High fiber cat foods are not considered necessary for every cat. Some researchers argue that, in nature, wild cats did not eat any plant fiber and, therefore, domestic cats do not need it either. The argument is that cats thrive on a high-protein diet that is packed with meat because they are true carnivores.
However, a domestic cat has a very different lifestyle to a wild cat. They are more sedentary and groom themselves more. Also, commercial cat food is very different from eating a whole mouse! When a cat eats a mouse, the bones and fur act as fiber as they pass through the intestines. Commercial cat food is smooth and does not have this type of ‘animal fiber’ so there is an argument that it needs plant fiber instead.
To help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of a high fiber cat food and to choose the best high fiber cat food for your kitty, here is our guide.
Best High Fiber Cat Food Buying Guide & FAQ
How Does Fiber Help Your Cat?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and is an important part of your cat’s diet. In nature, they would get fiber from the prey that they eat but your domestic kitty needs to get it from cat food. Fiber does not get broken down by the body in the way that protein and fats do. They pass through the body and come out as poop.
For a cat, fiber is essential to keep food moving through the intestines at the right rate. It helps your cat’s intestine to form a poop that is not too hard and not too soft. In this way, it helps to prevent both constipation and diarrhea. You can use a high fiber cat food for constipation and for diarrhea.
Intestinal and weight management issues can arise in domestic cats because they have a very different lifestyle to wild cats. They are not so active, they sleep for longer periods and they groom themselves more. So, whilst your kitty’s wild cousins may not need plant fiber in their diet, your domestic kitty will.
Why You Should Feed Your Cat a High Fiber Food
Domestic cats could benefit from a high fiber diet and from foods with fiber in them. You may read that some commercial cat food is formulated just for indoor cats. It is designed to tackle some of the health problems that they face. Here are some of the specific conditions that it can help with:
Domestic cats groom themselves more than wild cats, perhaps because they have more time on their hands! As they lick their fur, the tiny hooks on their tongue get caught in loose hairs and pull them off. They end up in your cat’s mouth and they swallow them. Most of the hair will pass through the intestines just like food does. However, some of it will stay in the stomach and eventually it clump together to form a hairball.
Getting rid of a hairball is a pretty unpleasant business. You cat will heave and eventually vomit the hairball up. They land on the floor looking quite long and tubular because they have been forced up the narrow tube connecting the stomach and the mouth. Hairballs are more common in cat breeds with long hair and in adult cats compared to kittens.
If your cat successfully vomits up the hairball, all is well. However, problems can arise if they don’t manage to do this. The following symptoms could mean that your cat has a hairball lodged in their intestines:
- Continual or repeated vomiting and gagging without producing a hairball
- Loss of interest in food
- Lethargy and lack of energy
- Constipation or diarrhea
If this happens, you need to get your kitty to a vet quickly.
Hairballs can be prevented by high fiber diets. Some commercial cat food is actually advertised as ‘hairball formula’ or as ‘hairball reduction’. The diets work in two ways. Firstly, they contain vitamins, minerals and fatty acids that promote a very healthy coat. This should cut down on shedding and reduces the number of hairs that enter the intestine. Secondly, they help food to move efficiently through the intestine and to take the hairball with it so that it passes out with the poop. The different types of fiber in the food are carefully blended to achieve this.
Unfortunately, humans are not the only ones to be in the midst of an obesity epidemic. A study by APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention) conducted in 2011 found that over half of domestic cats were either obese or overweight. There is no such thing as an obese wildcat so clearly, something is going wrong.
The simple explanation is that domestic cats are taking in more calories than they are burning off. In the wild, a cat could go for days without finding any prey. They get a lot of exercise walking around looking for their next meal and chasing it when they find it. Now compare that to a domestic cat. They spend a lot of time sleeping and lounging around. When they are hungry, all they have to do is wander over to the food bowl and perhaps meow at you to produce some food. Commercially produced cat food is convenient but will have more sugars and other fattening ingredients in it than a cat’s natural diet of raw prey. All of these factors put together has resulted in an obesity problem in the US domestic cat population.
A high fiber diet can help and many foods containing carefully blended fiber are advertised as suitable for weight management. The fiber content helps your cat to feel satisfied after a meal but does not contribute to their calorie intake because it passes through the gut without being absorbed.
