Virginia-based emergency veterinarian Katy Nelson has seen the results of cat food with low digestibility. “You can spot a cat on a high-fiber diet a mile away,” Nelson says. “Its skin is dull, and its coat is far from pretty.” Obese cats, once routinely fed high-fiber diets in order to promote weight loss, were basically wasting away as the nutrients they needed to absorb from their food went out of their body in the form of waste.

Increasingly, veterinarians and cat food manufacturers agree that cats need to feast on foods with moderately fermentable fibers, usually found in cat foods meant for sensitive stomachs. Nelson shares her advice for identifying digestive issues and looking for specific ingredients in your cat’s food to ensure that it’s getting all the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Identifying Digestive Troubles

Unfortunately, the best way to identify whether or not your cat has digestive problems is to check its poop. Stools that are too hard or too soft may be an indication that your cat is either not absorbing nutrients from food, or that the food does not have the proper nutrients to keep the digestive tract healthy in the first place.

“If your cat is having problems with elimination or vomiting, you need to work with your veterinarian to investigate what is going on. If you haven’t changed your pet’s diet and it has diarrhea for more than two or three days, vomits multiple times a day or has any blood in its stool, this indicates something more serious than improper digestion,” says Nelson. Once your veterinarian has ruled out conditions like pancreatitis, parasites and inflammatory bowel disease, it’s time to talk about food.

Best Ingredients for GI-healthy Diets

  • Beet Pulp The term “digestibility” refers to how easily food goes down — and how readily absorbable its ingredients make its nutrients. According to Nelson, the best fiber source is moderately fermentable, which comes in the form of beet pulp.
  • Prebiotics These are ingredients that promote the gut’s natural, good bacteria while keeping the bad bacteria in check. The next ingredient on Nelson’s list of must-haves is the prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which crowds out the bad bacteria and feed the good.
  • Grain Sorghum and Corn Research has found that the combination
    of these complex carbohydrates also enhances digestibility. providing a
    stable source of energy throughout the day.

The above ingredients also enhance gastrointestinal tract health, allowing your cat to absorb vitamins, minerals and other beneficial components, like vitamin A and fish oils.

Prescription Formula

If your cat is having digestive problems despite being on a diet with beet pulp and prebiotics, talk to your vet about a veterinary intestinal formula. “I often try a prescription diet for a short period, and then taper off to a nonprescription food,” says Nelson. “The prescription diet usually serves as a temporary solution. Once the pet gets through a tough time, we go back.” She adds that some cats may need to remain on the veterinary-prescribed food. “It’s more expensive, but less so than continuous trips to the vet. If you find something that works, you can stick with it.”

It’s important to note that GI tract problems are often stress-related. “Whether their favorite person is away from home or they have a fun new cat tree, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut and can require treatment with antibiotics,” she explains. Taking care of your cat’s GI tract will help to ensure that you and your pet can enjoy each other’s company for many meals to come.