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Can Cats Eat BBQ Sauce? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Can Cats Eat BBQ SAUCE
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Kathryn Copeland

Vet approved

	Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Firing up your grill for a barbecue dinner, lunch, or snack is a delicious way to enjoy a meal. However, most barbecues typically involve cooking meat, which is likely to interest your cat. Most meat, particularly if it isn’t seasoned, is safe for cats, but what if your cat runs off with a chicken leg that’s been slathered with BBQ sauce?

Is BBQ sauce safe for cats to eat? The short answer is no. BBQ sauce is full of ingredients that are not good for cats, so it’s best if you keep it away from your cat. It isn’t necessarily toxic, but that does depend on the sauce and its ingredients.

Here, we look at barbecue sauce in more detail and what might happen if your cat does eat any.

divider-catclaw1A Little About BBQ Sauce

There’s a reason that barbecue sauce is only meant for humans and not for our pets. It’s all in the ingredients. The typical BBQ sauce usually contains the following:

  • Tomato paste
  • Vinegar
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Brown sugar
  • Molasses
  • Liquid smoke
  • Onion powder
  • Spices and seasonings
  • Salt

These ingredients and seasonings depend on the region, if you purchase it in a store, or if it’s homemade, but most BBQ sauces contain a variation of these items. How harmful the sauce is for your cat ultimately depends on what ingredients are in it.

Let’s look at what the bad ingredients for cats are and what happens if a cat eats too much.

Ripe tomatoes on a table
Image Credit: Devanath, Pixabay

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Cats and BBQ Sauce

Here are the more harmful ingredients for cats that are sometimes in BBQ sauce.

Onions and Garlic

Both of these ingredients are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. The ASPCA lists onions and garlic and anything in this family, such as leeks and shallots, as poisonous for cats. Under no circumstances should your cat be given anything that contains these vegetables or seasonings.

When a cat ingests onions or garlic, the red blood cells in their body experience oxidative damage, which can lead to anemia.

Symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Unable to exercise
  • Pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Collapse

Garlic and onions can also cause gastroenteritis, which can lead to:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Mouth irritation

If you know that your cat has eaten anything with onions or garlic in it, you should contact your vet immediately, as symptoms may not show up for a few days. So, even if your cat seems okay after eating anything with these ingredients, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe.

onion bulb-pixabay
Credit: mattycoulton, Pixabay


The Pet Poison Helpline lists salt as toxic to cats because too much of it can lead to salt poisoning. The signs of too much salt are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of balance
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Too much salt can be quite serious and cats have a much lower tolerance for salt than humans.


Most BBQ sauces contain sugar, molasses, or other sweeteners. Too much sugar for cats can potentially lead to excess empty calories and weight gain. Treats with a little bit of sugar should be okay, but they shouldn’t become a regular thing. Cats can’t even taste anything that’s sweet, so it’s not worth the health risks.

Regarding artificial sweeteners, Xylitol is a popular sweetener that is toxic for dogs, though it seems that it isn’t as bad for cats. Still, it would be safest to keep anything sweet away from your kitty.

sugar cubes
Image Credit: pasja1000, Pixabay

Spicy Seasonings

Anything spicy can potentially cause stomach upset in cats, which might include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal tract irritation.

Tomato paste makes up the main base of most BBQ sauces, and while ripe tomatoes are not considered toxic, tomatoes still might cause mild stomach upset.

Likewise, vinegar itself isn’t toxic, but it is capable of burning the mucous membranes of your cat’s digestive tract if ingested without dilution.

Barbecue Safety

Beyond keeping your cat away from BBQ sauce, there are other hazards around barbecues. First, meat bones tend to splinter after they’ve been cooked, so if your cat eats a bone, it can lead to punctures in their digestive tracts. There’s also the risk of choking if these small bones get stuck in the teeth, mouth, or throat.

The other risk is food that hasn’t been cooked properly, and just like us, cats are susceptible to salmonella, E. coli, and listeria poisoning.

If your cat hangs out with you outside while you’re grilling, keep an eye on sharp objects, cooking fluids (if any), and any paraphernalia, such as aluminum foil, all of which can be hazardous to any pet that swallows them. There’s also the possibility of burns.

The moment that your cat eats something that they shouldn’t or if they get injured in some way, be sure to contact the emergency clinic or vet as soon as possible.


In the long run, your best bet is to keep your cat away from barbecues. If your cat ends up eating a small amount of BBQ sauce, it won’t likely be harmful, but you don’t want to make this a regular habit because there’s nothing healthy about it for them.

Cats need a balanced diet with specific nutrients, and BBQ foods generally will not fulfill their requirements. Also, there are far too many ingredients in most BBQ sauces that could make your cat sick.

If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s diet, speak to your vet, as you’ll be given advice and guidance on the best ways to provide your cat with ideal meals and treats. After all, our kitties definitely deserve good and healthy treats every once in a while!

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

About the Author

Kathryn Copeland
Kathryn Copeland
Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.

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