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Whether you have an outdoor cat or not, odds are you’ve glimpsed your feline nibbling on a plant or two. You’ve also seen tubs of cat grass in pet stores. Green things enchant our curious cats. An odd concept, considering they’re carnivores. But plant fibers find their way into plenty of kitty diets. And if you do some hunting, you’ll find recommendations of high-fiber cat foods to help solve some common feline ailments. Those diets feature plenty of plant materials. But are high-fiber cat foods all they’re cracked up to be? Before you start mixing up a cat grass smoothie for your kitty, make sure you have all of the facts.
Carnivores and Fiber
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they need to get all of their nutrients from meaty prey. But carnivores need – and get – fiber, too. Because fiber helps keep the GI tract clean and healthy. Carnivores get their fiber from a different source than we think:
When a cat eats a whole prey item, those are the pieces they can’t digest. In the same way, herbivores (or omnivores) can’t digest plant fibers. So the “fiber” provides food for the bacteria that make up an animal’s microbiome. Water’s drawn into the intestines, helping to flush out waste. And the fibrous materials create bulk in the system, preventing watery stools.
However, most people don’t offer their favorite felines mice or birds. This is why you see plant material in commercial cat foods. The plants take the place of the fur and feathers. And, in the case of high-fiber cat foods, they add in extra bulk.
Types of Fiber
While it sounds crazy to offer plants to a carnivore, studies show that cats benefit from that fiber. But not every plant fiber is created equal. And that’s where high-fiber cat foods can start causing problems. Because when you start looking at cat food labels, you’ll find three different kinds of fiber:
- Insoluble fiber
- Soluble fiber
- Moderately-fermentable fiber
Each one behaves differently, and they come from different sources. And recognizing the kind of fiber you’re dealing with will go a long way to understanding your cat’s reaction to certain foods.
Carnivores have short GI tracts. Where a cow spends ages digesting their food (and has four compartments in their stomachs to aid with the fermentation of their gut bacteria), felines take little time. It’s why they produce stools that smell so strong. Basically, they pull the bare minimum from their food.
Insoluble fiber slows down the travel speed of food. This means your cat’s GI tract spends more time digesting. The result is larger, bulkier stools. And drier poop. Many people like high-fiber cat foods with insoluble fiber because they can help with diarrhea problems. However, when a cat gets TOO much, they end up with the reverse problem: constipation.
See, “insoluble” means the fiber won’t break down in water. Instead, it sucks up the water, taking it away from the GI tract. Good if you have too much water in the system (diarrhea), but TERRIBLE in a healthy cat. And all of these fibers fall into the insoluble group:
- Some nuts and seeds
- Skins of:
- Green beans
- Wheat and corn bran
As you might guess, soluble fiber comes in opposite to the insoluble side. These plant materials have no problem dissolving in water. It’s what they do best. They bring water into the system, helping to relieve constipation. And while it sounds silly to think of there being TOO MUCH water, it’s possible. Your cat may end up with diarrhea – even when fed high-fiber cat food. This is because soluble fibers promote softer stools. Suddenly, you have a feline that’s struggling to keep their hind end clean all the time.
And puzzling out soluble fiber on a cat food label isn’t always easy. You may see the ingredients listed clearly. Other times, you need to look for the words “gum” or “pectin.” Both of them represent soluble fiber. And they may or may not appear in conjunction with these common plant materials:
- Some legumes
So, where does moderately-fermentable fiber fit into the mix? In the middle. This fiber helps bring water into your cat’s GI tract without overdoing things. It also slows down digestion enough to give the bacteria time to do their work. This makes it the best of both worlds.
And the most common source found in high-fiber cat foods? Beet pulp.
Cats and High-Fiber Cat Foods
Fads and trends appear in pet foods all the time. And high-fiber cat food falls into that category. Owners felt the extra bulk of the plant ingredients would aid with different conditions and problems they saw in their fluffy felines. And looking over the way different fibers work, the logic seemed sound. However, plenty of problems arose after the trend took hold. And we’ll look at each of those cases in turn.
High-Fiber Cat Foods and the GI Tract
There’s nothing worse than coping with a cat’s troubled tummy. Whether that means struggling with loose stools, diarrhea, constipation, or hairballs, high-fiber cat foods promise the solution. Your cat will get extra bulk and water into their intestines to help solve the issues. And you won’t need to worry about messy litter boxes or constant carpet cleaning.
