As pet owners know all too well, it can be really hard to resist those longing stares from our dogs and cats when we’re eating something they’re just dying to get a taste of. But as a pet parent, it’s also our responsibility to know if the human food we let our furry friends eat is safe for them. This is particularly true for cats, as they have very specific nutritional needs and intolerances.
Cats should always get the bulk of their nutrition from a healthy, well-balanced cat food that is appropriate for their age/health status, and that meets strict requirements for protein, amino acids, omega-3s, and other vitamins and minerals.
But let’s face it—just like we humans can get bored with certain foods, so can our cats. Sometimes they just want a bite of what we’re enjoying. And because we love them, we want to make them happy and share.
There’s a range of human foods that cats can safely eat—and a few they absolutely need to avoid. Some may even surprise you. Here’s what you need to know.
Can Cats Eat Tuna and Other Fish?
Absolutely! Fish like tuna, sardines, and salmon are excellent sources of protein, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids, the latter of which help with everything from heart health and joint health to maintaining healthy fur and skin. In fact, a lot of commercial cat foods contain some fish for these very reasons.
A little bite of extra fish as a treat is okay, but fish shouldn’t be fed in large amounts unless it’s a part of a complete and balanced diet formulated for cats. Of course, make sure there are no bones.
Can Cats Eat Chicken and Meat?
Again, this is a big YES! Cats are hardcore carnivores and thrive on the protein and nutrients they get from meat. Beef, chicken, turkey, pork, ham, and lamb are all options your feline friend will likely gobble up. Even small amounts of lean deli meats are ok. Just make sure the meat is plain (not seasoned) and free of bones – which can obstruct their digestive tract and damage their teeth.
What about raw meat? Raw meat diets are a hot trend right now for dogs and cats, yet they remain controversial due to safety concerns.
Fortunately, you can safely provide your cat the benefits of raw meat by supplementing their diet with freeze-dried treats. Freeze-drying preserves meat and fish by removing the water content, which is what allows harmful bacteria to grow. So you get all of the good stuff and none of the worry.
While we’re on the topic of animal protein, eggs are another human food cats can eat safely—as long as they’re cooked. Along with protein, boiled or scrambled eggs are packed with amino acids, making them a super nutritious treat.
Can Cats Eat Vegetables and Fruit?
As carnivores, cats don’t really need vegetables or fruits in their diet to remain healthy. This is one reason a lot of cats turn their nose up to anything green. But if your feline is less finicky than most, try giving him zucchini – some cats love it! You might also want to try these cat-friendly veggie options (but I wouldn’t get your hopes up):
- Steamed asparagus
- Cooked/softened carrots
- Steamed green beans
- Steamed broccoli
Fruits can be an even tougher sell because cats can’t taste sweet flavors very well, so they simply don’t crave anything sweet. But, if your cat defies all this logic, some fruits you can try feeding him include melon, strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. Be sure to cut the larger fruits into small, bite-size portions.
Whole Grains Are OK, Too
Certain grains make for tasty and nutrient-packed treats for cats. Oats are easy to prepare and contain a decent amount of protein. Ground cornmeal is also good, as is rice, barley, couscous, and millet. Again, make sure the grains are fully cooked to aid in proper digestion.
The Truth About Cats & Dairy
If you think there’s nothing more normal than seeing a sweet kitty lap up a saucer of delicious milk, you’re going to be in for a big surprise: Cow’s milk is a no-no for cats!
Kittens need their mother’s milk to survive in the first few weeks of life. But as they grow (around 12 weeks of age), their bodies stop making the enzyme that’s necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in milk. So, adult cats actually become intolerant to lactose. Cats given milk may experience digestive symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and bloat, and gas.
For these reasons, milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy should not be given to your cat. There is one exception, and that’s plain, unsweetened yogurt.
Even though it is a dairy product, yogurt has live, active cultures (probiotics) that break down the lactose into lactic acid through the process of fermentation. This makes it much easier to digest. (Just to be on the safe side, though, give your cat a lick or two and wait up to a day to see if he has any sort of reaction to it.)
While yogurt should never be considered an “essential” part of your cat’s diet, there are some upsides to giving it as a treat once in a while. Yogurt contains calcium which can help keep bones and teeth strong, as well as probiotics, which have been shown to have a positive impact on the health and general well-being of both dogs and cats.1 And even though the amount of calcium and probiotics in a spoonful or two of yogurt is unlikely to make a significant difference in your cat’s health, every little bit helps!
Foods to Avoid Giving Your Cat
Along with milk, steer clear of sharing these other foods with your feline, as they’re toxic and can cause some serious health problems. (If you’re also a “pooch parent,” you’ll recognize a lot of these foods are dangerous for dogs, too.)
- Grapes & raisins
- Bread dough
Human Foods Should Be Treated as…Treats
In closing, it’s important to remember that human food should never replace proper cat food. It should always be considered a treat.
And just as you wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) eat treats in place of your regular balanced diet every day, neither should your cat. Felines are prone to obesity or digestive concerns if they overindulge in anything outside of their normal diet. Treats should never make up more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories. However, you definitely don’t have to reject those sweet stares and silent pleas for a human snack all the time, just practice extreme moderation.
*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners
- Grześkowiak L, et al. Microbiota and probiotics in canine and feline welfare. Anaerobe. 2015 Aug;34:14-23.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.