Why is Fibre Important in Cat Food?

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High-fibre cat food has become a staple for cats with gastrointestinal issues. But why exactly is fibre important for your cat?

In plenty of cases, cat food includes fibre to help with digestive functions and benefit the stool quality of cats who might otherwise have digestive upset. High-fibre foods may be beneficial in cases of constipation, diarrhoea, diabetes and even obesity.

The Microbiome and Its Interaction With Cat Food With Fibre

The gut  microbiome refers to the many millions of micro-organisms (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) that live inside the digestive systems of cats (as well as dogs, humans and other living creatures).

This ecosystem of living organisms is fundamental to digestion. Bacteria in the colon of pets help to break down indigestible material and produce beneficial compounds like vitamins. Nowhere is the former function more evident than when it comes to breaking down fibre. Bacteria often engage with fibres in a process called fermentation.

Cats, even though they are carnivores, can benefit significantly from consuming a cat food with fibre.

Brown tabby cat eating from metal bowl.

Classifying Fibre in Cat Food

One way to classify dietary fibre is based on solubility. Soluble fibres tend to dissolve in gastric juices and water in the gut, with some soluble fibres turning into gels that can hold water and make stools easier to pass. Insoluble fibres add bulk to the food eaten to help to regulate the transit of foodstuff through the intestines and can help with stool consistency. Both soluble and insoluble fibres can be fermentable. This means that bacteria in the gut can break down these fibres and produce new compounds that can, for example, nourish the cells of the colon.

Prebiotics in Cat Food With Fibre

Cat food with fibre typically includes a blend of soluble and insoluble fibres to help promote a healthy gut and good stool quality. Some of these fibre ingredients are also referred to as prebiotics, which are typically fermentable fibres that promote the growth of the "good bacteria" that live in the intestines. Some high-fibre cat foods work specifically because they help feed the beneficial bacteria and promote a balanced microbiome.

Plenty of digestive conditions may cause a bacterial imbalance including chronic diarrhoea, colitis and constipation.

Other Reasons to Feed High-Fibre Cat Food

Diabetic cats are typically fed high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods, but may also benefit from high-fibre cat food if they are prone to becoming overweight or have certain types of Gastrointestinal conditions.

Some fibres slow the absorption of nutrients, allowing the sugars from starches to be absorbed more slowly and therefore stabilising blood sugar levels. Overweight cats or those prone to weight gain may also benefit from food high in fibre, as it may make them feel more full than regular food — and weight loss may help manage diabetes.

Furthermore, cat food with fibre may also help cats who suffer from Gastrointestinal diseases that affect the large intestine. Fibre can help regulate the motility in the Gastrointestinal tract and manage water balance to avoid the two extremes: constipation and diarrhoea. Molecules called long-chain fatty acids may be derived from the breakdown of fibre to help nourish the colon.

Is High-Fibre Cat Food Beneficial for Cats?

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 fibre that is useful for digestion.

While there's a lot about cat nutrition that scientists have yet to understand, they're starting to realise that carnivorous cats actually can benefit from fibre. 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 favourable faecal profile than those who ate simple meat. This has led researchers to conclude that carnivore digestive systems must do something useful with all that extra roughage.

The Role of Low-Fibre Cat Food

What if your vet recommends a low-fibre cat food instead? Typically, veterinarians recommend low-fibre food for cats with a sudden onset of gastrointestinal upset such as acute vomiting or diarrhoea. These foods tend to have higher levels of other nutrients such as electrolytes and B vitamins to help recovery in these cats. Always consult a veterinarian when selecting a food for your cat. If your cat is on a high-fibre meal plan, their vet should monitor them to make sure their fibre-responsive conditions are well managed.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

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 honours 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.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at sunsetvets.com.

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