However, the fiber doesn’t always deliver on its promise. Some cats end up with the opposite problem. They flop from diarrhea to constipation (or the reverse). If you’re hoping to get more water into your feline’s body, you’re better off increasing the amount they drink. You can do this by making sure they have plenty of fresh water available at all times. And switching to a canned diet is often the easiest way to fix common constipation problems.
As for hairballs, while plenty of hairball foods exist out there, you’ll rarely see them solve the problem. Cats SHOULD ingest hair. (Remember, it’s a normal thing in the wild) They do so as part of their grooming habits. You can help limit the problem with regular brushing sessions, not a diet change. And if you see frequent problems? You need to make a trip to the vet. Because SOMETHING is going on, and high-fiber cat food won’t solve things.
High-Fiber Cat Foods and Weight Loss
One of the most popular uses for high-fiber cat foods is taking off those pesky extra pounds. Feline obesity is a serious concern. And everyone knows that fiber (and plants, in general) makes you feel full. If you add in extra fiber you can’t digest, you’ll take in fewer calories. Then you’ll lose more weight. It works well in dogs and humans.
But in cats? Not so much.
Unfortunately, feline bodies work differently. As carnivores, they decide to store the carbohydrates found in the fiber as fat. So instead of losing weight, they can GAIN weight on high-fiber cat foods! So it works opposite to what people expect. Because people forget our felines aren’t omnivores, like us.
High-Fiber Cat Foods and Diabetics
Diabetic cats require careful management. The prescription diets minimize carbohydrates, increase moisture, and pack on the protein. This prevents spikes in blood glucose after they eat. Also, you don’t want a ton of carbs (i.e., sugar) going into the bloodstream of a diabetic kitty. But not every cat (say, ours) will eat the proper diets. So owners have considered high-fiber cat foods are the alternative.
The logic is that the extra fiber will slow down the metabolism in the GI tract. This way, your cat won’t get that spike in glucose. And there’s also that hope the extra fiber will help with weight loss (as diabetics can often be overweight felines). And if you find a food that’s low in fat, you’re also managing calories.
The problem is, you need to balance fiber with complex carbohydrates if you want this plan to work. Complex carbs break down slowly. It prevents your cat from trying to sneak snacks between meals, keeps them feeling full between meals, and maintains the glucose at a steady level. And most high-fiber cat foods? They fail that test.
Understanding High-Fiber Cat Foods
Realistically, that high-fiber cat food probably isn’t going to do what you think. And you’re going to end up with side effects you’re not expecting. For instance, all of that extra fiber means your cat will make MORE trips to the litter box. So you’ll need to clean things out more often. And the smell often gets WORSE due to the extra work by your kitty’s gut bacteria. Not to mention you could notice more flatulence. Cats simply don’t need all of that fiber.
“When pets consume unnecessary fillers, like wads of fiber, it inhibits digestion and absorption of many vital nutrients. A small amount of fiber is very important, but a diet loaded with fiber is very detrimental, unless, of course, you’re feeding a horse or cow.”~Karen Becker, DVM
While fiber helps with the mobilization of the GI tract and moving water around the system, it CAN interfere with how nutrients get absorbed. If your cat eats too much fiber – something that often happens with these foods – the pancreas doesn’t secrete the enzymes needed to break down protein. Then your cat receives NO nutrients from the food. Suddenly, you see ENORMOUS poops in the litter box. And you’ll also see dry, flaky skin and a lackluster coat.
Cats also may not EAT the foods in the first place. As carnivores, they go for protein. High-fiber cat foods may have too much plant material to interest your picky feline.
Choosing a High-Fiber Cat Food
Does that mean you CAN’T feed your favorite feline a high-fiber cat food? Of course not. However, you should speak with your veterinarian about the condition you’re concerned about FIRST. They may have a non-dietary recommendation. Or you may need to have testing performed to make sure you’re not missing something critical. Ask your vet which foods they recommend. And make sure you follow up with them while your cat remains on the diet. You may need to back off or even stop the diet down the road.
Once you have your diet list in hand, check for these important features:
- Fiber Content: While you’re looking for high-fiber cat foods, you don’t want to go higher than 3% in dry food or 1% in canned food. And you’ll often see MUCH HIGHER than that in standard cat foods!
- Fiber Type: What conditions does your cat have? Read the ingredient labels. Do you need insoluble fiber? Soluble? Or should you stick with that moderately-fermentable fiber?
