Why is Fiber Important in Cat Food?
High-fiber cat food has become a staple for cats with gastrointestinal issues. But why exactly is fiber important for your furball of a pet?
In plenty of cases, cat food includes fiber to help with digestive functions and benefit the stool quality of cats who might otherwise have digestive upset. High-fiber foods may be beneficial in cases of constipation, diarrhea, diabetes and even obesity.
The Microbiome and It's Interaction With Cat Food With Fiber
The microbiome refers to the many millions of microbes (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) that live inside of cats (as well as dogs, humans and other living creatures); this includes a unique gut micobiome in your cat's digestive system. This ecosystem of living organisms is fundamental to digestion.
Bacteria in the colon of pets helps to break down indigestible material and produce beneficial compounds like vitamins. Nowhere is the latter function more evident than when it comes to breaking down fibers. Bacteria often engage with fibers in a process called fermentation.
Cats, even though they are carnivores, can benefit significantly from consuming a cat food with fiber.
Classifying Fiber in Cat Food
Fiber is typically classified as soluble or insoluble. The soluble stuff dissolves in gastric juices and other liquids, turning into a gel that gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria can eventually derive calories from. Soluble fiber is also rapidly fermentable. The products of these fibers' breakdown may also support the cells of the colon. Soluble fibers, when in cat food, tend to add moisture to the stool and speed up cats' digestion. For this reason, vets often recommend cat food with soluble fiber in cases of constipation.
Insoluble fiber has its own benefits. Also, referred to as slowly fermentable fiber, this bulky substance slows down the transit of foodstuff as it makes its way through the intestines. Vets recommend food with insoluble fiber for cats for a variety of reasons. Some examples may include cats whose stools are too soft and for cats with inflammatory bowel disease affecting the large intestine.
Prebiotics in Cat Food With Fiber
Cat food with fiber typically includes a blend of soluble and insoluble fibers. Some of these fiber ingredients are also referred to as prebiotics — ingredients, typically fermentable fibers, that promote the growth of the "good bacteria" that live in the intestines.
Some high-fiber cat foods work specifically because they help feed these bacterial colonies and promote the ideal balance of bacteria in cats who lack this equilibrium. Plenty of digestive conditions may cause a bacterial imbalance including chronic diarrhea, colitis and constipation.
Other Reasons to Feed High-Fiber Cat Food
Diabetic cats may also benefit from high-fiber cat food. This is because some fibers slow the absorption of nutrients, allowing the sugars from starches to be absorbed more steadily and therefore stabilizing blood sugar levels. Overweight cats might also benefit from food high in fiber, as it may make them feel more full than regular food — and weight loss may help manage diabetes.
Furthermore, cat food with fiber may also help cats who suffer from GI diseases that affect the large intestine. Molecules called long-chain fatty acids may be derived from the breakdown of fiber. These may help the colon perform basic functions that may help these cats.
Is High-Fiber Cat Food Natural?
Left to their own devices, cats eat plenty of things humans consider indigestible, like hair, bone, gristle, feathers, fish scales and stomach contents of their prey. Gross, but natural. Some of these are digestible to a point, while others may contain fiber but nonetheless useful for digestion.
While there's a lot about feline nutrition that scientists have yet to understand, they're starting to realize that carnivorous cats actually can benefit from fiber. A study on cheetahs' eating habits published by the Journal of Animal Science found that those who ate whole prey — fur, stomach contents and all — had a more favorable fecal profile than those who ate simple meat. This has led researchers to conclude that carnivores must do something useful with all that extra roughage.
The Role of Low-Fiber Cat Food
What if your vet recommends a low-fiber cat food instead? Typically, veterinarians recommend low-fiber food for cats whose small intestines are more likely to become inflamed than their large intestines, such as cats with certain inflammatory bowel diseases. These cats may require a highly digestible food composed of simpler molecules that won't tax the intestines or their microbiome.
Always consult a veterinarian when selecting a food for your cat. If your cat is on a high-fiber meal plan, their vet should monitor them to make sure their fiber-responsive conditions are well-managed.
Dr. Patty Khuly
Dr. Patty Khuly is an award-winning veterinarian known for her independent thinking, her spirited pet advocacy, her passion for the veterinary profession and her famously irreverent pet health writing.
Dr. K is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She now owns Sunset Animal Clinic, a veterinary practice in Miami, Florida.
But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.