Some high fiber cat foods on the market today tout fiber as a hairball remedy or means of weight loss. However, according to a study published in January 2012 by the Journal of Animal Sciences, high fiber foods aren't very healthy for pet cats.
Dr. Karen Becker, a holistic veterinarian based in Illinois, says cats were never meant to digest carbohydrates, so their bodies cannot handle high fiber diets. Cats simply cannot digest fiber, and so high fiber foods pass through a cat's system largely whole. Since the cat can't break down the food, it also can't properly absorb the other nutrients in the food, most importantly the protein. Protein absorption is vital to a cat's health.
Without proper protein absorption, cats will continue to feel unfulfilled. Cats that are fed a high fiber diet will often continue to eat in an attempt to absorb more protein. High fiber foods are weighty, and leave a cat with an over-full feeling. This can lead to lethargy, which can then lead to obesity. Other, less common issues can include constipation, vomiting and inflammatory bowel disease.
The study published in the Journal of Animal Sciences was broken down in to two different fiber categories, sugarcane fiber and beet fiber. Sugarcane fiber was found to be almost completely indigestible and produced no positive results. On the other hand beet pulp fiber proved to be the lesser of two evils. During the study, doctors did find that beet pulp fiber can increase gut health in cats.
The Bottom Line
High fiber diets can be very unhealthy and counterproductive for cats. Cats are carnivores and need to eat a carnivore's diet. High protein, low fat foods are the natural and healthy option. Cats that are experiencing weight issues, showing signs of extreme lethargy or struggling with hairballs should be seen by a veterinarian. With the guidance of your veterinarian, you can find to the best possible food for your cat's specific needs.