Cat Prebiotics: What Are They & How Do They Differ From Probiotics?

Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
By Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
Updated: 5/17/20242-4 minutes
Woman smiling and cuddling with a long-haired tri-colored cat

While probiotics get a lot of attention for their effects on your feline’s health, prebiotics for cats can have a significant impact as well. Prebiotics are a type of plant fiber that bolsters the positive effects of beneficial bacteria in the gut and helps fortify the immune system. 

If you’re concerned about your cat’s gut health, you may be wondering if they’re getting enough prebiotics in their diet. Do you need to buy cat food with prebiotics and probiotics or will a more traditional formula do the trick? 

Read on to learn more helpful information about prebiotics for cats. 

Prebiotics & the Microbiome

You may have heard your veterinarian mention your cat’s microbiome in relation to their diet or overall health.  

As it pertains to the intestinal tract, the microbiome is a large ecosystem containing both helpful and potentially harmful bacteria. It also produces important vitamins and aids in digestion. The microbiome can be impacted by a range of factors including diet, environment and age. 

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help maintain balance in the microbiome and can inhibit bad bacteria.  

Prebiotics nourish the good bacteria, boosting its growth and impact. Additionally, they improve the health of the gut itself by fortifying the intestinal barrier. 

While pre- and probiotics have some similar functions, prebiotics are noteworthy for withstanding conditions such as stomach acid and temperature in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (although some properly prepared probiotics such as Purina’s FortiFlora supplements for cats can as well). 

Note: Your feline may need a combination of cat prebiotics and probiotics to maintain and improve their gut. Cat foods and supplements formulated to promote digestive health will likely contain both. 

Benefits of Prebiotics for Cats

Improved Digestion

Because prebiotics are a soluble fiber, they’re able to dissolve in water in the digestive tract. This means they can slow digestion and, in some cases, improve diarrhea when it’s caused by excessive harmful bacteria. 

Prebiotics can also help improve stool consistency. 

Additionally, they produce short-chain fatty acids which are the energy source for cells in the large intestine, thus keeping it functioning happily as well. 

Increased Immunity

Your cat’s GI tract contains approximately 70 percent of their immune system. By working with your cat’s natural microflora to keep harmful bacteria in check, prebiotics may be able to stop illness-causing pathogens from accessing other parts of the body. 

The beneficial bacteria, bolstered by prebiotics, can also help prevent or reduce the development of autoimmune conditions. Studies show increased prebiotics in a cat’s diet can lead to an increase in beneficial bacteria species such as Bifidobacterium. 

Support for Healthy Body Weight

Overweight and obese cats may face diminished immune functions, digestive issues and diabetes. Prebiotics can help support a healthy body weight through appetite control, as fiber can add to a feeling of fullness. 

Should You Add Prebiotics to Your Cat’s Diet?

Remember, before making any changes to your cat’s diet, it’s always a good idea to speak with your veterinarian. 

Given the benefits of prebiotics for cats, it may be tempting to add them to your pet’s diet. Before you change their food or introduce new supplements, however, review the formula of your feline’s current food and talk with your veterinarian. 

Typically, high-quality cat food has fibrous ingredients that already contain prebiotics. Cats in good health who eat complete and balanced food might not need to change their diet.  

On the other hand, supplemental prebiotics or a diet that prioritizes them may be beneficial for cats with suppressed immune systems or digestive disorders. They may also be useful for felines who take medication.  

When choosing a supplement, it’s best to go with a trusted brand that guarantees the safety and efficacy of their products. Supplements are not regulated as rigorously as the drug industry, so consulting with your veterinarian is also a good idea.  

Foods That Contain Prebiotics

Foods with high levels of soluble fiber contain prebiotics. You may see some of these listed as ingredients in your cat’s food:

  • Chicory root
  • Inulin
  • Sweet potato and pumpkin
  • Beet pulp
  • Flaxseed
  • Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)
  • Lentils
  • Raw oats
  • Beans
  • Peas 

How to Choose Cat Food With Prebiotics & Probiotics

If you or your veterinarian determine your cat may benefit from food focused on gut health, there are options. 

Cat food with prebiotics and probiotics supports your pet’s microbiome. When selecting a product that’s right for your cat, make sure it contains high-quality, nutrient-rich ingredients.  

Your veterinarian may also have recommendations based on your cat’s specific needs.  

For more expert tips on caring for your feline companion, explore our other cat health articles 

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