Can My Cat Eat That? A Quick Primer on Human Food and Cats


September is Food Safety Education Month, so it’s the perfect time to round up the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about which foods are dangerous for cats and which are OK to feed them.

We all know about the dangers of onions and garlic, chocolate, grapes and raisins, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and so on, but there are some foods about which there’s a lot of contradictory information.

The information I’ve compiled here has been drawn from books and websites composed and reviewed by veterinarians, as well as from discussions with no fewer than four veterinarians who have helped me take care of my own cats. However, if you have any concerns about foods that are safe for your cat, please talk to your own veterinarian.

1. Raw meat: Yes

Cats have evolved over the millennia to be obligate carnivores. They have exceptionally strong stomach acid and short digestive tracts, both of which minimize the risk of food-borne infections such as Salmonella. You, on the other hand, should be careful when handling raw meat and be sure to sanitize any surfaces used to prepare it.

2. Bones: Yes and no

Cats should never, ever eat cooked bones: They can splinter when chewed and puncture your furry friend’s digestive tract. Cats’ digestive systems can handle raw meat bones, on the other hand; otherwise, cats wouldn’t be able to eat whole mice without getting deathly ill.

3. Tuna: Very rarely

Tuna can be "addictive" to cats and, according to one of my vets, can change the pH of urine and contribute to urinary crystals. Tuna also does not have sufficient taurine to meet feline nutritional needs and the imbalance of calcium and phosphorous can lead to bone disease. Given the high level of mercury found in tuna, it’s best to avoid feeding it on a daily basis.

4. Cow milk: Yes, but …

If your cats are like mine, they’ll do just about anything to get their teeth on some delicious fatty dairy products. Unfortunately, most cats have some degree of lactose intolerance, which can lead to diarrhea. Cow milk isn’t dangerous, but the consequences are not fun for you or your cat.

5. Fat trimmings from meat: No

Cats will gladly eat all the fat trimmings you want to give them, but it’s best not to feed them to your furry friend. Eating fat trimmings can raise the level of lipids in the blood and lead to pancreatitis, a painful and potentially fatal condition in which digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas begin digesting the pancreas itself rather than food in the intestines.

One quick note: This article was written with the assumption that the cat eating these foods is healthy and has a normal immune system. If you have any questions about whether these foods are safe for your particular cat, please consult with your veterinarian.

Are there other foods whose safety you wonder about? Ask your questions in the comments!

Read more about cats and toxic substances:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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