probiotics for cats

Healthy nutrition is the brick and mortar of health and longevity in cats, dogs and all living organisms. Healthy nutrition is impossible without a healthy digestive tract. A healthy diet will support the digestive tract's functioning, and vice versa.  

Using a probiotic supplement is an excellent way of boosting the cat's digestion and ensuring a healthy and smoothly running GI tract. The science behind probiotics is not new, but their use in the veterinary medicine field is relatively novel. Luckily, today, more and more veterinarians recommend using probiotics for cats.

What are Probiotics for Cats?

With a name that literally translates to “life-promoting,” probiotics are naturally occurring microorganisms that inhabit the small and large intestines of all mammals, including people. They are popularly called “good bacteria” and are responsible for protecting the intestines from the “bad bacteria”.

The cat’s body harbors trillions of live bacteria. Most of them reside within the gut and are collectively referred to as gut flora or microbiome. Every cat has an individual microbiome whose population varies based on health, diet, and lifestyle.

For the cat’s digestive system to function correctly, it needs a balance between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria. 

However, at times of disease (stress, inflammation, infection), the number of “bad” gut bacteria increases and eventually outgrows the number of “good” bacteria. When the digestive tract is knocked out of balance, digestive upsets occur. 

Probiotics make sure the digestive system does not get knocked out of balance.

Benefits of Probiotics for Cats

Benefits of Probiotics for Cats

The obvious benefit of probiotics for cats is keeping the gut microorganisms balanced and maintaining a healthy GI tract. Regular use of probiotics can keep symptoms like vomiting, nausea, appetite changes, stool changes, constipation, and diarrhea at bay.

However, there is more to these supplements than simple GI tract health. An important part of the immune system is located in the gut. When “good” bacteria interact with the immune cells scattered throughout the digestive system, they support and boost the immune system.

On the other page, if the digestive system is thrown out of balance, the cat’s immune response is less efficient which results in negative health effects. 

Are all Probiotics Made the Same? 

Cat owners often wonder whether they can use human probiotics and are probiotics designed for people of higher quality than the ones designed for pets. 

A study published in 2011 investigated several different probiotics for pets revealed that the number of colony-forming units was much smaller than the number stated on the bottle label in some products.

Another interesting revelation was some of the tested products’ labels had listed non-existing bacteria as their ingredient. Finally, one of the analyzed products did not contain any live bacterium at all. 

On the other hand, probiotics formulated for humans are designed to meet higher standards, and manufacturers face severe consequences if there are discrepancies between the label and the actual ingredients. 

This only adds to the dilemma – are probiotics for human use better? In terms of quality and transparency, the answer might be yes. In terms of bacteria compatibility the answer is definitely no.  

However, it would be best if you did not give pets probiotics formulated for people. The reason is simple – the human digestive system is much different and benefits from different bacteria strains. There are even differences between dogs and cats, but most pet probiotics are formulated for use in both cats and dogs.  

So, to answer the main question, no, not all probiotics are made the same. However, probiotics are a species-specific supplement. Veterinarians do not prohibit the use of human probiotics for pets as there are no dangerous side effects. However, the benefits are much less significant compared to probiotics designed specifically for dogs and cats. 

Types of Cat Probiotics

Types of Cat Probiotics

Cat probiotic supplements are available in different forms like capsules, powders, treats, and kibble. While the form you will choose depends on your and your cat’s preferences. 

However, the main thing you need to consider when choosing the type of cat probiotics is the number of colony forming units (CFU). In general, probiotics with higher CFU are better.

Another thing to keep in mind is diversity. Cats need different bacteria strains in their probiotic supplements. The two most important types are:

  • Bifidobacterium family – live in the small intestines and help with digestion

  • Enterococcus family – live in the large intestine (colon) and promote normal feces formation.  

Since each family is associated with different benefits, the right product should contain at least two strains of each group. Ideally, the right products would contain five Bifidobacterium and five Enterococcus types. 

Finally, talk to your veterinarian about which type of probiotic supplement is best for your cat in terms of specific purpose. For example, depending on the bacteria species they contain, some probiotics are good for resolving digestive upsets, others have anti-inflammatory properties and there are those that support the immune system. 

When to Give Cats Probiotics

Bacterial Imbalances

Infections, inflammations, and antibiotics can cause bacterial imbalances and trigger digestive issues such as vomiting, persistent diarrhea, and lack of appetite. Adding a probiotic supplement will help restore balance.

