The Benefits of Probiotics for Cats
The many strains of helpful microorganisms that live in your cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract are known as probiotics. They compete with harmful bacteria, preventing them from colonizing and, in doing so, help your cat maintain a healthy balance of microflora in her gut. When the balance tips because too many good bacteria have been eliminated and bad bacteria have begun to thrive, all sorts of digestive and other problems can occur.
Because many factors in daily life reduce the numbers of helpful bacteria strains in a cat’s gut, probiotic supplements offer important benefits by promoting a healthy balance of good-to-bad bacteria throughout the GI tract.
Why Your Cat Loses Good Bacteria
Beneficial bacteria thrive under optimal health conditions but physical and emotional stress can destroy naturally occurring good bacteria. Sources of stress are varied and can include dietary changes, poor diet, vaccinations, illness, surgery, medications, travel, boarding, moving, loud or persistent noise, a new human or animal family member, house guests, disturbances to familiar environments or routine, and plenty more.
Illnesses that directly affect the digestive tract, such as infectious or noninfectious diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroenteritis, colitis, pancreatitis and others can seriously reduce the number of good bacteria in your cat’s GI system. Also, antibiotics and steroids are two classes of medication that eliminate mass quantities of naturally occurring beneficial microorganisms.
Improving Immune Function
Although not often thought of as such, your cat’s GI tract is her largest immune system organ. Its importance in this respect lies in the friendly bacteria’s ability to control the population of bad bacteria. Without large enough colonies of probiotics, harmful bacteria reproduce to unhealthy levels.
Probiotics also help normalize the immune system at times when it overreacts to a perceived threat to your cat’s well-being. This systemic overreaction is one of the problems caused by allergic, autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, so supplementation with probiotics can help manage the symptoms associated with these conditions.
Inadequate good bacteria can also lead to dysbiosis, otherwise known as leaky gut. This is when partially digested amino acids and allergens are absorbed into the bloodstream, which in turn can cause allergies and other immune system troubles.
Aiding Digestive Health
Good bacteria are essential to your cat’s digestive processes, including production of digestive enzymes, nutrient absorption and elimination of waste. These functions suffer without enough friendly microorganisms in the gut, and probiotic supplements can help. Probiotics promote overall health, as well as treat the gastrointestinal discomfort and problems that accompany impaired digestive function. Gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting and other GI symptoms can dramatically improve with regular ingestion of probiotics.
Lymphoma is the most common type of cancer in cats, making up about one-third of feline cancer cases. Links have been established between chronic GI inflammation and lymphoma in the GI tract. Inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive problems, often marked by persistent diarrhea or vomiting, lead to an increase in inflammatory cells and scarring of the GI tract. These changes can eventually evolve into lymphoma.
Because probiotics help control inflammation and GI symptoms, they can be an effective preventive measure. In addition, the typical go-to treatments for IBD and other digestive disorders, like antibiotics and steroids, decimate existing populations of good bacteria, necessitating supplementation with probiotics to restore a healthy microflora balance in your cat’s gut.
Always consult your veterinarian before putting your cat on any supplement regimen, probiotics included. Most holistic vets encourage the use of probiotics for cats, and these days, increasing numbers of allopathic vets agree.
The quality of available probiotics supplements varies greatly. There is insufficient government regulation of these products, and many have been found to contain fractions of the probiotic strains they claim to include. Also, to be of benefit, the bacteria must be alive when ingested and survive the trip through your cat’s stomach acid. Improper storage of the probiotic supplement product, exposure to extreme temperatures and repeated exposure to the air when the container is opened can all decrease the viability of the product.
Foods with added probiotics are often too processed for adequate numbers of bacteria to survive. Products that are microencapsulated to protect the microorganisms are more likely to be effective. Any probiotics supplement you give your cat should come from a reputable manufacturer, have numerous types of bacteria strains to promote an optimal balance, and be formulated specifically for the feline species.