The origins of the granola bar are uncertain at best. The granola bar is widely credited to Stanley Mason, a renaissance man of invention, responsible in part for microwaveable cookware, disposable diapers, squeezable condiment bottles, and a host of other items that are currently not biodegrading in landfills worldwide. No matter who invented it, there is no dispute that the granola bar exists. I just had one myself while my cat stared at me.
The Whole Grains Council, an American nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the uses and benefits of whole grains, is at the vanguard of celebrating Jan. 21, 2015, as National Granola Bar Day. Granola bars are great for humans as quick, handy, portable sources of energy. But the very qualities and ingredients that help us through the morning, or create a nutrition bridge to dinner when we’re working, are the things that make them unhealthy and potentially dangerous to our cats. Here are three reasons why:
The principal ingredients of granola bars are whole grains such as rolled oats and puffed rice. Grains are not toxic, in themselves, to cats, but as grains, they do not tend to be part of a cat’s regular food intake. A cat’s digestive system is not built to process or break down the nutrients in whole grains effectively. In the wild, or on a particularly profitable Caturday, your cat may consume partially digested grains that they encounter in the stomach of an unwitting bird or rodent.
You may be one of the two million people who have seen this video of a cat eating corn right off the cob. A quick glance at a bag of standard dry cat food reveals that ground yellow corn, itself in the grain family, makes up at least some part of my cat’s daily food intake. Cats, of course, can eat whole grains, but the way they’re presented in commercially available cat foods are rendered specifically to be easily digestible by cats. The ways they are prepared for granola bars are not.
Granola itself, as cold or hot cereal, and the plainest granola bars contain only these basic, whole grain ingredients. Most granola bars you find at the store are designed, not only for human digestion, but also for human palates. They regularly contain fruit and nuts in an effort to unite health and dietary benefits with a pleasing taste. It is known, though the reasons remain obscure, that raisins are toxic to many housepets, cats included. Any granola treat containing raisins should be avoided by cats.
This caution extends to granola bars that include a variety of nuts in their ingredient lists. Aside from containing potential allergens like peanuts, other nuts commonly found in granola bars, like walnuts, pecans, and almonds, have a higher fat content than a cat requires.
Combine this with sugar, salt, honey, and other artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and you have a bar that may be healthy for you, but is a minefield of digestive upset for your cat. These sweeteners are exaggerated in granola bars that are coated with chocolate. The issue of cats, dogs, and chocolate toxicity is well-trodden ground, appearing in nearly every holiday-themed list of pet hazards.
Cats derive most of their nutritional needs from animal-based proteins and fats. They have a limited need for, and a limited ability to utilize plant- or grain-based carbohydrates. The issue is not the presence of carbohydrates in what a cat eats, but the ratio of carbs to the rest of their diet. Excessive carbohydrates come not only from the ingredients of dry cat food, but from our cats’ easy access to it, further complicated by sedentary lives.
Granola bars contain a high volume of carbohydrates, which is why they are good for people looking for a short-term energy boost. For cats, grain-based carbohydrates are more problematic. A cat’s pancreas does not produce the enzymes needed to digest massive amounts of carbs. Cats who eat carbohydrate-rich foods can easily overtax their pancreas. Over time, this can lead to obesity and a host of associated disorders, including arthritis, pancreatitis, and diabetes.
If you have a kitten or senior cat, it is best they avoid granola bars completely. A kitten’s digestive habits and immune system are still in the process of developing, making them less resilient to potential allergic reactions or to digestive distress. Senior cats have well-established routines. Introducing new or unfamiliar foods to very young or very old cats can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, or constipation.
In short, if you must experiment with your cats’ digestive health and overall well-being by feeding them granola bars, or any other whole grain treat, make sure you give them only a very small portion. Wait to see, over the next day or so, if there are any adverse affects on the quality, consistency, and ease of your cat’s excretory habits.
Celebrate National Granola Bar Day as the spirit moves you, but remember: It’s advisable to keep these treats away from your feline friends!
Learn more about cat nutrition with Catster: