What are prebiotics?

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A prebiotic is a vegetable or fiber. Since cats are meat-eaters, they don’t really need vegetables, so you’ll see fiber, particularly, “beet pulp” on cat food labels.

You might also see the word “fructooligosaccharides,” or FOS, and it’s one of the best prebiotics for pets. FOS is often found naturally in certain fruits, vegetables and grains, but the concentration is very low and does not provide the desired health benefits, so it’s usually added directly to cat food.

Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that are added to the diet so that when they reach the large intestines they act as a source of nutrition and promote good bacteria to thrive in the large intestines. They are essentially fuel for the probiotic bacteria (healthy, “friendly” intestinal flora), allowing these beneficial bacteria to thrive. Prebiotics nourish and strengthen probiotics. They should be consumed prior to or with probiotics. Human prebiotics are whole grains, bananas, artichokes, chickpeas and garlic, all rich in natural prebiotics. Some of these—not garlic– can be incorporated into your cat’s diet to enhance the effects of a probiotic regimen.

Be sure you check with your veterinarian or local ASPCA for a complete list of foods toxic to pets.
Beyond supporting the immune system, prebiotics may also lead to other health benefits in your cat. Research on humans, who use prebiotics in a similar way, found that prebiotics appear to reduce inflammation, a cause of many diseases. When combined, prebiotics and probiotics improve the digestive track, where most of the immune system takes place and where most inflammation starts—so look for cat food that contains both.
It is also possible that prebiotics in cat food can help to prevent feline skin and coat problems in adult cats, because studies suggest that prebiotics, very similar to those found in breast milk, ward off a dangerous form of dermatitis. Since kittens receive comparable prebiotics from their mothers when they nurse, it’s possible that this applies to them as well.

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