- Constipation and diarrhea
Cats can suffer from either constipation or diarrhea. When a cat is constipated, it can be because the food is passing too slowly through the intestines and it is too dry. This makes the poop hard and difficult to pass. In diarrhea, the opposite happens. The food passes too quickly through the intestines, has too much water in it and comes out too runny. Neither are desirable. When a cat’s gut is working well, they will pass regular, well-formed poops.
Fiber has an important role to play in controlling both conditions. For a cat that is constipated, it can help to draw water into the large intestine and make the poop softer and easier to pass. Where diarrhea is the problem, the correct fiber will help to slow down the passage of the stool so that more water can be absorbed out of it and the poop is firmer. Ingredients such as beet pulp contain both types of fiber as does pumpkin.
The Different Types Of Fiber In Cat Food
All mammals need some sort of fiber in their diet. Fiber is the part of food that is impossible to digest. It travels through the intestine and comes out the other end as poop.
Fiber can be plant-based or animal-based. The natural diet of your kitty is small rodents (rats and mice) and cats eat the entire thing. This means that they would eat the fur, bone, and cartilage as well which are pretty tough. The cat’s digestive system cannot break these down and so they pass through and function like an animal-based fiber.
Wildcats consume very little plant-based fiber. When they eat their prey, the last thing they eat from the carcass is the intestines which would contain some partially digested plant material. Their prey’s last meal!
Plant-based fiber can be categorized as soluble fiber which is rapidly fermentable and insoluble fiber which is slowly fermentable. Here’s how they work.
- Soluble fiber. You will see these written on ingredients lists as things like pectin and gum. When they reach the large intestine (colon) they draw water out of the bloodstream and into the food that is passing through. The bacteria that are found in the colon are able to ferment them and when they do this, they produce short-chain fatty acids. These are very useful for the cells of the colon. The overall effect is that they can relieve constipation by drawing water into the poop and making it softer. This also has the effect of making it travel through the gut faster.
- Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber is included in cat food formulations as cellulose or peanut hulls. They have the effect of making the food more bulky as it travels through the intestine and it travels more slowly. This type of fiber can help with diarrhea.
- Moderately fermentable fiber. Often the fiber sources in cat foods have some soluble and some insoluble properties. Typical examples are bran and beet pulp.
Problems With High Fiber Cat Food
A high fiber diet for cats is not without its risks and drawbacks. For that reason, it is important that you always speak to your vet before switching your cat onto one. In some circumstances, the extra fiber will get stored as fat and that makes weight management more difficult. Also, the high proportion of carbohydrates can lead to less protein being absorbed. Cats need a lot of protein to make lean muscle mass which speeds up the metabolism. A slow metabolism equals weight gain and that is not good news. Some animal nutritionists argue that there is no need for carbohydrate fiber in a cat’s diet. Others maintain that they need a replacement for the animal ‘fiber’ that they would eat in the wild.
To avoid the potential problems with a high fiber diet for cats, here are a few of the things that you should look out for in a commercial cat food.
- High protein. The fiber content should not be increased at the expense of protein so always look for a high protein cat food. Cats are natural carnivores and must have a lot of meat in their diet. Sources of fiber are cheaper and so it is tempting for cat food manufacturers to remove some of the meat and replace it with carbohydrates and that is not good for your cat.
- Allergens. Bear in mind that your cat’s intestinal problems could be caused by a food allergy or sensitivity. Speak to your vet about this before you just assume that your cat needs a high fiber diet. Many of the best commercial cat foods do not include common allergens such as grains and artificial additives.
- Type of fiber. Remember that you need soluble and non-soluble fiber. The higher quality insoluble sources of fiber include flax seeds and whole grain.
- Moderately fermentable fiber. This can be very beneficial because it does the job of both types of fiber. It is found in ingredients such as peas, oat bran, pumpkins and beet pulp.
- Protein to carbohydrate ratio. Ideally, you should be looking for a high protein and low carbohydrate diet for weight loss.
- Nutrients for a healthy coat. It is ideal if the food contains Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids which will help to keep your cat’s coat in the best condition. This will reduce shedding and cut down on the number of hairballs that are produced.
Our Top Pick
Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free
The ideal high fiber, high protein dry cat food based on the diet of the wild cats. The main ingredient is a protein which is provided by deboned chicken, chicken meal and fish meal. Then there are carbohydrates in the form of peas, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
This is a food that has been carefully balanced to help hairballs pass through the intestines easily. It can also be a useful food for weight management. It contains a blend of different types of fiber including cellulose and psyllium seeds. To help to prevent hair loss there are plenty of vitamins and minerals to support a healthy coat.