Can Cats Have Probiotics?
You may have heard that probiotics can be beneficial for human health, but did you know that there's such a thing as cat probiotics? Just like with humans, cats can deal with digestive upset sometimes. If you aren't sure what to do to help your feline friend feel better, probiotics can be an easy, accessible supplement to try. In this guide, we cover what probiotics are and how they can benefit your cat as well as some tips on how to pick a cat probiotic to try.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are considered a supplement and are live bacteria. While this may sound scary, probiotics are the good kind of bacteria that help maintain the delicate balance in the digestive system. The digestive system has its own microbiome, which just means that it has both good and bad bacteria that live in the intestines as part of the normal process. The good bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check, but if there aren't enough good bacteria, the bad bacteria can multiply too much and end up disturbing the balance, which is what causes stomach upset in some cases. Probiotics help increase the good bacteria levels again and help decrease the pH in the gut so that everything works as it should and your cat is comfortable.
Are Prebiotics the Same Thing?
While they sound very similar, prebiotics and probiotics aren't the same thing and serve very different purposes. While probiotics are live bacteria, prebiotics are a source of fibre that encourages the ongoing growth of your cat's own good bacteria in her digestive system. Both can be beneficial if your cat is struggling with digestive issues.
Do Cats Need Probiotics?
Cats don't necessarily need probiotics, and if your cat isn't having any kind of stomach upset or digestive issues, you may want to just leave what's working alone. However, probiotics also don't hurt, which means they can be a great daily supplement for your cat's overall health. Much of your cat's overall health, including the immune system, is tied to her digestive system. Using probiotics regularly can help keep your cat as healthy as possible so she can better fight off any illnesses.
Probiotics can also be especially beneficial for kittens and older cats who may be more susceptible to intestinal imbalances caused by stress, changes in diet or environment or having taken a recent course of antibiotics.
Can You Give a Cat Probiotics?
You definitely can give cats probiotics, but there are some instances where it may be best not to. Cats who have compromised digestive tracks may not take as well to the probiotics. Cats who are currently undergoing some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, may also need to not use probiotics.
While probiotics are generally considered safe for most cats, it is important to have a veterinarian evaluate your cat if she's showing any signs of illness. It may be that your cat's symptoms are related to an underlying condition that needs actual medical treatment instead of just probiotic supplements.
Are Human Probiotics Safe for Cats?
While both humans and cats can take and benefit from probiotics, human probiotics aren't safe for cats. Purina veterinarian Dr. Emily Cross says, "An over-the-counter supplement recommended for human use that a pet owner considers giving to their dog or cat would concern me. I only recommend probiotics that have been shown to be safe for dogs and cats and have a positive health effect."
She also recommends not giving cats products like yogurt that can contain active cultures, saying, "Safety and efficacy have not been shown for yogurt products in dogs and cats, and with the exception of a few products out there, most yogurts do not guarantee live bacteria numbers. Cats and dogs can also be sensitive to the amount of dairy in yogurt. It's important to use a product that has in some way shown you that it has an efficacious amount of probiotic bacteria, that they remain alive on the shelf and also that they can survive down to the lower GI tract, where they have their biggest impact."
Choosing Cat Probiotics
If you're interested in using cat probiotics, there are a lot of options to choose from. The best one is going to depend on your cat and the specific situation. Dr. Cross notes, "It's important to choose the right probiotic(s) for the specific situation you're dealing with. Some probiotics are good for digestive health or resolving digestive upset. Some help support the immune system, while others are anti-inflammatory."
Make sure to choose probiotics that are specifically formulated for cats and read the labels to see what they are designed to help with. Many probiotics are formulated as treats or designed to be added to your cat's food for easy dosing. If you're not sure what probiotics are best for your cat, your veterinarian can provide assistance and recommendations. You may also want to choose a cat food that already has probiotics in it, such as Purina Beyond Dry Cat Food.
Keep in mind that because probiotics work by supporting overall gut health, they don't necessarily work instantaneously. Probiotics can take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks to start working to where you can see results.
Keeping an eye on your cat's digestive symptoms is an important part of ensuring she's healthy. For more information on common health issues cats might face and how to take the best care of your best friend, check out our cat care archives.