it is important to find a probiotic encased within an enteric-coated capsule, which will protect the bacteria inside from stomach acid and allow them to reach the intestines.
#4 Fecal Microbiota Transplant
A fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) moves beneficial gut bacteria from a healthy cat to a cat with an unhealthy microbiome. FMTs via enema are typically performed in a veterinary hospital under sedation using material that is not properly screened for pathogens; the procedure can be stressful for the cat and costly for the pet parent. AnimalBiome offers affordable oral FMT capsules that make this process a little easier to swallow. Our Gut Restore Supplement is designed for cats with health issues related to the gut microbiome, including cat digestive disorders, allergies, and cat skin issues. These fecal transplant capsules are more powerful than current cat probiotics and prescription diets because they contain thousands of beneficial bacteria found living in a healthy cat.
Not all bacteria are helpful members of your cat’s gut community. Sometimes your cat might have an infection or overgrowth of harmful bacteria that requires an intervention. Antibiotics kill their targets by inhibiting essential life functions of bacteria. However, most of these antibiotics are “broad-spectrum”, meaning they will kill the harmful bacteria as well as eliminate beneficial bacteria needed for healthy gut function.
Antibiotics for cats can cause long-term changes to your cat’s gut health. However, they are an essential tool and may be absolutely necessary to help your feline. Antibiotics can only be obtained with a prescription from a veterinarian, and you should use them exactly as instructed.
If your cat needs antibiotics, you might consider supporting their microbiome during and after treatment. Gut Maintenance Plus prebiotic and probiotic supplement is designed to help resolve flare-ups of diarrhea during cat antibiotic treatment. It contains a yeast based probiotic called S. boulardii, that antibiotics aren’t able to wipe out during treatment.
After treating your cat with antibiotics, you may want to assess the status of their gut health with a microbiome test. An at-home Gut Health Test identifies bacterial imbalances in the gut and tells you how to improve it. The test report also provides diet, lifestyle, and/or supplement recommendations based on your cat’s unique microbiome composition to improve cat gut health. Most mild bacterial imbalances can be addressed by changing your cat’s diet. If a moderate or severe bacterial imbalance is present, you may consider using supplements in order to replace key beneficial bacteria that were lost as a result of the antibiotic treatment.
#6 Dental Hygiene
When oral health is neglected, bacteria associated with chronic inflammation become more abundant in the mouth. These mouth dwelling bacteria don’t usually survive in the digestive tract, where they are typically outcompeted by bacteria already in residence. However, a recent study in mice suggests that bacteria such as Klebsiella that normally live in the mouth may contribute to gut diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The study found that when certain strains of bacteria from the mouth make their way to the gut and settle down in the intestine, they can trigger chronic inflammation.
Once oral bacteria like Klebsiella colonize the gut, they may “help perpetuate gut microbiota dysbiosis [imbalance] and chronic inflammation.” This may arise as an unintended consequence of treatment with antibiotics because some Klebsiella strains are resistant to antibiotics and may replace normal colon dwelling bacteria after antibiotic therapy. Brushing your cat’s teeth using a toothpaste designed for cats is the single best way to avoid this problem because it will reduce the abundance of bacteria like Klebsiella that are associated with chronic inflammation.
Over half of cats living in the US are overweight or obese. Cat obesity can have profound negative effects on their gut microbiome and, consequently, their overall health. Kitties who are active have more Faecalibacterium living in their guts than less active cats, putting them at a decreased risk for developing chronic digestive diseases and even some types of cancer.
For indoor cats, it can be difficult to get them moving. You might try hiding pieces of their food around the house, so they have to “hunt” for their food; shining a laser pointer for them to chase; or even teaching your kitty to swim.
#8 Mental Stimulation
Gut bacteria can influence your cat’s mood, and it turns out that moods can also influence your cat’s microbiome. Stress has shown to shift the microbiome of humans towards an unhealthy state. If your cat already suffers from digestive issues, stress can exacerbate the symptoms.
Mental stimulation is a great way to keep your cat’s attention on tasks rather than stress. To entertain your cat, you might offer new toys, put food into kitty food puzzles, or give treats in exchange for learning new tricks.
#9 Exposure to the Outdoors
Bacteria that are potentially good for your cat are everywhere in nature: in the dirt, on plants and even in the air. If you live in a place where allowing your cat outside unsupervised is not safe, consider purchasing a cat-specific harness or building a catio onto your home.
Understand Your Cat’s Gut Health With Microbiome Testing
Knowing the composition of your cat’s microbiome will help you choose the best interventions for your cat. Your cat’s symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, immune system issues) may be related to an imbalance in the digestive system. If you properly address your cat’s low bacterial diversity or imbalance, it could help improve gastrointestinal symptoms or prevent chronic digestive conditions in the future.
AnimalBiome’s at-home KittyBiome Gut Health Test identifies bacterial imbalances in the gut and provides diet, lifestyle, and/or supplement recommendations based on your cat’s unique microbiome composition. The test includes everything you need to collect a small fecal sample from your cat, and send it back to us for assessment.
This article was originally published on February 1, 2018 and updated February 1, 2021.