Specific conditions that benefit from probiotic products are inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and pancreatitis. Both inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and pancreatitis are complex problems in terms of treatments and require a multimodal approach.

Medications

Antibiotics are not the only medication that affects the microorganisms’ balance within the GI tract. Steroids can have the same effect especially if used for longer periods.  

Stress

Stress is closely linked with diarrhea as it causes a nervous tummy prone to upsets. As creatures of habit, cats can be stressed even by slight changes in their routines and environments. Kittens and senior cats are more prone to stress and stress-induced diarrhea episodes.

Sudden Food Changes

All dietary changes should be smooth and gradual as sudden changes almost always result in an upset tummy. In addition to practicing gradual changes, the transition period can be made even smoother by adding a probiotic supplement product.  

Intestinal Parasites

The presence of intestinal parasites affects the overall microorganisms’ balance. Probiotic products are not useful as treatments for worms. However, once the worms are eliminated, probiotics can be used to restore the digestive tract’s default settings.  

It is worth mentioning that you can boost the probiotics’ effects by enriching your cat’s food with prebiotics. Prebiotics are fiber sources, probiotics feed on. In a nutshell, your cat needs probiotics and they need prebiotics. 

How to add Probiotics to Your Cat’s Diet

How to add Probiotics to Your Cat’s Diet

There are many different probiotic supplements for cats, and different brands offer various forms. Considering there are so many choices available on the market, finding the right form is something you can discuss with your trusted veterinarian.

For example, probiotic supplements for cats come in the forms of capsules, powders, chews (treats or cookies), and coating on the regular kibble. Which type you will use depends on what fits you and your cat most. 

You must give the capsules directly into the mouth, and the powders can be sprinkled on top or mixed with the regular food. The chews and probiotics-coated kibble are fairly straightforward when it comes to administration.

Finally, there are natural ways of adding probiotics to your cat’s diet – just add plain yogurt or kefir on the menu. Both dairy products are excellent sources of probiotics for cats. Just keep in mind that dairy products are a no-go if your cat is lactose intolerant.

Risks and Considerations of Probiotics for Cats

Like other supplements, the use of probiotic products comes with certain risks and considerations. Although few, they are worth mentioning. 

First of all, you need to discuss the proper dose with your veterinarian. Same as too many “bad” bacteria trigger imbalance, so do too many “good” bacteria. The role of probiotics is to maintain or restore gut balance.

Secondly, if your cat is immune-compromised or has some chronic health issues, you need to discuss the use of probiotics with your vet, especially if trying new strains.

Additionally, some cats may experience mild signs of digestive upset (diarrhea, nausea, gassiness, and bloating) once probiotics are introduced to the diet. Same as with new cat foods, the cat’s digestive system needs time to adjust to changes. 

Usually, the signs of digestive upset resolve in a day or two once the gut familiarizes with the added probiotics. If the digestive upset persists, your vet may suggest stopping the use and reintroducing the same probiotic but at a lower dose when the digestive issues resolve.

Finally, in extremely rare cases, some cats may develop allergic reactions to probiotics.

Our Final Thoughts

cat cuddling with owner

As responsible cat owners, adequate pet care is your primary concern. Adding probiotics to your cats’ menu is an excellent way of promoting optimal digestive and overall health. Based on the circumstances, cat probiotics can be used to prevent issues or, if already present, an integral part of the management strategy.

Bottom line, probiotics are a simple and efficient way for pet parents to ensure their cats’ well-being and longevity. If in doubt regarding the exact probiotic type for your cat, its implementation, or dose, do not hesitate to talk to your trusted vet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should cats take probiotics?

Yes, cats can benefit a lot from regular use of probiotics. The accent is put on regularly, meaning you do not have to wait for an issue to arise to boost your cat’s digestive health with probiotics.

Can you give human probiotics to cats?

Yes, they are not harmful for cats. However, you cannot expect the same benefits as it would be the case with probiotic supplement products designed specifically for cats. Ask your trusted veterinarian if you need help choosing the right probiotic product for your cat. 

How long does it take for probiotics to work in cats?

Depending on the underlying cause, it may take between a few days to few weeks of use for the probiotic supplement’s beneficial effects to become apparent.

Can I give my cat probiotic yogurt?

Yes, plain yoghurt and kefir are excellent natural probiotics. Unless your cat is lactose intolerant, she could benefit from these dairy products.

What do probiotics do for cats?

Probiotics boost the digestive health and function by aiding with processes like food breakdown, nutrients’ absorption and metabolism.