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Pet Nutrition
Prebiotics Support Your Cat’s Inner Strength
From the Editors of The Daily Cat
Your cat’s immune system works to combat dirt and germs,
which can easily end up on its fur, and quickly soon after,
licked right off. Now, cat food contains ingredients called
prebiotics that can strengthen that defense.

Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that stimulate
the growth and activity of digestive system bacteria that are
beneficial to your cat’s health. For the first time, they are
now available in both wet and dry high-quality cat foods. Ohio-
based veterinarian Dr. Amy Dicke explains more about what
prebiotics are and how they work.
Prebiotics in Cat Food
While certain cat foods now have the word “prebiotics” on the front label, check the product’s
ingredient list. Look for the word “fructooligosaccharides,” or FOS for short. If you find it, the food
has one of the best prebiotics now available. Although the name seems very scientific, it’s actually
a fiber, according to Dicke. “FOS is found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables and grains,” she
explained. “However, the concentration is typically very low and does not provide the desired
health benefits.”

How Prebiotics Work
Up to 70 percent of your cat’s immune system is found in its digestive tract. To infect your cat’s
body, germs and other invaders must break through a mucous membrane barrier, consisting of cells
lining the gut. Like a wall, this barrier can prevent unwanted organisms from moving into the body.

When FOS is broken down, it produces short-chain fatty acids, which serve as food or energy for
the cells of the mucosal barrier, promoting their health and integrity. An increasing population of
beneficial bacteria helps to competitively exclude, or crowd out, bad bacteria through physical
competition for space and nutrients, as well as producing substances detrimental to the
undesirable bacteria.

Health Benefits of Prebiotics
Beyond supporting the immune system, prebiotics may also lead to other health benefits in your
cat. Research on humans, who use prebiotics in a similar way, found that prebiotics appear to
reduce inflammation. A study on this was recently published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
“Just as some foods can lead to poor health, it’s no surprise that others can have positive effects,”
said the journal’s editor, Dr. Luis Montaner.

A study in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood reported that prebiotics, very similar to
those found in breast milk, ward off a dangerous form of dermatitis. Kittens receive comparable
prebiotics from their mothers when they nurse, so it’s possible that prebiotics in cat food can help
to prevent feline skin and coat problems in adult cats.

How to Begin Feeding a Cat Food With Prebiotics
If your cat is not currently eating a food containing prebiotics, and you’d like to make the switch,
Dicke advised that there should be a transition period, where the new food is mixed with your pet’
s current diet. Here’s a sample feeding schedule over a week’s time:

Day 1: Feed approximately ¼ of new food mixed with ¾ of the current food.

Days 2 and 3: Mix the food ½ and ½ .

Days 4 to 6: Give your cat ¾ of the new prebiotics-containing food and one-quarter of its former
chow.

Day 7: Begin feeding your cat 100 percent of the new product.

Are Prebiotics Suitable for All Cats?
According to Dicke, prebiotics can be beneficial to nearly all cats at all life stages. “There are times
during your pet’s life when dietary FOS may have greater value,” she added. Cats that may
especially need the immunity boost of prebiotics include:


  • Kittens and adolescent cats with still-developing immune systems
  • Cats with certain chronic medical conditions that could also use the extra boost
  • Pregnant female cats
  • Older cats that sometimes suffer from decreased immune system function

Consult with your veterinarian to see what he or she recommends. If your cat has a serious weight
or medical condition, it might require a special veterinarian formula food to address its particular
needs. But for most cats, a wet or dry food containing prebiotics is a very wise choice for mealtime.