Health: Can The Life of a Domestic Cat Be Too Sterile?

What I mean is this: is a domestic cat exposed to enough microbes and germs in order to keep both his immune system and his gastrointestinal tract (GI) healthy?

With respect to people, there is evidence that germs from family members keep immune systems working properly. There should be a steady exposure to bacteria because without that children are at a greater risk of immune system disorders.

What about the domestic cat? Particularly the full-time indoor cat. This is a complicated subject and very little if anything has been written about it on the Internet.

Outside kitten. Photo Alexandra Zakharova

There are some articles on how the presence of a domestic cat can improve the immune system of a child. It’s about the same subject in point of fact. It’s about being exposed to germs and microbes and bacteria etc. in order to boost the immune system and to create a healthy GI.

I think we can break this subject down into two parts. We have the gastrointestinal tract and general exposure to microbes. As for the GI we know that good bacteria in the gut helps ward off disease by presenting a barrier to bad bacteria and it can improve the general well-being of a person by improving the gastrointestinal tract. A proactive step that can be taken to try and improve gut bacteria is to give your cat probiotic supplements.

I’m not saying probiotics are a good thing. It is up to individuals to make their own decisions about that. The other part of this topic is allowing a cat to be generally exposed to microbes and germs of all kinds. When I think of this I wonder whether a hidden benefit for a cat going outside is that they are more exposed to these microbes and germs. You might think that is a bad thing because they’re liable to become ill but if they are exposed to these germs at an early age then their immune system will respond by building up antibodies thereby creating a more robust immune system.

When I think of the natural diet of the domestic cat I think of the mouse. When a cat eats a mouse they eat almost everything except the bile duct and gall bladder which is bitter. The mouse will contain a lot of bacteria of all kinds which passes into the GI of the domestic cat thereby making the cat’s gut more healthy and functional and more able to present a barrier to bad bacteria. The cat is also exposed to the mouse as prey which in turn exposes the cat to microbes and germs etc.

These are all natural steps in a natural process and if we distance our cat from these natural processes and make his environment too sterile it could be argued that he will develop a less robust immune system and possibly a GI that is less able to present a barrier to disease.

As I said, these are just thoughts and no more. I could be wrong. There is a general trend, however, by medical specialists in realising that the better way to ward off illnesses is not to consistently prescribe antibiotics which eventually become less effective but to ensure that the person, or it might be a companion animal, is placed in the best possible position to ward off illnesses himself through a healthy immune system and gastrointestinal tract.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Yep, I agree with you all, in total agreement. It doesn't worry me if the house is constantly clean. We don't worry about it being tidy or clean. It annoys me, when people say they won't come to the house due to cat smell. Our Cats love the life of indoor/outdoor life. They often eat grass, this year we are trying a cat friendly weed spray. Have found a website where can use white vinegar and sugar as well as salt so giving that a try. We don't want to harm our cats. The thing I have noticed is they don't seem to eat their live prey, i.e. Mouse, bird, etc. Yea the cats don't like the vacuum, but some of them tolerate it. I'm not a big fan of dusting, I'm more a surface cleaner. I only clean once a week the main areas. Since we got this steam cleaner has made it easier, as doesn't have any poisons in it just use cold filtered water. I just want our cats to be cats to live life as they want on this earth as much as possible without fear , to know that they are loved and i'm sure they know it!!

  • I'm glad Monty goes out and eats some grass and rolls in the dirt. It is a normal thing for a cat to do, so he should get to do it. Granted, he has a safe area in our fenced yard and I supervise him pretty carefully. But it's good when cats can be cats. Monty's my precious furry friend, but he's not human. His little heart beats with desires I can't comprehend-- the need to catch small creatures, to rend and tear and kill. I don't understand that. Once a Monarch butterfly landed on my foot and Monty, instead of admiring it, swooped in and ate it. His thoughts are not my thoughts, his ways are not my ways.

  • We are a country obsessed with cleanliness to the point that antibacterial products are everywhere, including wipes at the entries of stores so cart handles and hands can be sanitized.

    With the exception of food preparation, I'm happy to report that I don't have this obsessive illness.
    I'm more of an organizer than a clean freak.

    When I do basic housekeeping, my felines know exactly where to get nasty, dirty stuff. They just pull it all out from under the frig, stove, and furniture. Tops of cabinets are a favorite.

    So, they get their fair share of immune system boosters.

  • Yes I agree, I think that indoor cats don't get the chance to build up their immune systems which happens naturally outdoors.
    Maybe that's why we hear of pedigree cats having poor health, because people keep valuable (in money terms)cats indoors. It's not a natural life, necessary in some places, yes, but natural? no!

    • Good, I am pleased that you are with me on this. I wonder how important it is because we frequently hear of domestic cats being allergic to this and that and I wonder how robust their immune systems are especially as you say for pedigree cats. As you say pedigree cats are kept indoors in very carefully controlled environments often and breeders will be doing the same thing if they are worth their salt and this may have an impact on the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract.

  • I think this applies to all including humans.

    We have become incredibly weak and over clean. People actually can’t go longer than 24hours without full soap showers and that is just terrible for your health and immune system.

    Humans have become addicted to sterility and it’s bad. I can’t stand when I see a cat living in a minimal super clean apartment with a super clean caretaker - the poor cat has nothing for stimulation in those kids of living places. I purposely leave bottle caps and scrunched paper on the floor for my cats - and many other things too. When I do a big cleanup and vacuum it all up and tidy the place feels empty and perhaps nice clean and uncluttered to me, but you can see the cats don’t really like the result. They need all that stuff. I even leave some cobwebs on the cieling because Gigi in particular likes to stare wt them when they move with the currents of air. It stimulates her a bit to have these things around but most ‘normal’ humans would and do think I’m a bit of a nutjob for leaving cobwebs and such in place.

    To answer the title, yes, often times I think many cats in Europe and North America have incredibly boring lives when not allowed out. It’s hard to have enough time to keep them busy, especially when you work full time. I’ve got another cat coming in the summer so that will keep them busy too - hopefully all goes well.

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