What makes fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) a solution for many conditions and chronic symptoms (like diarrhea and itchy skin) in cats? “Fecal transplant” might sound strange or gross, but it’s actually a well-established treatment approach that has been used effectively in both animals and humans for a long time.
In cats, FMT can help with chronic digestive symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting, as well as skin issues, such as itching and hair loss. So what exactly is FMT?
What Is a Fecal Microbiota Transplant?
A fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), also called a fecal transplant, is the transfer of stool from a healthy donor to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of a sick recipient. That transfer can be done in clinic (via colonoscopy, enema, or endoscopy) or with oral capsules. The stool from the donor contains a diverse, well-functioning community of bacteria that take up residence in the recipient’s gut.
By providing thousands of healthy, species-appropriate gut microbiota, FMT can resolve a variety of symptoms associated with imbalance or dysfunction of the gut microbiome—including digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic enteropathies, colitis, atopic dermatitis, and immune system issues. FMT even has the potential to correct obesity: several studies in mice have found that transplanting fecal material from lean mice into the intestines of obese mice transfers metabolic benefits, allowing the recipient mice to achieve a healthier weight.
What Symptoms and Conditions in Cats Can Be Improved with a Fecal Transplant?
As research continues into the connections between microbiome imbalances (dysbiosis) and health problems, we’re sure to learn about even more. In petscats, fecal transplants have proven to be especially useful for the two health problems that account for 50% of visits to veterinarians (DVMs): digestive issues and skin issues.
Digestive symptoms in cats, such as diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and weight loss, can have many different causes. If you and your veterinarian have already worked together to rule out other explanations (e.g., food sensitivities, parasites, infectious diseases like FIP, and underlying GI diseases), the next thing to check is whether your cat has an imbalanced gut microbiome (dysbiosis).
An imbalance among the gut’s bacterial populations may occur as a result of age, diet, medications (especially antibiotics, such as metronidazole), or other factors.
For example, the genus Escherichia (a group of bacteria that includes E. coli) can be a beneficial member of the community when it makes up only a small part of a cat’s gut microbiome. But an overgrowth of Escherichia can cause diarrhea and other uncomfortable digestive issues. FMT can resolve diarrhea quickly by introducing a whole community of beneficial bacteria that crowd out the harmful ones, restoring healthy function to a cat’s digestive system.
Read more about common causes of diarrhea in cats and at-home remedies: Cat Diarrhea: What You Need to Know
Research has shown that long-lasting or recurring skin issues in cats—such as red or itchy skin, hair loss, and recurrent ear infections—have a connection to the gut microbiome. That’s because skin conditions are often caused by a defective immune system response, and most of the body’s immune cells live in the gut microbiome.
In addition to interfering with proper immune function, an imbalanced gut microbiome can cause the intestinal walls to become more permeable, or “leaky” (a factor that’s associated with food allergies). Both of these effects—a compromised immune system and a leaky gut—can show up in your cat as skin problems. A dysfunctional gut environment is also more prone to inflammation, which can trigger hyperactive immune responses all over the body.
Itching and other skin problems may be a clue that your cat’s gut microbiome is missing some important bacteria groups. Learn more about testing your cat’s gut microbiome with a KittyBiome™ Gut Health Test.
Read more about atopic dermatitis and the gut microbiome: Managing Atopic Dermatitis in Pets
Fecal Transplant in an Oral Capsule for Cats
In cats, FMT can be delivered in a veterinary clinic (via colonoscopy, enema, or endoscopy) or with oral capsules. In-clinic veterinary fecal transplant procedures can be expensive and usually require sedation. That’s why AnimalBiome developed its one-of-a-kind fecal transplant in an oral capsule, offering a convenient and safe approach to fecal transplant for cats without the need for these expensive procedures.
KittyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement is an oral FMT capsule that gives your cat the benefits of FMT without the need for surgery or sedation. Our Gut Restore capsules (aka “poop pills”) deliver viable cat-specific bacterial cells in a proprietary mixture of carefully screened, cryoprotected, freeze-dried donor stool. Stable at room temperature, the capsules offer a noninvasive, affordable, at-home alternative for cats suffering from digestive, skin, or immune system issues.
In a study conducted by AnimalBiome, 72 cats with IBD were given a 25-day course of our Gut Restore FMT capsules. Symptoms improved in 83% of the cats, and about a quarter of the cats also had an increase in appetite. This study demonstrates that even though FMT can’t cure IBD, it can be an effective tool to improve symptoms and increase quality of life for cats. And since there’s no known cure for IBD, these positive results from FMT are especially exciting and important.
How Do the KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplements Work?
By “seeding” your cat’s gut microbiome with all the right bacteria in the right proportions, our FMT capsules can help reestablish balance and resolve symptoms.
Add Missing Good Bacteria
When cats with digestive symptoms, skin issues, or immune system problems turn out to be missing certain important gut bacteria, we need to add those missing members to the gut microbiome and help the new populations grow and thrive.
