Should I Feed My Cat High Fiber Cat Food?

While cats are natural carnivores and don’t consume fiber in the wild, sometimes they need fiber in their diets.  Almost every commercial cat food contains fiber from plants and grains.  Even grain-free cat food contains fiber, though some might not expect it.  Most experts agree that cats should not have a diet high in fiber. However, there are some cases where an owner might need high fiber cat food.  In this post, we’ll outline the reasons people believe they should give cats a high fiber diet (erroneously or not) and how to spot the best high fiber cat food.

This is the feature photo for high fiber cat food

Why use high fiber cat food?

There are various reasons a cat owner may want to feed his or her cat high fiber cat food.  These include the following:

  • Putting a cat on a weight loss diet
  • Feeding cats with diabetes
  • Diarrhea or constipation problems
  • Hairball problems
  • Gland disease

Some of the reasons for feeding your cat high fiber cat food make sense and are scientifically supported.  On the other hand, some of the solutions are mere hypotheses that are not scientifically proven.  Owners need to know the difference since high fiber cat food isn’t part of a cat’s natural diet.  This article will go through each point and explain whether you should be using high fiber cat food to solve the problem.

But first, we need to go over some basics.

What is fiber and what types are there?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate. It is the indigestible part of food derived from plants.  It combines with waste in the gastrointestinal tract and changes the composition of stool.  While all carbohydrates contain some form of fiber, many humans eat vegetables and dried fruits (prunes, raisins, etc.) to get fiber from highly concentrated sources.  High fiber cat food generally uses the hulls of rice, corn, peanuts and soybeans or beet pulp, bran, and pectin.

There are two types of fiber that have important distinctions:

  • Fermentable—This type of fiber can be easily broken down by the enzymes in a cat’s body, allowing the nutrients to absorb into the gastrointestinal tract
  • Non-Fermentable—This type of fiber isn’t broken down as easily by a cat’s enzymes, but creates larger masses of matter that help clean out the gastrointestinal tract

It is important to note that the fermentable fiber can make a cat’s stool very soft and therefore may not be ideal.  For non-fermentable fiber, the opposite is true—it can make a cat’s stool very dry and create constipation.

What is the controversy?

Basically, marketers!  Marketers have taken advantage of the feline obesity epidemic to pitch high fiber cat diets to cat owners.  Fiber makes cats feel full, so they tend to eat less when they are on a high fiber diet.  However, many of the brands that tout the advantages of their high fiber foods have ingredients that may be harmful for your cat!

Take Royal Canin Calorie Control High Fiber Canned Cat Food for example.  It contains fiber from sources like corn and wheat, which are poorly fermented and act as mostly filler ingredients.  Cats need at least somewhat easily fermented fiber, so these foods have given high fiber cat food a bad name, and for good reason—they just aren’t good for cats!

The problem with “high fiber” cat food is that while it is high in fiber, the fiber sources are usually plant-based, which cats don’t need and may exacerbate the problem or create new ones.

So what are some good high fiber cat foods? See below to find out!

Identifying High Quality High Fiber Cat Food

As mentioned above, when it comes to high fiber cat food, try to avoid food that only contains non-fermentable fiber.  These include ingredients such as corn husks, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, and ingredients made from such lowly forms of filler ‘nutrition’ such as wood chips (it will be listed as ‘powdered cellulose’ in the ingredients).  Many of these forms of fiber are in the lower cost brands, so try to avoid them.

Below is a good example of a bad type of high fiber cat food.  Hill’s Prescription Diet is very expensive, but the first five ingredients already raise a warning flag: Brewers rice, corn gluten meal, chicken meal, wheat gluten, and powdered cellulose.  Already, 3 of the first 5 ingredients are non-fermentable filler fibers.

Hill's Prescription Science example of bad form of high fiber cat food

On the other hand, you have products like NUTRO Specialized Care Adult Dry Cat Food that get all of their fiber from quality ingredients like peas, dried potatoes, and oat fiber, but have 11% crude fiber content. That’s way too much!

Nutro example of bad form of high fiber cat food

Better forms of non-fermentable fiber are flax seeds and whole grains.  Some forms of moderately fermentable fiber include pea fiber, oat bran, soy fiber, and beet pulp and these are good too.

When it comes to cat food in general, try to feed your cat wet food.  In fact, dry food in and of itself may cause problems for your cat’s digestion.  This is because cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water. Wet food is a way to make sure your cat is hydrated.  Switch to wet food high in real natural sources of protein before trying anything else.

Best High Fiber Cat Food

If you must go with dry cat food, make sure that the food doesn’t have a crude fiber content higher than 3%.  Anything higher than 3% is excessive (i.e. the NUTRO example above).  Excess fiber can get in the way of your cat absorbing more important nutrients such as protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  It can also cause constipation or diarrhea, so be careful!

Below are three of the highest quality high fiber cat food brands if you go the dry food route:

ImageProduct NameFiber SourcePriceFiber Content
Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Natural Dry Cat FoodPeas, potatoes, whole flaxseed$$3.0%
Halo Spot's Stew Cat Formula Grain-Free Hearty Chicken recipeWhole peas, flax seed, sweet potatoes, apples$$$3.5%
Natural Balance Original Ultra Whole Body Health Dry Cat FoodOats, pea fiber, oat fiber$$3.0%

Now that we know some of the best high fiber cat food, it’s time to make sure that you are administering a high fiber diet for the right reason!

