What Exactly is the Gut Microbiome?

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/14/20242-4 minutes
the owner strokes the cat's belly

From digestion to immunity, your cat’s gut health plays a major role in their overall health and happiness. Below are eight simple and effective tips to help you care for the health of your cat’s intestine.

What Exactly is the Gut Microbiome?

As part of the digestive system, the gut microbiome is a dynamic ecosystem that contains a collection of microscopic microorganisms which live inside your cat’s body, along with their genes and metabolites. They can be bacteria, viruses, fungi, or protozoa, and they play an essential role in the health of your cat.

When Does a Cat’s Microbiome Develop?

Cats, as well as other pets, are not born with a microbiome but will start developing one immediately after being born and the microbiome of each cat will be unique to them. As they go through life, playing and making the most of it, they will also build and change their microbiome depending on all the things they come into contact with, like their environment, their food, and even the people around them.

Why is it Important to Support Gut Health in Cats?

Good cat gut health can help maximize nutrient absorption and promotes good quality stools. There are also many other benefits that come from having a healthy gut including increased support of the immune system, which can help to minimize the likelihood of diseases.

Having a healthy gut microbiome is important for digestive health. The cells which line the large intestine absorb the majority of their energy from the nutrients that are created by the microbiome as they break down food materials.

Common Causes of Cat Gut Health Problems

There are a number of things that can disrupt the cat microbiome, including:

  • Dietary changes
  • Antibiotics or other medication
  • Stress
  • Infectious agents such as bacteria picked up from other animals or from when they are outdoors

If your cat suffers from an unbalanced microbiome, then this may result in the following:

  • Excessive inflammation
  • Farts / flatulence
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • A weakened immune system

It is crucial to understand that a cat’s gut health is affected by its surroundings, which can also affect stress levels, and may lead to illness. That is why it is important to have an understanding of the way in which your cat’s microbiome works, so that you can help them maintain a healthy gut balance.

Why is My Cat Sick When There’s a Microbiome Imbalance?

Your cat is a master of balance, but to help keep their gut microbiome balanced, they might need a little bit of your help. Having a balanced gut microbiome helps ensure that your cat has good digestion, and helps support a healthy immune system. Plus, according to research, a balanced cat microbiome might even boost serotonin, making your furry friend feel great.  

In a healthy cat, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cat gut bacteria will coexist together and balance each other out. If that balance is disrupted, the ‘bad’ bacteria can cause adverse effects including potential infections or increased vulnerability to infection, diarrhea or constipation, and even skin issues.  

To help prevent this, it’s important to be aware of the triggers, so here are some of the things that can cause a microbiome imbalance in your cat’s gut:

  • Sudden change in diet
  • Stress
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Antibiotics
  • Underlying gut problems

8 Ways to Keep Your Cat’s Gut Healthy

By supporting your cat’s digestive system and microbiome, you’re also helping to support their immunity. It’s been found that 70% of a cat’s immune cells are located inside their digestive system, so a properly functioning gut microbiome is essential for the good health of your kitty.

1. A Balanced Diet

 An appropriate well-balanced diet for your cat’s metabolism is a great way to improve your cat’s gut health. Your cat’s diet is an important part of keeping them healthy. Therefore, choosing a diet that meets your cat’s needs is crucial. Choosing a cat food specially formulated to help support your cat’s microbiome can help. Consumption of heat-treated lactobacilli has been proven to help support natural antibody production in your cat’s intestinal tract, while omega-6 fatty acids, and other selected nutrients, help support healthy skin and a radiant coat. 

It’s important to make sure that their food contains all the right ingredients with the necessary nutrients to support the microbiome. Generally, their diet should be high in protein and should contain fibers, prebiotics, whole grains, and also high-quality animal proteins which help with digestibility.

On the contrary, an unbalanced diet can be harmful to your cat’s gut health. Avoid all foods that could be toxic to cats (such as garlic, chocolate or avocado), pose a risk to health (e.g. raw meat), or food that could lead to weight gain (e.g. high fat human foods).

2. Prebiotics

Prebiotics are soluble dietary fibers used to promote the growth of healthy cat gut bacteria. Despite some foods containing these ingredients naturally, there are many cat parents that supplement their cat’s diets with prebiotics. However, if you decide to introduce extra prebiotics into your cat’s diet, do so slowly, and gradually.

3. Avoid Antibiotics Where Possible

It's best to try and use antibiotics only when necessary. While they are essential when trying to treat an infection, antibiotics can also kill both the harmful and beneficial bacteria in your cat’s intestinal tract, disrupting the gut microbiome and potentially leading to diarrhea. If absolutely necessary to use them, make sure you also provide a probiotic alongside to help support the gut microbiome.

4. Grooming

Our cats love being pampered! Make the most of it and groom them regularly: not only will you love hearing them purr, but by grooming them, you will also help prevent them from ingesting large quantities of hair, which can cause constipation and affect your cat’s gut health.

5. Good Oral Hygiene

Maintaining good oral hygiene is also extremely important for a healthy immune system. When this is neglected, the harmful bacteria can multiply in the cat’s mouth and move into the bloodstream where they can have negative health impacts on multiple organs in a cat’s body.

6. On Your Marks…Ready? Play!

Exercising holds many benefits. Not only does it stimulate your cat’s intestine, which is useful for regular bowel movements, but it also helps you to keep your cat‘s weight and stress levels under control.

Provide exercise and mental stimulation to keep your cat active. Keeping your cat entertained will boost their mood and minimize stress which has the potential to influence your cat’s gut microbiome. Offer them new toys to play with, teach them tricks, or go on walks together, so that they can experience their surroundings and avoid getting bored. For more ways to enrich your cat with play, download the myPurina app.

Give your cat 20 minutes of exercise daily. Cats often play in short two-minute bursts. These mini energy bursts boost your pet’s energy level while also helping you bond through play.

7. Take it Easy

Cats are particularly sensitive to diet changes and modifications. Should you change your pet’s food, it recommended to make the switch gradually over 7 to 10 days. This will allow your cat’s intestine to get used to the new diet and minimize the impact on your cat’s gut health.

8. Encourage Your Cat to Drink More Water

Our felines, particularly those fed exclusively dry foods, may benefit from additional fluid intake: originating from the desert, they have kept this habit. The lack of sufficient water intake can lead to health risks that impact your cat’s gut health.

To encourage your cat to drink more regularly, place some water bowls in various locations in your home, but remember to keep the water away from your pet’s litter box. The water must be fresh and changed daily. Some cats prefer running water and will love drinking from a running tap or a water fountain.

And remember to keep an eye on your pet’s stools, coat and behavior. Cats do not express discomfort and pain the way humans do, and they tend to hide when they don’t feel well. Pay attention to any subtle changes in their routine and don’t hesitate to visit your vet whenever you are in doubt about the well-being of your pet.

In a nutshell, to improve your cat’s gut health, prioritize a well-balanced and highly digestible diet, regular grooming, playtime and exercise, a gradual transition if you introduce a new diet, and sufficient water.

If you have any concerns or if your cat is showing any symptoms that might be worrying, it’s best to contact your trusted vet and book an appointment. They’ll be able to offer advice and treatment to get your feline friend back to their usual, healthy self.

Now that you know all about cat gut health and how your cat’s microbiome works, it’s easier to support their digestive health and make sure they have the best quality of life possible. All that’s left to do is enjoy your time together to the fullest.

For more tips from Purina experts on cat digestion, explore our other cat digestion articles. Also, check out the Purina ONE range of cat food specially formulated for a balanced microbiome.

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