Cat Care: Feline Digestive Health

The digestive health of a domestic cat is important to all cat owners.  What many cat owners do not realize is that what a cat eats plays an important role in what ends up in the litter box.  Nutrition significantly impacts stool quality, frequency, and amount.  This article will discuss how nutrition can impact your cat’s digestive health.

The most important nutritional factor that affects gastrointestinal health is digestibility.  Digestibility, simply put, is a reflection of how easily a food or nutrient can be utilized.  If a food is highly digestible, the majority of the nutrients in the diet will be utilized by the animal.  On the other hand, if the food is not very digestible, the nutrients will not be absorbed into the body and utilized for important body processes.  Because of the varying digestibility of different ingredients used in pet foods, the composition of the diet in terms of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as the sources of these nutrients, can significantly impact a cat’s digestive health.  In general, dietary fat tends to be highly digestible.  The ingredients used as protein and carbohydrate sources in pet food, however, can have variable digestibility.

Protein sources can vary significantly in terms of digestibility.  Proteins provide amino acids, some of which are required by animals and must be consumed in the diet.  Digestibility is assessed independently of the amino acid profile of food, although both contribute to protein quality.  A protein source can have a large number of essential amino acids, but without good digestibility, the amino acid profile is irrelevant.  This means not only that the protein source provides what the animal needs in terms of amino acids, but that the animal can digest, absorb, and utilize those amino acids.  When a protein is highly digestible, the animal is utilizing it for body functions.  There are a number of protein sources in pet food that provide highly digestible protein.  While cats are obligate carnivores, highly digestible protein can come in the form of both plant and animal sources.

The other nutrient that significantly affects digestibility is dietary carbohydrate.  Carbohydrates include both soluble carbohydrates like starch as well as dietary fiber.  Soluble carbohydrates tend to be more highly digestible than fiber.  Digestibility correlates with the fiber content of the diet.  The goal is to strike a balance between digestibility and providing some fiber for a pet, and the need for dietary fiber can vary in different animals.  For example, a cat with recent gastrointestinal upset may need a more digestible diet while a pet with a tendency to be obese can benefit from more dietary fiber to help with maintaining his or her weight.

As with protein sources, sources of dietary fiber vary and fibers are frequently combined to create a blend in order to best help improve an animal’s stool quality and other aspects of health.  There are different types of fibers including insoluble and soluble fibers, which have different properties.  Different types of fibers can help an animal in different ways.  Both types of fibers can affect stool quality, amount, and frequency.  Both types of fiber are necessary to achieve the goal of digestive health.

In addition to digestibility, other factors affect digestive health.  Similar to humans, pets have bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract called the “microflora” or “microbiome.”  The bacteria in the intestinal tract can change, and one factor in disease is a change in the bacterial population in the gastrointestinal tract.  Prebiotics are dietary fibers that can help manage the bacterial flora by promoting the growth of “good” bacteria and managing the “bad” bacteria.  Promoting good bacteria and keeping low numbers of bad bacteria can help manage gastrointestinal health.

Because digestive health is so important, the digestibility of your cat’s diet can impact his or her quality of life.  Contact your veterinarian for assistance with selecting a diet that meets your cat’s needs.

For cat food with high digestibility, learn more about specially formulated ROYAL CANIN FELINE HEALTH NUTRITION cat food.

Tips to Take Away

  • Protein sources can vary significantly in terms of digestibility.
  • Promoting good bacteria and keeping low numbers of bad bacteria can help manage gastrointestinal health.
  • Both soluble and insoluble fibers are necessary to achieve the goal of digestive health.