Dietary enrichment of resistant starches or fibers differentially alter the feline fecal microbiome and metabolite profile

Anne H. Lee, Aashish R. Jha, Sungho Do, Elisa Scarsella, Justin Shmalberg, Amy Schauwecker, Andrew J. Steelman, Ryan W. Honaker, Kelly S. Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Cats are strict carnivores but possess a complex gastrointestinal (GI) microbial community that actively ferments dietary substrates that are not digested and reach the colon. The GI microbiota responses to dietary inclusion of resistant starches versus fibers have not been tested in cats. Thus, our objective was to evaluate the effects of diets enriched in resistant starch or fibers on the fecal characteristics, microbiome, and metabolite profiles of cats. Twelve healthy adult domestic shorthair cats (age = 9.6 ± 4.0 year; body weight = 3.9 ± 1.0 kg) were used in a replicated 3 × 3 Latin square design to test diets that were enriched with: (1) resistant starch (ERS), (2) a fiber-prebiotic-probiotic blend (FPPB), or (3) a fiber-prebiotic-probiotic blend + immune-modulating ingredients (iFPPB). In each 28-day period, 22 days of diet adaptation was followed by fecal and blood sample collection. Fecal samples were used for shotgun metagenomic sequencing. In addition, fecal and blood metabolite measurements and white blood cell stimulation was performed to assess immune function. Results: A total of 1690 bacterial species were identified, with 259 species differing between fiber-rich and ERS treatments. In comparison with fiber-rich treatments that increased diversity and promoted Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes populations, resistant starch reduced microbial diversity and fecal pH, led to a bloom in Actinobacteria, and modified Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes orthology (KO) terms pertaining to starch and sucrose metabolism, fatty acid biosynthesis and metabolism, epithelial cell signaling, among others. Resistant starch also differentially modified fecal metabolite concentrations with relevance to GI and overall host health (increased butyrate; decreased propionate and protein catabolites - branched-chain fatty acids; phenols and indoles; ammonia) and reduced blood cholesterol, which correlated strongly with microbial taxa and KO terms, and allowed for a high predictive efficiency of diet groups by random forest analysis. Conclusion: Even though domestic cats and other carnivores evolved by eating low-carbohydrate diets rich in protein and fat, our results demonstrate that the feline microbiome and metabolite profiles are highly responsive to dietary change and in directions that are predictable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number61
JournalAnimal Microbiome
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Feline gastrointestinal health
  • Feline microbiome
  • Feline nutrition
  • Pet health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • veterinary (miscalleneous)


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