Weight Loss

Is your cat obese or overweight?

Extremely obese cat

High fiber diets can be good for cats that tend to overeat and are obese or overweight.  When cats eat diets high in fiber, they tend to feel more full.  They therefore eat less than they would without the high fiber cat food.

The reason that cats feel more full from high fiber cat food is because high and moderately fermenting fiber takes longer to digest than regular food.  Your cat will naturally eat less even if you leave an ample supply of food out for him on a consistent basis.

There are studies showing that very high fiber diets actually interfere with weight loss.  Studies have shown that very high fiber cat food (i.e. from 11.5% to 28%) is detrimental to cats.  So don’t buy anything with over 3% fiber!

Diabetes

Of course, obesity can lead to diabetes in cats just like in humans.  Feeding your cat fewer calories is extremely beneficial for his or her health.  If you are trying to prevent weight gain in your, limit the amount of food you leave out.  Using this method, you can carefully monitor and control how much he or she eats.

As mentioned above, the best choice for a cat’s diet is high protein, low carb, and high moisture food.  If you choose a high fiber diet, make sure to consult a vet.  The vet will make sure that it makes sense for your specific cat and its needs.

Diarrhea and Constipation

There can be many different causes of diarrhea and constipation.  In general, there are probably better solutions to your cat’s problems than high fiber cat food.

A picture of a sitting cat

When it comes to constipation, make certain that your cat is getting enough moisture in his or her diet.  A good solution to the issue could just be feeding your cat wet cat food.  This is necessary because cats tend to not drink water from their bowls and become dehydrated.  A higher moisture diet will help keep your cat’s gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly.

For diarrhea, moderately fermentable fibers can be helpful in slowing digestion and adding bulk to a cat’s stool.  This occurs because fiber attracts water and forms a gel and therefore creates more solid stool.  Be careful though, it is possible that high fiber foods can actually worsen your cat’s symptoms! High amounts of fiber can decrease the amount of enzymes used to absorb important other nutrients.  This is one reason to limit the percentage of fiber in your cat’s food to below 3%.

Switching to a high fiber diet to treat your cat’s constipation or diarrhea is mostly a bad idea.  Your cat might be having other issues and high fiber cat food could exacerbate the problem.

Reducing Hairballs

Anyone who owns a cat knows that hairballs can be a problem.  Not only are they painful, but they can create a mess all over the house—from your new cleaned sofa to toys left out on the floor or worse, inside your shoe!  Hairballs are the result of a diet low in moisture, excessive ingested hair from grooming, or problems in the GI tract.

Many high fiber cat food brands advertise themselves as hairball formulas.  If your cat is simply ingesting too much hair from grooming, high fiber cat food can be a good solution.  The food will help the hair balls more easily move through your cat’s digestive tract.  Your cat will therefore more easily pass the hairballs through his or her digestive tract instead of coming back up as an unsightly mess on your floor.

If the hairballs are the result of a diet low in moisture, switch to wet food, as this can assist in the same way that fiber would. If something else seems to be wrong, be sure to take your cat to the vet.

Gland Disease

Cat’s have two anal sacs on their behinds that are used to mark territory.  On occasion, this area develops problems that can be particularly painful because of the sensitivity of the area.  Often a cat will sit down and drag the area when there is an issue, making the problem easier to identify if you suspect something is wrong.

High fiber cat food can bulk up your cat’s stool, putting pressure on the glands, which can help solve the issue.  Despite this, it is important to consult a vet about the problem since there could be something more serious going on.  High fiber cat food might be the solution, but it is hard to know unless you know what the problem is.

Alternatives to High Fiber Cat Food Solutions

Picture of pumpkins

While feeding your cat high fiber cat food is a good way to introduce fiber into your cat’s diet, there are other ways of doing it that are more DIY-based:

  • Canned pumpkin—Add a teaspoon of 100% canned pumpkin to your cat’s food. Pumpkin is high in fiber and easy on your cat’s stomach.  Make sure you aren’t using canned pumpkin pie filling, what you want is pure canned pumpkin with no additives
  • Water Fountain—As you may have noticed, many of the problems listed in this article can be due to your cat getting insufficient moisture.  Cats simply don’t like drinking still water, yet they seem to be mesmerized by moving water.  If you get a water fountain for your cat, they will be likely to drink more water
  • Vaseline—Many hairball removers contain petroleum jelly as their primary active ingredient.  Surprisingly, Vaseline can be fed to cats and many of them actually end up enjoying it!  Giving your cat a half a teaspoon per day can help with the hairball issue.  Just be sure to give him or her the serving at least two hours before or after eating as it can interfere with digestion of normal food

Conclusion

It’s always best to try feeding your cat wet cat food to see if his or her problems are resolved without changing to high fiber cat food.  If the problems persist, high fiber cat food can be good for weight management, hairball issues, and gland disease.

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