- Grains: Cats AREN’T immune to the grain-free diet craze. You want to make sure you keep your kitty’s heart safe and avoid potentially dangerous ingredients.
- Can: Yes, canned high-fiber cat foods don’t have much – a measly 1%. However, they’re higher in moisture. And that’s better for your cat’s GI health.
The Best High-Fiber Cat Foods
High-fiber cat foods don’t, unhappily, fulfill the hype they’ve promised. And you’ll need to keep a close eye on your furry feline if you decide to make a switch to one of these diets to make sure you do not see changes in their stool production (for the worse), skin, or hair. But adding SOME fiber into your kitty’s diet isn’t a bad thing. It replicates the feather and hair they’d normally consume in the wild. And you’ll help their GI tract work properly. Of course, picking up one of these foods means taking a little extra time, reading labels.
The Best Dry High-Fiber Cat Foods
If you look through most dry cat foods, you’ll find fiber levels that are already above the 3% recommended for cats. However, high-fiber cat foods show up in weight management and hairball formulas. They’re often EXCESSIVE in the fiber department. Check those ingredient and nutrition panels CAREFULLY. You want to make sure you’re not bringing home something your cat doesn’t need. And once you start your cat on the new diet, keep an eye out for any sudden changes you feel aren’t healthy.
American Journey focuses on quality protein sources without corn, wheat, or soy that may cause problems for your kitty’s tummy. You get up to 40% of the chicken and turkey sourced from the U.S. They’re also careful to avoid any by-product meals in the top ingredients. You DO get a nice bonus of omega fatty acids to keep your cat’s coat looking sleek and shiny. And if you skim the list of ingredients, you’ll see “fermentation extracts.” These are prebiotics that help feed the bacteria in your cat’s GI tract, allowing them to function properly.
Downsides? As a grain-free food, you’re going to see plenty of pea ingredients on this list. However, they skip other legumes and potatoes. It’s not great, but it’s also not the worst. The fiber does tip the scales a bit at 4% – mostly due to the list of fruits and veggies you’ll find (things cats DON’T need in their diet).
Plenty of feline owners recognize the Blue Buffalo brand of cat food. In their Nature’s Evolution line, they bump up the protein level (36%) to mimic the amounts a wild cat might find. Then they add in plenty of vegetables and fruit to meet that high-fiber cat food requirement. You also get the bonus of omegas and folic acid for a healthy kitty coat. And they use fermentation extracts as prebiotics, as well.
The downsides? This is one of the more expensive cat foods out there. It also only comes in a single chicken flavor, which may not work for every cat. As for fiber, it’s WAY over the mark at 7.2%. No cat needs THAT much in their diet. Also, they use peas AND potatoes in their formula – that’s risky.
Hill’s comes backed with veterinary approval. It’s the over-the-counter brand for Science Diet, and the company participates in research with their diets. The Hairball Control line is the high-fiber cat food they provide, helping with hairball issues and weight control. They use chicken as their primary source of protein (33.9%) before adding in fruits and vegetables to make up the fiber portion. You’ll also find biotin to support healthy muscles and bones. And the beet pulp? It performs double-duty as a fiber and a prebiotic.
So what are the downsides? They do use corn and wheat. People object to their presence in cat foods, but they ARE insoluble fibers. And it pushes the fiber content over the edge to 9.3%. Cats are also confined to a single chicken flavor.
Indoor cats rely on you for their food. And that’s why Hill’s came up with their Indoor Formula line. The extra fruits and vegetables provide plenty of fiber for kitties that don’t supplement their diets with the occasional bird, mouse, or vole. And they keep calorie counts low for those cats that may not get the most activity out of their day. Of course, you get the same benefits you find with every Hill’s diet, too.
Downsides? You’re still going to find the corn and wheat in the ingredients – and some green peas. And the fiber’s equally high at 8.5%. Plus, the chicken flavor continues to reign supreme.
Iams is another high-fiber cat food that adds in extras such as omegas, beet pulp, and biotin. Your kitty will love the turkey and chicken flavor, and YOU’LL appreciate the lack of any artificial colors or flavorings. The formula’s gentle enough to take things easy on sensitive tummies while still keeping the gut bacteria working properly. And it comes in at the LOWEST fiber rating at 3%! That’s dead-on target!
The downsides? You will still see corn make an appearance in the ingredient list. Whether that’s a deal-breaker or not depends on you. And because it’s a sensitive diet, you only have the turkey flavor. Also, some owners found the smell unappealing (the cats didn’t mind).