Unlike probiotics, our KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplement provides a whole community of thousands of different kinds of bacteria and other microbes that are native to healthy cats. The capsule’s enteric coating prevents it from dissolving until it reaches the intestines, where the contents seed your cat’s gut with a diverse array of healthy “good” bacteria, restoring any missing groups.
Reduce Harmful Bacteria
If your cat’s Gut Health Test report shows an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, restoring balance will require removing or reducing those troublemaking groups. FMT capsules can help in this scenario too, through a process called competitive exclusion. The new beneficial bacteria from the FMT thrive and multiply, taking resources and space away from the harmful bacteria, which gradually die out. Learn more
The KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplements contain a diverse community of thousands of different kinds of healthy gut bacteria native to cats. Diversity is important because each type of bacteria has a specific job to do to support the health of the body. The FMT capsules help resolve symptoms by giving your cat’s gut microbiome all the important members it needs to function well.
Most Cats Experience Improved Symptoms in a Few Weeks
While outcomes vary, positive results—such as better-formed stool, improved appetite, and less itching—are often seen within a few weeks. In cats with severe gut microbiome imbalances, it may take longer to see improvement. Depending on a cat’s age and underlying health conditions, the process of establishing all those newly introduced groups of good bacteria can sometimes take two or three months.
Learn More about KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplements
Is Fecal Transplant Safe for Cats?
Our KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplement is an effective, noninvasive approach that provides the benefits of a fecal transplant in pill form, without the need for surgery or sedation. The healthy cats that serve as AnimalBiome’s donors must pass a rigorous selection process, including DNA testing for microbiome composition, and all donor material is extensively screened for pathogens and parasites.
Though fecal transplants delivered via colonoscopy, enema, or endoscopy have been shown to help with multiple health conditions, in both humans and pets, there are some risks with these methods.
If the donor stool is not properly screened, there’s a chance that pathogens and/or parasites could be passed on to your cat. If you choose to have a fecal transplant procedure performed by a veterinarian, it’s important to ask about their screening process for the donated fecal material. In addition, more invasive FMT procedures generally require sedation, which has its own risks and complications.
What Makes AnimalBiome a Leader in FMT for Cats?
AnimalBiome maintains the world’s largest fecal microbiome stool bank for cats and dogs, and we lead the way in best practices for fecal transplants in companion animals. This includes rigorous screening of donor feces, as well as screening of the donors themselves for health, medication history, behavior, and gut microbiome composition. These practices are important both for the success of the fecal transplant and for the safety of the animals involved.
We’ve also set the benchmark for how to conduct pet microbiome studies and helped pet food companies determine whether their products are microbiome-friendly.
See our article published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science on Best Practices for Microbiome Study Design in Companion Animal Research.
Where Do We Get the Material for Our Fecal Transplant Capsules?
Our KittyBiome Gut Restore Supplement is derived from stool donated by healthy cats that live in homes and meet the following criteria:
- no current or prior health issues
- no antibiotic treatment in the prior six months
- diverse, species-rich gut microbiomes (based on DNA sequencing)
- good fecal consistency
- healthy body weight
- good temperament
Donor cat fecal samples are submitted for parasite and pathogen screening to the Idexx Reference Laboratories, a leading veterinary diagnostics company, which has stringent quality control guidelines and well-validated standard operating procedures.
All cat donor material is regularly screened for parasites and pathogens:
- Cats are screened for the following pathogens via PCR: Clostridium perfringens Enterotoxin Gene, Feline coronavirus, Tritrichomonas foetus, Campylobacter coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Feline panleukopenia virus, Clostridium perfringens Alpha Toxin, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella spp, Toxoplasma gondii, Giardia
- Cats are screened for the following parasites via ELISA: Giardia, hookworms, whipworms, roundworms
- Cats are screened for ova and parasites using fecal flotation.
Learn More about How to Improve Your Cat’s Gut Health
How Long Has FMT Been Used in Animals?
FMT has been used in large-animal veterinary medicine since the 17th century. (In cattle and horses, the practice is often called “transfaunation.”) Since the mid-20th century, FMT’s success against C. difficile infections in humans has led to an expansion of this approach into small-animal veterinary medicine, especially as a treatment for chronic diarrhea in cats and dogs.
How Long Has FMT Been Used in Humans?
FMT has been used in human medicine for thousands of years. The transfer of fecal material from a healthy person to a sick person to cure disease goes back at least as far as fourth-century China and has been performed for hundreds of years throughout Europe. The practice gained momentum in the United States in the 1950s and has become an increasingly widespread treatment method with well-documented success.
The nonprofit OpenBiome has the world’s largest stool bank for humans, and one of the organization’s main objectives is to expand safe access to FMT. (The OpenBiome website includes a handy video about how FMT works.)
Though modern regulatory entities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are still determining how to classify it, FMT continues to demonstrate beneficial results for a growing list of human health conditions.
For example, FMT is routinely used in human medicine to treat Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections. And it has proven to be the most promising solution for the low gut bacterial diversity associated with Crohn’s disease (a form of IBD). FMT has also been used successfully in clinical trials to reduce inflammatory events in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and to treat the symptoms of autism. A recent study demonstrated that FMT can be used to stop the progression of type 1 diabetes in humans.