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What cats can and cannot eat

Approx. 6 minutes read

We’ve all seen the videos of cats trying new foods and hunting off their humans’ plates; or of pet owners who’ve taught their pretty kitties to beg for treats. Secretly, your cat commands you to fetch her whatever meal she desires – not questions asked – but it’s for the good of her health that you heed this warning: there are some human foods that are dangerous for cats to eat.

In this article, we’ll look at the human foods that your cat can and can’t eat – which foods you should hide from your purry friend, and which foods you can share with her.

Foods cats cannot eat

You may notice that many of the foods cats cannot eat are similar to the list of dangerous foods for dogs. This is because our pets’ nutritional requirements are very different to ours, so we need to be careful about the snacks we share with them.

Tinned tuna

If you’ve accidentally left an open can of tuna on the kitchen counter while taking an unexpected phone call, only to come back and find your cat chowing down, that’s nothing to be concerned about. However, cats should be fed high-quality cat food as a general rule. If your cat has regular meals of tinned tuna that’s purchased in the people section of the supermarket, her diet will surely be deficient. Plus, too much plain tuna can expose your cat to mercury poisoning.

Raisins

While raisins are a delicious and healthy snack for people, they can be poisonous to cats. A handful of raisins can cause sudden kidney failure in your cat. Avoid giving your cat raisins as well as grapes, and watch for signs of toxicity if your cat accidentally eats them. Signs that usually occur within 24 hours are diarrhoea, lack of appetite, lethargy, weakness, abdominal pain and decreased urination – all symptoms that require immediate veterinary intervention.

Dog food

In multi-pet households, there’s a risk of your cat sneaking mouthfuls of dog food from time to time. This is not harmful in the short-term, but take measures to dissuade your cat from making this a habit. Cat food is scientifically formulated to meet the needs of your purry friend, and has a distinctly different nutritional profile to that of dog food. Cats need a lot more protein than dog food contains, as well as unique vitamin and mineral ratios. It’s best to ensure your cat dines exclusively on her own food, and if she needs an extra treat, then that’s exactly what meaty cat treats are for!

Fat trimmings

Fat may be good in small quantities, but feeding your cat a large portion of fat trimmed from that steak on the braai isn’t a great idea. It could cause stomach problems, including vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s best to stick to foods that have been approved for cats, as the amount of fat in cat foods is nutritionally balanced to meet their dietary needs.

Bones

Bones are one of the most dangerous foods on this list. While they are not toxic in any way, bones can fragment when cooked and cause internal lacerations or bowel obstructions. Even raw bones can be a choking hazard, though they will not splinter like cooked ones. You should also avoid giving your cat chicken bones. In addition to intestinal problems, bones covered with fat or gristle can also cause digestive problems and your cat may end up vomiting or having diarrhoea.

Milk or cream

Contrary to the popular tales of cats lapping up a bowl of milk as a yummy treat, adult cats are lactose intolerant. The inability to break down lactose in milk products means your cat can end up having diarrhoea when she consumes dairy.

Being sick can lead to dehydration and may require a stay with the vet if not treated quickly. Avoid giving cream or milk to your cat unless you choose lactose-free options.

Avocado

The seemingly innocent avocado contains persin, which is very toxic to animals, including cats. The entire avocado tree is toxic, so never let your cat play with the shell or pit.

Depending on the amount of persin ingested, your cat may have gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems or even fluid build-up around the heart. In some cases, these issues can even be fatal.

Chocolate, coffee and tea

Chocolate contains naturally-occurring methylxanthines, caffeine and theobromine. The concentration of theobromine is much higher than that of caffeine, but both cause toxicity in cats (and dogs).

These chemicals act as a diuretic, causing the body to lose fluids. They are also stimulants that act directly on the nervous system and can cause the heart to race. All types of chocolate should be avoided, including dark, milk, white and cocoa powders.

Alcohol

Your feline friend can be forgiven for wanting to take a bite of Aunty Gertrude’s brandy-laced Christmas cake, but aside from the toxicity of the raisins and sultanas, the alcohol is a BIG no-no. Alcohol has the same depressant effect on cats that it does on humans, except that it takes a lot less alcohol to inflict a lot more damage – even death – on your precious purry.

If you think your cat may have lapped up a spilled beer or have had access to your wine or whiskey glass, contact your vet straight away and watch out for symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea, tremors, passing out or difficulty breathing.

Other foods your cat shouldn’t eat

  • soy and rice bran
  • spoiled or mouldy food (if it’s gone off, don’t give it to your cat)
  • hops
  • liver
  • onions
  • garlic
  • salt

While humans are omnivores, meaning we can survive on meat and vegetables, a cat is classified as an obligate carnivore, meaning they need meat to survive (and thrive).

Carbohydrates (in the form of grains and vegetables) aren’t inherently bad for cats. Rather, cats are just able to derive more energy from protein and use it more efficiently. Some cats, however, do enjoy chomping on plants every once in a while to get roughage or fibre (plus, if you’re eating it, then they also want to eat it!).

Foods cats can eat

Cooked salmon

A good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can be a delicious and tasty treat for cats and is often already found in commercial cat food. While some cat-friendly human foods can be fed to your cat raw, be sure to give them only cooked salmon.

Spinach

Full of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and K, iron and calcium, spinach can be a healthy, cat-friendly treat. However, if your cat has a history of calcium oxalate bladder stones, you should avoid giving them spinach.

Fish oils

While dog parents can feed more human food to their pets than cat parents can, fish oil is something that can benefit both species. With a variety of options, including salmon and cod liver oil, the omega 3s in fish oil can help to prevent dry skin in the winter and keep your cat’s coat healthy throughout the year.

Eggs

Another good source of protein and B vitamins, eggs can be found in many cat foods and are safe for your feline to eat. To reduce the risk of foodborne diseases, be sure to cook any eggs you feed your cat… though she may ask for scrambled rather than hardboiled!

Melon

High in antioxidants and beta-carotene, which helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, cantaloupe is one of several cat-safe fruits. Watermelon is another feline favourite.

Cheese

If your cat shows an interest in this feline-friendly food, feed them a hard cheese like cheddar, Swiss or gouda. These cheeses are high in calcium and protein and can be easily baked into treats or fed to your cat raw. Be aware, however, that cheese is a high-fat food and should only be fed in small amounts.

Other foods your cat may eat

  • banana
  • rice
  • oatmeal
  • pumpkin
  • bread
  • apples
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • peas

All human food should be fed in moderation – and the calories should be taken into consideration in your cat’s daily allowance. Also, if your cat shows a purrticular interest in a human snack on our ‘safe’ list, it’s best to check with your vet if you want to feed her this snack regularly. Keep in mind that not all cats are the same and their intake of certain food can change as they get older. A treat now and then won’t do harm, but high-quality cat food is always the best way to go.

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In summary

Foods cats shouldn’t eat

  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • coffee, tea, energy drinks
  • dairy products
  • fat trimmings
  • raw meat
  • grapes and raisins
  • onions
  • garlic

Foods cats love to eat

  • cooked skinless chicken breast
  • plain low-fat yoghurt
  • banana
  • oatmeal
  • pumpkin
  • bread
  • apples
  • blueberries and strawberries
  • peas
  • cheese
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