Here's the Scoop on Probiotics for Cats: What They Are, When Your Cat Might Need Them, and Vet-Recommended Picks
You're probably familiar with the concept of taking probiotics for better digestion and overall wellbeing—but have you thought about doing the same for your cat?
If your kitty frequently experiences digestive upset, bacterial infections, or anxiety, it's possible she could have too much bad bacteria in her system. Your kitty has a whole ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms in her digestive tract. Scientists say this is what makes up her gut microbiome, which can affect everything from digestion to mood. When the wrong guests are invited to the party in her tummy, probiotics for cats can improve your feline's overall health, protect her immune system, and help her feel her best.
We spoke with feline veterinary specialists about everything probiotics for cats. Here's the scoop on what probiotics are, how they can help, and vet-recommend picks.
What Are Probiotics for Cats?
Probiotics are made of living "friendly" bacteria and/or yeast that naturally reside in the guts of me, you, and our four-legged friends.
You might think of bacteria as germs, like the bad bacteria that can cause kennel cough in cats and dogs. But your kitty (and you!) has hundreds of bad bacteria and good bacteria inside her body. Good bacteria can help break down food, fight off illnesses, and nurture the body. But sometimes, bad bacteria can outnumber good bacteria. When that happens, your cat could experience discomfort ranging from digestive upset to an infection.
Probiotics for cats add more good bacteria to her system, preventing this imbalance of bad and good bacteria from ever occurring, or getting her back on the prowl when it does.
Do Cats Need Probiotics in Their Diet to Be Healthy?
Ideally, your kitty should get all the nutrition she needs from a well-rounded, high-quality cat food diet—but sometimes she might need a boost. According to Stephanie Kadasi, DVM, co-owner and medical director of Feline Fine Cat Clinic, this boost might be most beneficial when your cat is on antibiotics. Antibiotics and other meds may be essential to treat an infection or other condition, but they can wipe out the good bacteria along with the bad. As always, use the antibiotics as directed by your vet, but ask if including probiotics along with them could help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Probiotics are also a safe way to provide your kitty with digestive relief if she's prone to diarrhea or other gastrointestinal ailments, like inflammatory bowel disease. There are many possible causes of your kitty's diarrhea, but it might be worth asking your vet if too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria could be to blame.
According to Kadasi, introducing cat-appropriate probiotics to your kitty's mealtime doesn't have many drawbacks. If it's the right probiotic for cats, Kadasi says you can't really over do it with the good bacteria.
Potential Side Effects of Probiotics for Cats
But while too much of the "good stuff" won't hurt your kitty, there are some important tips to keep in mind before feeding your cat a probiotic. Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM, owner and chief veterinarian of Applebrook Animal Hospital, heeds an important warning when it comes to side effects of broad-spectrum probiotics. "Because probiotics contain live bacterial cultures, there is a risk of infection or even a risk that the live cultures could manufacture harmful substances. Because probiotics are not always regulated by the FDA, they could even contain substances other than the intended ingredients."
When you're choosing a probiotic for your feline friend, it's best to ask your vet which products they trust. Below is a list of options you might consider when shopping for a cat probiotic.
Types of Probiotics for Cats
Even if you have a finicky feline, chances are there's a form of probiotic that will fit her fancy. Probiotics come in an array of options—from scoopable powders, capsules, chews, or incorporated into your cat's favorite kibble. The most important thing when choosing a probiotic for your cat is that the probiotic contains the good bacteria strains that are naturally found in a kitty's digestive tract.
"Cat probiotics have different microorganism components and amounts than human probiotics," Kadasi says. "Probiotics for cats have specifically been tailored to support kitty GI tracts. The wrong probiotic could lead to a dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut flora contents of a cat."
Wondering if you can make your own kitty probiotics at home? Primm says it's best to leave that science experiment to the professionals. "Because research in probiotics for cats is ongoing, it would be nearly impossible for a pet owner to know which strains of bacteria are most beneficial and then grow up a pure culture to feed to their cat."
5 Best Vet-Recommended Probiotics for Cats (Plus My Personal Go-To)
If you're considering adding a probiotic to your cat's diet, check out these vet-recommended options, and then follow up with your vet. They may have recommendations that take your kitty's specific health needs into account, which is the most important thing to keep in mind when adding a new ingredient or supplement into their routine.