If you’re looking for a high-fiber cat food that won’t break the budget but contains top ingredients, you can’t go wrong with Natural Balance. They focus on chicken and salmon proteins first before adding in plenty of superfood fruits and veggies. That brings the fiber to a proper level of 3%. And you won’t have to worry about corn or wheat if that’s a concern; they focus on oats and those veggies.
So what are the downsides? Again, you’re only going to get one flavor option. That’s challenging when you have a picky eater at home. And plenty of cats turned up their noses here. They do also use peas and pea protein in their ingredients.
Limited ingredient diets are popular with plenty of pet owners when their dog or cat suffers from allergies. And they can work as high-fiber cat foods, too. Nature’s Variety is one option out there that skip grain and gluten, focusing on the protein (rabbit, salmon, or turkey). Freeze-drying preserves all of the nutrients, ensuring your cat receives a balanced diet. They explicitly avoid corn, wheat, soy, chickpeas, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Downsides? While they did a great job of eliminating most of the suspect ingredients, they still use peas. It’s why we stopped offering it to our cats (it wasn’t worth the risk). And while close, the fiber is still over at 5.5%. It also comes in high in the calorie department – something you want to keep in mind if you plan to use it for weight loss.
Most indoor formulas work well as high-fiber cat foods. They’re designed to help control weight and hairballs. And that’s true of Purina ONE. They combine the perfect mix of turkey, fruits, and vegetables to provide a balanced diet for your favorite feline friend. You’ll also see a healthy list of vitamins and minerals to keep your cat looking and feeling their best.
The downsides? Corn and soy make up the bulk of the fiber in this diet. That means plenty of insoluble fiber. Again, nothing wrong with it, but you need to make sure you have plenty of water around. Especially since the fiber goes over the line at 5.1%.
Some cats with GI problems need high-fiber cat foods with a genuine punch behind them. That’s where Royal Canin comes in. Formulated by veterinarians and board-certified nutritionists, they combine soluble and insoluble fibers to help your cat’s GI tract feel like itself again. And, as a bonus, it works great for kitties struggling with urinary crystals!
So what are the downsides? This is a prescription diet. You’ll need to speak with your vet if you want to switch your cat over. And the insoluble fiber comes in the form of corn and wheat. That pushes it to 4.7% – a genuine high-fiber cat food. You’re going to pay for the prescription, too. But it works!
The Best Canned High-Fiber Cat Foods
High-fiber cat foods work a little better in the canned department. You’re still bumping up the fiber department while providing the proper hydration your cat needs at the same time. And with quality ingredients and flavors cats love, you’re more likely to find your cat diving into their meals. You’ll still need to check the labels carefully, though. A 1% fiber in these foods is plenty. And if you’re combining them with dry food, you don’t want to go overboard. Always have clean, cold water available to help your feline flush their system.
Purina Beyond combines top protein choices with vegetables and fruits. You won’t find corn, wheat, or soy in the mixtures. Instead, they use the vegetables as the fiber source. And at 1.5%, that fiber is only a whisker over the limit! With ten different flavors to choose from, you’re sure to find one your cat will fall in love with (or, you know, ten you can rotate through!). The pate texture works well on its own, or you can mix it with water to create more gravy.
Downside? Some of the flavors use sweet potatoes. You may want to steer clear of those in favor of others.
Finding high-fiber cat foods in delightful flavors is always tricky. But Weruva manages it with their “punny” names. You have 12 different proteins to choose from, all available in three sizes. They combine top meats with fibers such as pumpkin to keep your kitty’s digestive tract working smoothly. You’ll also get a little bonus of fish oil for joint health.
The downsides? This is one of those cans that include fiber in the ingredients, but it comes out short in the analysis. You’ll only find 0.5% fiber in this line. And, given the size of the cans, some people feel they’re on the expensive side.
A Side of Fiber, Please
Sure, cats enjoy nibbling on grass now and then. And they may even decide to chomp down an entire plant (when you’re not looking). That seems to run counter to their carnivore nature. And while they DO need some fiber to help their GI tract run properly, high-fiber cat foods may OVERDO things. You can end up with felines sicker than when you started. This is why it’s important to always discuss any diet changes with your vet FIRST.
If you do make the switch, look at the labels carefully. The magic number of 3% (for dry food) and 1% (for cans) will appear in most normal foods. A high-fiber cat food? It might put you over the top!