There are a number of reasons why you might want to add fiber to your cat's diet. If your cat is having difficulty defecating, fiber can help move things along. Obese kitties can also benefit from more fiber in their diet to help them feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
Different fiber types
There are two different types of fiber, which act very differently in the digestive tract. Adding them without consulting your vet can upset your pet's digestion significantly, according to Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, which means it absorbs water in the stomach and intestines. This creates a gel that will make your cat feel full and slow its digestion, according to Harvard Health. Insoluble fiber doesn't absorb water and goes through the small intestine without breaking down. It bulks up and adds moisture to the stool, helping foods pass through more easily.
Getting your cat fiber
All pet food labels include the total amount of fiber on their labels. Unlike human food that consists of the words "total dietary fiber," pet food uses the words "crude fiber," which is the insoluble fiber type. The difference is that human food breaks down the ingredients into its two types: soluble and insoluble.
Since pet chow's guaranteed analysis includes only "crude fiber," your pet's food could contain more fiber than you think due to any insoluble fiber in its ingredients. Too much fiber in the diet isn't good for a cat. The feline digestive tract is short, making it well suited to a carnivorous diet and limiting its ability to ferment fiber, according to the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy.
Overabundant fiber decreases your cat's ability to digest other essential nutrients. A cat's diet shouldn't contain more than 10 percent fiber.
Skip the pumpkin
A Google search of how to give your cat more fiber is bound to yield a plethora of articles recommending pumpkin. However, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University doesn't support the practice. It would take more than 2.5 cups of pumpkin added to your pet's diet daily to equal the fiber in a high-quality therapeutic food your vet could recommend.
Most sites recommend adding just a quarter-teaspoon to 2 tablespoons per day — not enough to make a significant difference. Pumpkin contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, unless you cook the vegetable itself, it could contain sodium, sugar, or other additives that can cause your cat more harm than good.
Follow your vet's recommendations
The best way to add fiber to your pet's diet is by heeding the advice and recommendations of your veterinarian. If your cat is overweight, supplements containing inulin or psyllium might be the answer. Wheat bran or purified cellulose offers safe solutions for cats needing more bulk to make a trip to the litter box easier.
Your vet will examine your cat to make sure that fiber is what is needed. Especially in the case of constipation, your cat could be experiencing trouble for myriad other reasons, suggests The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, such as
- inappropriate diet
- reaction to medication
- physiological problems such as tumors
- neurological disease
- metabolic abnormality
Keep your kitty regular
If constipation is the reason you're considering adding more fiber to your cat's diet, there are other things you can try while you're waiting for the vet appointment. Dehydration is a leading cause of constipation in cats. They evolved to eat a strictly carnivorous diet according to Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, on Cat Food Info, which delivers a moisture content of 75 percent or more.
Dry food delivers just 5 to 10 percent moisture, according to Pierson —and cats don't make up the difference at the water bowl. Cats don't have a high thirst drive and those on dry food tend to consume less than half the moisture of those on canned food.
Pierson also notes that cats are obligate carnivores. Their systems aren't designed to eat the high-fiber proteins that dry cat food delivers from sources like potatoes, legumes and grains. Instead, they get their nutrition solely from hunting prey.
A cat's natural diet consists of less than 0.55% fiber according to the Feline Nutrition Foundation. Partially digested food from their prey's stomach, bones, and fur make up what little fiber a cat would naturally ingest. This makes it essential to consult your veterinarian before adding fiber to your cat's diet.
- Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University: The Problem With Pumpkin
- Harvard Health: Ask the Doctor — What are the Differences Between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber?
- The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell: Constipation
- Cat Food Info: Cat Food Nutritional Information
- Feline Nutrition Foundation: Do Cats Need Dietary Fiber?
- University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy: Patient Safety — When the Patient is a Companion Animal