People are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of fibre in their pet’s diet. However, in clinic we still see so many patients suffering from conditions as a result of poor fibre intake. Let’s explore this a bit further as to why fibre is a vital part of the animal diet.
Fibre is a broken into two types; insoluble and soluble. A good quality diet will have a highly digestible blend of both types of fibre. Insoluble fibre sources are the woody components of plants such as lignin and cellulose; these are not fillers! This is a huge myth that pet food contains cardboard, or is undigestible and low nutrient value components. Insoluble fibre from these sources is actually designed to increase faecal output which in turn stimulates gut motility – ever had a pet that seems to struggle to go to the toilet? or never really seems to be finished? That’s where insoluble fibre saves the day!
Soluble sources are things like pectins or gums. Again, this doesn’t mean glue! These are the sort of jelly-like substance that sets jams. Soluble fibre absorbs water and ferments rapidly to provide an energy source for the colon cells. This is what we call a prebiotic fibre, the latest buzzword. It really just means it provides a nutrient source for the good bacteria in the gut. However, simply adding fibre isn’t guaranteed to provide prebiotic effect to your pet’s gut so make sure your pet food actually says it contains a prebiotic fibre source.
So what does it do? Soluble and insoluble fibre together play a role in bulking food, attracting water, releasing beneficial fibre-bound compounds and helping it move through the digestive tract comfortably. Fibre also selectively feeds the healthy microbes in the gut.
How do you know if your pet is getting enough fibre? The amounts required for individual pets are wildly variable, so checking the back of your food bags isnt necessarily going to be helpful unless your pet is showing signs that they are lacking, such as:
- Scooting: anal gland issues in dogs can often be corrected by adding some fibre into the diet or changing to a fibre-rich diet as the bulking effect allows the stool to move past the glands and fully express them each time
- Alternating diarrhoea/constipation: irregular bowel motions can also be a sign of a diet lacking in fibre. Many forms of constipation and diarrhea will improve with increased fibre as the proliferation of good bacteria in the gut can help rebalance the microbiome thus correcting the fluctuating stool quality.
- Small very frequent stools: does your pet seem to never produce one full healthy stool? Probably a lack of fibre!
- Overweight or diabetic: these patients can benefit from a fibre rich diet as it makes them feel fuller for longer to stop begging behaviours and assist in balancing blood glucose levels and weight loss.
How do I add more fibre? If you or your veterinarian have identified that your pet will benefit from an increase in fibre, you have two options. The easiest way of increasing fibre is to transition to a diet formulated to provide a good blend of fibre, we recommend Hill’s Gastrointestinal BiomeTM as it contains a prebiotic fibre blend to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut that produce host-specific probiotics. You could also use Royal Canin Gastrointestinal or Hills W/d, however typically any change in diet to something formulated for gut health will be suitable. Seek the opinion of your veterinary team before starting any new diet as they are best placed to determine the best diet for your pet. In my experience, if the current diet is causing the above issues, then its probably not the right diet for your pet anyway and it is a good idea to think about changing to something else that’s better quality. Your second option is to increase the fibre content of your pet’s current diet; this is a lot more complicated than it sounds. You will need to do this very slowly to avoid over or under-supplementing, or sending the gut balance in the opposite direction. Too much fibre and you’ll likely see diarrhea. Too little fibre, and your pet will end up backed up or see worsening of their current issues. If your pet has recently experienced episodes of vomiting – do NOT supplement with fibre and seek your vet’s recommendation instead. We recommend adding small amounts (two teaspoons) of psyllium husks to water and adding this paste to a wet diet. Gradually increase the amount until desired effect is reached. However it’s usually a good idea to discuss this with your vet or nutritionist before doing this as it’s quite difficult to safely strike the right balance, and in some situations adding fibre isn’t a good idea.
Curious about how fibre can help your pet? Not sure how to recommend supplementation? Post your questions below!