Probiotics are living microorganisms that science has termed “friendly bacteria.” We all have them, living quite happily in the digestive tract. When taken as prescribed, probiotics promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. When everything is in balance, they assist us with things like digestion and the absorption of essential nutrients. Scientific studies and trials are ongoing, and most likely will be for many years to come. We are learning so much more about our guts “little helpers” than scientists ever thought there was.
Probiotics for Felines
The known benefits that probiotics have on human health are nothing new. Some of these health claims remain inconclusive, whereas others are well-documented as categorical. It's only been in more recent times that pet owners have used probiotics to treat the digestive systems of their beloved animals. A lot of cat owners use them these days to address the same issues that we humans use probiotics for, namely:
- Sore tummies, and so on
And why not! It makes perfect sense to help look after our cat's health as well as our own.
Cats and Cancer
In general, dogs are more prone to cancers than cats are, but cats are still not immune. Another problem with cats is that they have a tendency to mask illnesses very well. This means it can be incredibly difficult for humans to detect health complications in their feline friends. The sad consequence of this is that a diagnosis comes late. A late diagnosis in cats is harder to deal with, more costly, and has a lower chance of a successful outcome .
Prevention of cancer, along with other serious health conditions, is always better than cure. Keeping a healthy well-maintained gut with probiotics is one way to help keep your cat in tip-top shape.
What the Science Says About Cats and Probiotics
A 2006 study found that feeding cats a probiotic supplement had systemic and immune system health benefits. It also showed how probiotics positively altered the cat's gastrointestinal flora. Although this was only a small study, the evidence was compelling.
This was a five week study and involved 15 healthy adult cats in total. The L. acidophilus strain of bacteria survived transit through the cat's GI tract. It also helped to reduce the numbers of two types of unfriendly gut bacteria. In short, the probiotics improved the good-to-bad GI bacteria balance in all cases. There were some other interesting finds during this study too.
There was a notable improvement in the performance of phagocytes. These are a type of cell in the body which has the ability to engulf and absorb harmful foreign particles. The phagocytes also help initiate an immune response. The study also saw improvements in the production of cells involved in immune system performance .
Conventional vets are not easy to convince. Some may even say they're stuck in the mud with their stubborn reluctance to even look at alternative treatments. To be fair, this is more a case with older vets than it is the younger ones. Holistic veterinarians have long been proponents of probiotic therapy, and the reason is simple. It works!
The Right Balance
Probiotics are friendly bacteria and found in your cats digestive tract, just as they are in ours. The problems cats face are not dissimilar to us in that we both need a healthy level of good bacteria in our systems. If those levels fall, pathogenic bacteria get to take over and wreak havoc inside the cat. A cat’s digestive tract is a vital immune organ in its body, and home to huge colonies of bacteria. When there's a proper ratio of good-to-bad bacteria, the feline immune system functions well. Whenever bad bacteria overrun the digestive tract, the gates of ill health become wide open. Not only will the cat suffer a host of GI-related disorders, but more serious illnesses can materialize as well.
The Causes of Bacterial Imbalance
There can be many triggers that cause an imbalance in a cat's gut bacteria, but stress is often behind most of them. This stress can be either physiological or emotional. Physical stress can include things like:
- Poor diet or a change in diet
- Antibiotics or steroids
- A GI condition (IBS for example)
- Feline lower urinary tract disease
- Renal failure
Emotional stress is often the result of a change in a cat's routine. This will typically include such things as:
- A stay at a boarding kennel
- New pet bought into the family
- Move to a new home
As you can see, it's important to try and protect domestic cats from physical or emotional stress. We now know how much this can upset the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the animal's digestive system. When this happens, cats can experience a deluge of nutritional and other health problems. This will include:
- Poor food absorption
- Intermittent or chronic diarrhea or constipation.
- Potential for leaky gut (dysbiosis)
The result of dysbiosis is that it diminishes the essential population of good bacteria in the cat's gut. As soon as that happens, pathogenic (bad) bacteria get to take over and flourish. This can result in a host of other health problems for the animal, from allergies to disorders of the immune system.
The Right Probiotics for Pet Cats
The first point to note is that probiotic formulas for humans are not appropriate for pet cats or other domesticated animals. It's important that cats have strains of bacteria which are unique to them. For the best results they need organisms that derive from their own species.
The second point to note is that many of the commercially available probiotic supplements for pets are sub-standard. In a lot of cases you can't trust the data on the labels. This means you may not get the probiotics you think you are. And if that's not bad enough, there can also be issues with contamination, potency and purity. The marketing campaigns for pet probiotics can be slick, but try not to let them draw you in.
It's fair to say that not all pet probiotic products are ineffective. The main problem is that this is a very fluid market. That means new products come out all the time, with fresh new claims. Older products disappear or change their name; sometimes to shake off a bad image. If any known reliable brands materialize, this page will get an update, accompanied by a short review of the product(s).
The Solution to the Problem
After reading the above, you might think there's no hope and have lost all confidence. Don't be discouraged. The solution to the problem is quite simple. All you have to do is reach out to those in the know. In most cases, that means talking with a holistic veterinarian about the best approach. These are the people who can advise you on a probiotic solution for your cat's individual needs.
Alternatively, read customer reviews online to keep right up to date with current availability.
Probiotics can work for cats in both a preventative and a healing capacity. The science is out there to prove it. A lot of probiotic products for pets are ineffective and can't be trusted. If in doubt, speak to a holistic veterinarian about your options.