- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
From hamburgers to garden salads, food not only provides great sustenance—it’s also a way we socialize with one another. Whether you’re baking your family’s secret cookie recipe or enjoying happy hour snacks with friends, food is life. And you may want your furry family member to partake in the festivities.
Our variety of food is essential in regards to a human’s diet, but cats have different digestive systems. Some “human foods” are non-toxic or even beneficial to a cat’s diet, while other foods could cause temporary or permanent issues to a cat’s delicate immune system.
Here’s what you need to know about cats eating human foods.
Can Cats Eat Human Food?
It depends. Cats are born and bred obligate carnivores, so the food we eat as omnivores doesn’t have the same benefits for felines. In the wild, cats get most of their diet from birds, vermin, and even insects, which all have essential amino acids that optimize a cat’s digestive system.
Historically, cats have always been particularly sensitive to smell, and may sometimes seem picky eating their food. Domesticated cats tend to like their regular food routines, and changing it up may confuse your cat. Therefore, introducing your cat to new human foods may have a mixed outcome, depending on your cat’s personality.
Fruits vs. Vegetables
Filled to the brim with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, fruits and veggies are a no-brainer when it comes to human nutrition. Unlike our omnivore diet, cats aren’t naturally drawn to fruit. They even lack taste receptors for sweetness. However, they may like it due to its crunchy or interesting texture.
Though most fruit is non-toxic, having too much sugar in a cat’s diet can cause digestive or diabetic issues over time. It is ultimately recommended not to feed cats fruit in large quantities, especially as a meal replacement.
However, there are some fruits your cat should stay clear of:
- Citrus (all citrus contains some level of citric acid, which can cause central nervous system issues in large enough doses; it causes stomach upset in smaller amounts, according to the ASPCA)
- Grapes/Raisins/Currants (toxic and/or a choking hazard to cats, according to the ASPCA)
- Coconut or coconut oil (technically a seed, but we’ll include it here—coconut can cause an upset stomach in cats, per the ASPCA)
Vegetables are a different story. Gary Richter, DVM, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California and Holistic Veterinary Care, tells Rover, “Pet owners can always try to give vegetables to cats in food or treats. Not all will eat them,” Dr. Richter says. “There certainly are good nutrients in vegetables when part of a balanced meal.”
These veggies are not toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA:
- Celery (they love the crunch!)
- Green bell peppers
- Spinach (Filled with vitamins A, C, and K!)
- Peas (Often found in many prepackaged foods for cats and dogs as a vitamin-filled addition)
- Pumpkin (Pumpkin is used often as a way to get fiber in your cat’s diet)
Remember, your cat is still a carnivore, so use these alternative foods sparingly. Replacing full meals with veggies will deprive your cat of vital nutrients found in properly formulated cat food. “The large majority of what cats eat should be a balanced diet,” Dr. Richter says. “In general, treats are not balanced and should not make up a significant portion of their daily intake.”
Grains and Cereals
Due to cats’ carnivorous nature, carbohydrates only make up 10% of their diet. Bread, cereals, and other grain-like snacks tend to be non-toxic to cats as long as they’re cooked thoroughly, just in case they take a curious bite.
Like fruit, bread and cereals should not replace their regular protein-based meals, as they process in a cat’s digestive system like sugar and may lead to long term health issues like diabetes.
According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, symptoms of feline diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst
- Constant urination
- Lack of appetite
- Inability to jump
If you’re worried about your cat’s carbohydrate intake in general, consider checking the food labels that you’ve been feeding your cat. Some cat meals and treats may have an excess amount of sugar, grains, or carbohydrates.
If you sense your cat is acting strange from digesting too many carbohydrates, contact your primary veterinarian immediately.
Eggs and Dairy
When we think of cats in children’s books and cartoons, we think of cats drinking a giant saucer of milk. Interestingly, much like humans, many cats tend to be lactose intolerant. Experts suggest that while a little cream or milk won’t hurt a cat (and it’s true, they do love it!), many cats lack the enzymes essential for breaking down lactose.
Eggs, on the other hand, are totally safe to eat, as long as they’re cooked thoroughly. Many people scramble an egg and add it to a cat’s daily diet as a way to get more protein easily. Eggs also happen to be naturally part of a carnivorous diet. Dr. Richter explains, “Cats are carnivores so animal protein is critical to their good health. Cat foods should be predominantly made up of animal products.”
Meats and Protein
We know cats were born to eat animals, but some meats are definitely healthier than others. According to PetMD, lean meats like turkey or chicken are acceptable, but processed meats like pepperoni or salami have a high sodium content. Make sure all meat is cooked thoroughly to avoid any food-borne illness. If you think your cat digested any raw or toxic food, call the Pet Poison Helpline, or your local animal hospital.
At the end of the day, remember that cats enjoy a routine, and their stomachs may not always appreciate variety. Testing out different foods occasionally is fine, but you don’t want them to miss out on essential nutrients found in cat food.