Why is Fiber Important in Cat Food?

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High-fiber cat food has become a staple for cats with gastrointestinal issues. But why exactly is fiber important for your furball of a pet?

In plenty of cases, cat food includes fiber to help with digestive functions and benefit the stool quality of cats who might otherwise have digestive upset. High-fiber foods may be beneficial in cases of constipation, diarrhea, diabetes and even obesity.

The Microbiome and It's Interaction With Cat Food With Fiber

The gut microbiome refers to the many millions of microbes (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) that live inside of cats (as well as dogs, humans and other living creatures) digestive systems This ecosystem of living organisms is fundamental to digestion.

Bacteria in the colon of pets helps to break down indigestible material and produce beneficial compounds like vitamins. Nowhere is the former function more evident than when it comes to breaking down fibers. Bacteria often engage with fibers in a process called fermentation.

Cats, even though they are carnivores, can benefit significantly from consuming a cat food with fiber.

Brown tabby cat eating from metal bowl.

Classifying Fiber in Cat Food

One way to classify dietary fiber is based on solubility.  Soluble fibers tend to dissolve in gastric juices and water in the gut and some soluble fibers turn into gels that can hold water, and make stools easier to pass.  Insoluble fibers add bulk to the food eaten to help to regulate the transit of foodstuff through the intestines and can help with stool consistency.  Both soluble and insoluble fibers can be fermentable. This means that bacteria in the gut can breakdown these fibers and produce new compounds that, for example, can nourish the cells of the colon.

Prebiotics in Cat Food With Fiber

Cat food with fiber typically includes a blend of soluble and insoluble fibers to help promote a healthy gut and good stool quality.. Some of these fiber ingredients are also referred to as prebiotics — ingredients, typically fermentable fibers, that promote the growth of the "good bacteria" that live in the intestines.

Some high-fiber cat foods work specifically because they help feed the beneficial bacteria and promote a balanced microbiome. Plenty of digestive conditions may cause a bacterial imbalance including chronic diarrhea, colitis and constipation.

Other Reasons to Feed High-Fiber Cat Food

Diabetic cats are typically fed high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods but may also benefit from high-fiber cat food if they are prone to becoming overweight or have certain types of GI conditions.. Some  fibers slow the absorption of nutrients, allowing the sugars from starches to be absorbed more slowly and therefore stabilizing blood sugar levels. Overweight cats or those prone to weight gain may also benefit from food high in fiber, as it may make them feel more full than regular food — and weight loss may help manage diabetes.

Furthermore, cat food with fiber may also help cats who suffer from GI diseases that affect the large intestine. Fiber can help regulate the motility in the GI tract and manage water balance to avoid the 2 extremes -  constipation and diarrhea.  Molecules called long-chain fatty acids may be derived from the breakdown of fiber to help nourish the colon.

Is High-Fiber Cat Food Natural?

Left to their own devices, cats eat plenty of things humans consider indigestible, like hair, bone, gristle, feathers, fish scales and stomach contents of their prey. Gross, but natural. Some of these are digestible to a point, while others may contain fiber that isuseful for digestion.

While there's a lot about feline nutrition that scientists have yet to understand, they're starting to realize that carnivorous cats actually can benefit from fiber. A study on cheetahs' eating habits published by the Journal of Animal Science found that those who ate whole prey — fur, stomach contents and all — had a more favorable fecal profile than those who ate simple meat. This has led researchers to conclude that carnivore digestive systems must do something useful with all that extra roughage.

The Role of Low-Fiber Cat Food

What if your vet recommends a low-fiber cat food instead? Typically, veterinarians recommend low-fiber food for cats with a sudden onset of GI upset such as vomiting or diarrhea.  These foods tend to have higher levels of other nutrients such as electrolytes and B-vitamins to help recovery in these cats.    Always consult a veterinarian when selecting a food for your cat. If your cat is on a high-fiber meal plan, their vet should monitor them to make sure their fiber-responsive conditions are well-managed.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly is an award-winning veterinarian known for her independent thinking, her spirited pet advocacy, her passion for the veterinary profession and her famously irreverent pet health writing.

Dr. K is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She now owns Sunset Animal Clinic, a veterinary practice in Miami, Florida.

But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at sunsetvets.com.