You take probiotics—should your cat, too?
Probiotics for cats can help maintain and support a healthy digestive system and immune system. But not all cats need them. Before giving a probiotic supplement to your pet, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons and how they should be used.
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What Are Probiotics for Cats?
Probiotics for cats are nutritional supplements that contain live, naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria and/or yeast. These “good” bacteria can help support the digestive tract, treat digestive issues, maintain gut health and boost the immune system.
Some probiotics are blended with prebiotic fiber, or dietary fiber, which are nutrients that promote the growth of beneficial gut microbes, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinary consultant in Fort Collins, Colorado. An example of a prebiotic is fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which can be used by “good” bacteria to build colony forming units, or CFUs.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics for Cats?
Cat probiotic supplements offer many benefits, including:
- Boosting good gut flora: Just like in humans, many cat illnesses originate in the gut. These include leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
- Alleviating constipation, reducing diarrhea and loose stools, and improving urinary health: “Probiotics can outcompete ‘bad’ microorganisms that may play a role in diarrhea or other health problems,” Dr. Coates explains. “They can help support normal gastrointestinal function and the immune system, and even reduce anxiety.”
- Reducing anxiety and stress: Since the gut and the brain are connected by millions of nerves, an inflamed GI tract can increase anxiety or behavioral issues, like stress.
- Reducing hairballs: Probiotics can help boost the overall health of your cat’s digestive system, in turn helping reduce hairballs.
- Improving immune health: Cat probiotics can boost a cat’s immune system after antibiotics, since antibiotics eliminate both good and bad microflora. Cat probiotics can help restore essential good bacteria in the microbiome that provide digestive support.
- Alleviating allergies: “Pets with allergic or inflammatory conditions may benefit from probiotic supplementation,” Dr. Coates says.
Probiotics for kittens might also be helpful for our little friends, since kittens are born without gut bacteria and are prone to digestive upset and diarrhea.
What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Giving Cats Probiotics?
Like any supplement, probiotics can cause side effects for cats who are sensitive to them.
Side effects are rare but can include:
- Abdominal discomfort
“Probiotics are certainly not effective for all pets or under all circumstances, but when used correctly, they are extremely safe,” Dr. Coates says.
“It is important to give pets the right strains of probiotics, at the right dose, based on the condition being treated. Follow label directions on pet-specific probiotics and talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.”
If your cat is taking other medicine, ask your veterinarian if probiotics are safe to take. All medications and cat supplements have the potential to interact with one another. As a rule of thumb, probiotics should be stopped during antibiotic therapy since antibiotics wipe out all bacteria.
What Kind of Probiotics Can I Give My Cat?
Cat probiotics come in different forms, including powder supplements, pills and even treats infused with probiotics, like soft chews.
These products are made with probiotic strains of “good” bacteria, and each strain of bacteria can address different needs. A beneficial bacteria strain that can help treat anxiety in cats, for example, is Bifidobacterium longum, Dr. Coates says.
Other strains that can be helpful for a healthy gut and beyond include:
- Bifidobacterium lactis animalis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bacillus coagulans
- Enterococcus faecium
Vibeful Probiotic Gastrointestinal Support Powder Digestive Supplement, for example, includes lactobacillus acidophilus and enterococcus faecium, among many other ingredients, to support proper digestive and gut health.
It’s essential for pet parents to steer clear of giving cats human probiotics. That’s because human probiotics aren’t formulated to offer the same benefits as cat-specific probiotics. Plus, there’s not enough research yet on the potential effects of human probiotics on cats.
On a similar note, don’t give your cat probiotics meant for dogs. It may come as a surprise, but cat probiotics and dog probiotics are entirely different. That’s because many pet probiotics are species- or breed-specific, meaning they’re formulated in a way that uniquely benefits cats and dogs. Be sure to only purchase a cat-specific probiotic.
Dr. Coates recommends the following products for cat supplements:
Cat probiotic supplements can be given in numerous ways.
- Probiotic powder, for example, can be mixed into cat food.
- A probiotic paste can also be added to a cat’s diet.
- If your cat tolerates pills, you can try to give cat probiotics in pill-form or hide them in chewy pill pockets.(Get tips for giving a cat a pill here.)
When it comes to probiotics for kittens, you may want to give your kitten something easy to eat, such as a gel or probiotic chews, since their teeth are still very small at that age.
How Often Should I Give My Cat Probiotics?
As for how often you give cat probiotic supplements, they’re usually given daily. However, how long your cat should take probiotics will ultimately depend on their needs and what your veterinarian recommends.
“A short course of probiotics may be all that is needed if the cat’s primary problem resolves, like diarrhea that develops after antibiotic therapy, for example,” Dr. Coates says. “Chronic diseases often require long-term probiotic therapy.”
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