Pet food companies compete for our business. Every time we open a newspaper or magazine, pet food ads showing beautiful, healthy cats and dogs encourage us to buy their brand. TV commercials tug at our hearts with adorable kittens, subtlety trying to convince us that a healthy kitty will lead to romance, happiness, and life satisfaction.
While we really know these ads are aimed at our wallets, what do we ultimately know about the actual ingredients in commercial pet foods? In light of the recent pet food scares of a couple years ago, we are starting to see hype about healthy additives and supplements that are supposed to aid out cats in living better lives.
Probiotics is one additive available as a supplement for your kitty’s food. Probiotics are “good bacteria” that can help a cat maintain a healthy digestive system:
Much information about animal health is found by researchers studying human health needs. While not exactly the same, much human nutrition knowledge can be adapted to nutritional needs of our pets.
Word is now spreading about prebiotics in cat food. What are they?
The health benefits of prebiotics have only come to light in recent years, but recognition of the beneficial effects of probiotics and prebiotics actually dates back to the 19th century when the French scientist, Louis Pasteur, suggested the importance of microorganisms to human life. These ideas were further reinforced by the work of 1908 Nobel Prize-winner Elie Metchnikoff.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that selectively stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the intestine. They stimulate and nourish the digestive environment so probiotics can function more efficiently. Prebiotics have been shown to benefit intestinal function and to help decrease the growth of undesirable bacteria. Because pets have their own intestinal needs, but show many similarities with humans, pet food companies are extending into pet nutrition the concept of adding prebiotics to foods.
For a food ingredient to be classified as a prebiotic, it has to be demonstrated that it is not broken down in the stomach or absorbed in the GI tract, reacts within the digestive tract by fermenting “good,” plant based bacteria, and selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria associated with health and well-being.
Inulin and fructo-oligosaacharides (FOS) are among the most frequently used prebiotics in human food and are now being added to many commercial pet food products.
FOS are composed of units of fructose (the sugar commonly found in many fruits and honey) that are resistant to digestion in the upper digestive tract. They are present in many common plants including garlic, onions, leeks, wheat, bananas, asparagus, and artichokes. They promote the growth of healthy bacteria and inhibit the growth of putrefactive bacteria which can cause flatulence and diarrhea. They also stimulate consistent functioning of the digestive tract, helping to regulate your kitty’s time in the cat box.
Inulin is a carbohydrate found extensively in nature as a component of many plants. Most of the commercially available inulin is in the form of chicory. Other plant sources include Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion, burdock, wild yam, jicama, agave, onion, and garlic. Inulins stimulate the growth of Bifidobacterium species in the large intestine. Many of these beneficial bacteria are included in yogurt.
Studies conducted with chicory added to pet foods as a prebiotic proved that this addition did improve the intestinal balance of dogs and cats. Although people often find the taste bitter, pets apparently enjoy the taste.
Prebiotics have been found in human breast milk, and protect a newborn’s digestional tract from unwanted bacteria. They have anticarcinogenic (anti-tumor) properties and decrease fats from circulating in the blood stream. They have the ability to help maintain normal blood glucose levels and may also play a role in improving mineral absorption and thus decrease bone thinning in older (human) patients. They may also play a role in the health of the young, especially as related to skin allergies. If people derive all these benefits from prebiotics, they are bound to help our feline friends.
More research is under way in the benefits of prebiotics in both human and animal diets. Commercial pet foods that are labeled “indoor” may contain some prebiotics. High end pet food companies also include both pre- and probiotics in many of their products.
Research and read labels to find the exact ingredients in any food you plan to purchase for your kitty. Make sure labels say, “Meets the nutritional requirements of cats established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO),” or “Complete and balanced nutrition for cats based on AAFCO feeding trials.” These products are regulated by national and state agencies and will contain the correct balance of nutrients your cat needs. Beyond this make sure your kitty has a supply of fresh water for drinking.
If you choose a food with prebiotics or add probiotics to supplement your four legged companion’s health, you can be assured that reputable pet food companies are working hard to help you and your purry friend enjoy many long and happy years together.