|Fermented foods and drinks undergo controlled microbial fermentation and growth. The most common fermented foods naturally contain probiotics or have added probiotics, such as yogurt, tempeh, and pickles / Photo by: Oleksandra Naumenko via 123RF|
Fermented foods and drinks undergo controlled microbial fermentation and growth. The most common fermented foods naturally contain probiotics or have added probiotics, such as yogurt, tempeh, and pickles. But are probiotics also good for our feline friends?
A recent study mentioned in the health information site Medical News Today answered yes. Although some scientists remain skeptical of the benefits of food-based probiotics, gut bacteria can improve the immune defenses of animals. It can also aid in their energy metabolism and improve digestion.
Dysbiosis in Animals
Dysbiosis or dysbacteriosis is the microbial maladaptation or imbalance on or inside the body, altering the normal gut flora. The condition can also cause stress-associated diseases and intestinal inflammation. The researchers behind the study investigated whether a probiotic could affect the fecal quality and nutritional conditions in healthy cats. What motivated the team to investigate on the topic is that there are limited studies that focus on the beneficial effects of probiotics in the gut health of cats and dogs with gastrointestinal disorders. Among these was the 2012 research, which revealed that probiotics are used in farmed animals to increase farm production. The researchers mentioned the following beneficial effects of probiotics in farm animals: increased growth rate, greater resistance to infectious diseases, improved feed conversion, improved digestion, provision of essential nutrients, better absorption of nutrients, improved milk yield, increased egg production, improved egg quality, and improved carcass quality and less contamination.
Adding a Strain of Lactobacillus Acidophilus in the Cats’ Diet
For the recent study, ten healthy adult Maine Coon cats were chosen by the team. They fed these cats the same diet but gave a strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus only to five healthy cats. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a type of bacteria that plays an important role in human health.
Eleonora Fusi from the University of Milan’s VESPA and colleagues concluded that adding a probiotic strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus in adult cats’ diets can effectively improve their gut health and fecal quality. Throughout the 5-week trial, Fusi and the team weighed the felines and checked their body condition using the Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. The assessment was created by the American Animal Hospital Association and is one of the ways to assess the nutritional status of cats. They also checked the fecal firmness of the cats using the fecal scoring chart of pet food company Nestle Purina.
Nutritional Management and Fecal Scoring of Canine GI Health
Based on the said fecal scoring chart, a score of 1 has the following fecal characteristics: very hard and dry, often expelled as individual pellets, leaves no residue on the ground when picked up, and requires much effort to expel from the body. A score of 2 has the following characteristics: firm, but not hard, and pliable, segmented in appearance, no or little residue on the ground when picked up. A score of 3: moist log-shaped surface, no or little visible segmentation, leaves a residue on the ground but holds form when picked up. A score of 4: soggy and very moist, leaves a residue on the ground and loses form when picked up, and log-shaped.
A score of 5: has distinct shape but very moist, present in piles instead of logs, leaves a residue on the ground and loses form when picked up. A score of 6: has texture, but no definite shape, seen as spots or piles, and leaves a residue on the ground when picked up. A score of 7: no texture, watery, and present in flat puddles.
The team shared that the body condition score (BCS) and body weight (BW) of the 10 adult cats showed no difference in two groups. The mean BW was at 6.9 kg throughout the study. However, the fecal moisture (FM) was significantly lower in the Lacto group than the control (CTR) group.
Fusi and colleagues also pointed out that the feces of Lacto group cats contained higher levels of Lactobacillus acidophilus, indicating a desired impact of the supplementation. The Lacto group also had a low level of coliform bacteria in their feces. The team believes that probiotics can create a slight protective effect on invasive bacteria.
The authors acknowledged that the study involved only ten cats and covered only a few weeks. This means that further study that involves a larger sample of healthy adult cats is needed. They hope to continue the study that also compares health cats with felines that are experiencing gastrointestinal pathology.
Cats’ Immunity and Digestive Health
Los Angeles-based veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney, who is not involved in the study, is also an advocate for probiotics for the felines. He said that it can maintain the normal gut health of cats and there are also fewer clinical symptoms of digestive upset, such as stool changes, diarrhea, appetite, and vomiting.
Global Probiotics Market: Statistics
Microbial imbalances are manipulated using various approaches that focus on diets, fecal microbiota transplantation, and probiotics. Because of the beneficial effects of probiotics on gut health, they have been included in the diets of both humans and animals. A statistic from German database company Statista shows that the value of the probiotics market reached US$49.4 billion worldwide and increased to $52.9 billion in 2019. The market is also expected to reach $56.6 billion by the of 2020, $60.5 billion in 2021, $64.8 in 2022, and $69.3 in 2023.
Meanwhile, the American Pet Products Association detailed the total US pet industry expenditures in billions in the following years: 2010: US $48.35, 2011: $50.9, 2012: $53.33, 2013: $55.72 , 2014: $58.04 , 2015: $60.28 , 2016: $66.75 , 2017: $69.51 , 2018: $72.56, and 2019: $75.38. The expenditure includes a breakdown for food, supplies and OTC medicine, vet care, live animal purchases, and other services. The 2019 to 2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey also shows that 42.7 million households in the US own a cat and 63.4 million own a dog.
Just like us humans, the majority of cat’s immunity is found in its digestive tract. This is why keeping it balanced with good bacteria is one way to ensure that the cat stays healthy. If a larger study supports the University of Milan’s findings, adding a strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus to a cat’s diet can truly help regulate its digestive and overall health.