The cat’s digestion is of biochemical nature. It uses strong digestive juices and enzymes to break food down. Digestive acids and gastric enzymes produced by the stomach dissolve food into a liquid within a short time. From there it is then passed in small quantities into the small intestine, where it is further fortified with enzymes produced by the pancreas and liver to aid in the breakdown of the liquid mass into nutrient molecules, which can then be absorbed into the body by passing through the wall of the intestines. Indigestible matter is condensed in the colon where liquids are reabsorbed, before the waste is evacuated out of the body.
The cat’s natural diet is that of a true carnivore. It contains no plant material or complex carbohydrates from which the cat directly, or indirectly with the aid of bacteria, obtains energy. The cat lacks all ability to process plant foods. It has no teeth to aid in mastication of fibrous plant matter, lacks enzymes to break down carbohydrates, and it’s alimentary tract is at no part host to large populations of bacteria which in other species assist in the fermentation of complex carbohydrates like fiber, which serves some species as food, or as substrate for bacteria which produce nutrients or are digested as food themselves by their host.
The cat does not need a complex digestive system capable of extracting and converting nutrients from nutritionally incomplete plant matter, because the cat’s natural diet is COMPLETE. All it needs is to be absorbed by the cat. The cat’s prey, like a mouse for example, merely needs to be broken down sufficiently by chemicals, so that its matter can be absorbed as nutrients by the cat for the cat.
Dietary probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, are beneficial to species which have formed a complex symbiosis with bacteria, to aid in the break down of the plants they ingest for food by fermenting them. Fermentation breaks food down, but the bacteria also produce nutrients as by-products which the host uses as food for itself. Since the cat does not naturally eat food of plant origin, and is physically not equipped to be host to beneficial bacteria, probiotics hold no benefit for the cat.
Animals and humans are surrounded by bacteria which will naturally colonize their bodies. Often, consuming a source of PRE-biotics – the substrate beneficial bacteria live on in the digestive tract – is more affective in creating a healthier environment for beneficial bacteria than flooding the body with PRO-biotic – which may die out due to lack of substrate. Any degree of bacterial fermentation of fecal matter that takes place in the cat’s colon may be best supported by feeding strategic PRE-biotics – a complex sugar substrate on which bacteria live. This can be some sort of micro-fiber or even pectin.
Probiotics as a supplement are very fragile. They need to be given on an empty stomach, and be stored at an ideal, cool temperature. While they may be beneficial to other species, their benefits for the cat can not be supported in theory or life. Contrary to pre-biotics, the benefits of pro-biotics have NOT been documented in cats. After treatment with anti-biotics, a cat’s intestinal tract is colonized quickly with bacteria without the addition of pro-biotics. Administration of pro-biotics as an aid in the treatment of diarrhea, constipation, or IBD in the cat has not been successful. Other benefits subscribed to the use of pro-biotics in humans have barely been researched in humans themselves. Therefore, similar benefits for the cat can only be speculation. Since pro-biotics have no harmful effects, it is up to the cat owner to decide if he or she wishes to use them in the cat’s diet.
Dietary supplementation with digestive enzymes is only advised if a cat has a stomach or pancreatic disorder, or a disorder of the small intestines which disable its ability to produce and release these proteins that are necessary for the breakdown of food. Supplemental enzymes can be beneficial in aging cats, but supplementation must be undertaken with care.
In general, enzymes are proteins that increase the rates of chemical reactions, and almost all processes in a biological cell need enzymes for these reactions to occur at a rate to facilitate metabolism. In the body, all tissues, muscles, bones, organs and cells are run by enzymes. The digestive system, immune system, bloodstream, liver, kidneys, spleen and pancreas, as well as the ability to see, think, feel and breathe, all depend on enzymes. All of the minerals and vitamins eaten, and all of the hormones the body produces need enzymes in order to work properly. Enzymes govern every single metabolic function in the body, from stamina, energy, nutrient utilization, and immune function. The vast majority of metabolic enzymes in the body – the enzymes that regulate everything from liver function to the immune system – are proteases, or proteolytic enzymes, which regulate protein function in the body. However, eating enzymes or eating foods high in enzymes does not automatically translate in a more efficient function of the enzymes in the cells which are responsible for health.
The only enzymes we can supplement with are digestive enzymes to help the body digest food in the event that its own supply of digestive enzymes falls short. These enzymes are classified by their substrates, for example proteases and peptidases split proteins into amino acids, and lipases split fat into three fatty acids and glycerol. Enzymes that act on carbohydrates, like sugars and starches or fiber are not important in the cat’s diet, and the cat’s body does not manufacture them naturally.
But adding enzymes as supplement it not that easy. Many plant derived enzymes burn in the mouth, since your cat can not swallow them as a pill or capsule. Some enzymes are only active in a low pH (stomach) or a neutral to high pH (small intestine). Pancreatine – a proteolytic enzyme, is by far the most effective enzyme, but can cause ulcers in the mouth and small intestine after prolonged use. Enzymes need to be added fresh to a meal at the time of feeding. They can not be part of our premix, as they may start to break down the product. They will certainly begin to digest your cat’s food when you prepare a batch.
Digestive enzymes can be added to the cat’s diet by the cat owner at his or her discretion at the time of feeding. Veterinary advice can be sought to find a prescription product which is safe to use und proven to be effective for the cat by matching the cat’s naturally produced digestive enzymes. Many store-bought digestive enzyme formulas may not be helpful to the cat, but could make the cat’s food unpalatable, or even cause burning and ulcers in the mouth.