An occasional snack is a good way to bond with your feline, and even the finickiest cats won't turn their noses up if it's tasty. The next time you're looking to score some bonus points with kitty, consider offering treats containing pre- and probiotics as a healthy addition to their diet.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
Although many people have heard of probiotics, both probiotics and prebiotics are essential for good digestive health. Together they have synergistic properties, meaning they improve the benefits of each other. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, contain microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus casei, and help to fight off the overgrowth of "bad" bacteria in the large intestine. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of "good" bacteria. They also serve as food for probiotics.
Besides aiding digestion, pre- and probiotics improve immune function and help regulate hormone levels. Specifically, prebiotics help the intestines absorb nutrients better from food due to increased levels of mucosa (the mucus membrane) in the intestines, which allow more nutrients to be absorbed. Probiotics likewise help nutrients to absorb, and they help synthesize vitamins, limit the growth of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, and prevent overgrowth of yeast organisms that can cause skin problems or ear infections.
Your cat may need prebiotics and probiotics for a number of reasons. Use of prescription drugs, especially antibiotics, can kill off harmful bacteria, but they also wipe out "friendly" bacteria as well. An aging kitty or a diet that is nutritionally inadequate also may be indications for supplementation. Stress, a compromised immune system, and exposure to fertilizer, pesticides and other chemical pollutants also may be reasons to give your cat pre- and probiotics.
Some manufactured cat foods contain prebiotics and probiotics, but only probiotics are found in dry food. However, you can supplement these needed microorganisms with natural "treats." Some yogurts (look for Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus casei) are good sources of probiotics, as is kefir, a fermented dairy product. Prebiotics are found in whole grains (wheat and oats), honey, and bananas. You can also give both, or combined, supplements in capsule, paste, liquid, or tablet form.
Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.