Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Compared to dogs, when most people think of cats, they don’t imagine them begging for scraps at the table or going after the foods on your plate. However, as most cat parents know to be true, felines can be just as persistent and forward when it comes to human food as their canine cousins can be. The question is, are there foods that cats shouldn’t eat or that are dangerous for them to eat? On the flipside, are there foods that are healthy and nutritious for your pet?
Here’s the thing, our cats are not all that different from ourselves in many ways. They have parallel organs and body systems, suffer from analogous diseases, and can respond roughly the same to various drugs and foods. With that said, however, it can be tricky when it comes to feeding our cats because our nutritional needs are very different. Certain foods that we eat regularly or that are healthy for us can lead to problems with your pet’s digestive system and even cause damage.
Read this article to learn more about human food for cats and what types of things make healthy snacks and what things don’t.
Feeding Your Cat
Proper nutrition is critical to keeping your furry friend healthy and ensuring they have a long, enjoyable life. For that reason, most people choose to feed their pets food made specifically for cats. High quality cat foods are designed specifically to give your pet all the nutrients, proteins, fats, and vitamins they require to stay active and healthy. They are nutritionally complete and offer your feline everything they need in a way that’s easy to consume and digest.
Additionally, the other benefit of using food designed for cats is that you can be sure they are getting the right nutrients for their particular age and activity level. Often, cat foods will indicate that they are for kittens, adult animals, or elderly animals, and also may have different products for animals that have varying levels of energy output.
With all that said, though, it doesn’t mean that you can’t give your friend a treat from your table or pantry once in a while in addition to their everyday food. Follow our tips for the dos and don’ts of human food for cats.
Good Human Foods for Cats
There are several foods that cats love and that can be nutritious healthy snacks when they are behaving extra well or you just feel like spoiling them. It’s important to keep in mind that cats are usually more of hardline carnivores than their dog pet siblings, who tend to be open to eating nearly anything off the table. Cats can’t digest fibrous foods as easily as more omnivorous dogs can.
- Salmon – Though not all cat stereotypes are always true, you’ll probably be hard pressed to find a cat who doesn’t enjoy fish. Salmon is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids for your animal, and is often found in commercial cat food. When feeding salmon to your pet, Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, suggests always cooking it thoroughly.
- Chicken – Chicken serves as both a tasty treat and a lean source of protein for your little friend. It’s important, however, to always fully cook the meat and ensure that all the skin is removed, as the skin can be fatty and upset your pet’s digestive system.
- Eggs – Cooked eggs are an excellent source of protein and B vitamins and are a safe, tasty treat that most cats greatly enjoy. In fact, eggs are an ingredient in many commercial cat foods.
- Spinach – Spinach is full of vitamins and minerals and is a healthy snack for both humans and their felines. Always wash the leaves first and avoid giving to cats that have a history of calcium oxalate bladder stones.
- Other Vegetables – If your cat enjoys spinach, then there are several other healthy vegetables you can try with them. Vegetables that are safe and nutritious for felines include peas, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, and green beans.
- Other Meats – Additional meats that can be safely fed to your pet include canned fish, turkey, lean beef, lamb, and lean deli meats. Always make sure the meat is plain without skin or seasoning and that it is fully cooked.
Human Foods to Avoid with Your Cat
There are certain foods that you should avoid at all costs, as they can be harmful and potentially dangerous for your cat. Please note, that this list only contains highlights and is not exhaustive.
- Onions and garlic – Onions and garlic in all forms (fresh, dry, cooked, raw, powdered) can break down your cat’s red blood cells, leading to anemia and other life threatening health problems.
- Dairy products – Although cats are known for liking milk, most felines are lactose intolerant. For this reason, milk, cheese, and other dairy products can lead to digestive problems, gas, and diarrhea.
- Grapes and raisins – It’s not completely understood why, but grapes and raisins can lead to kidney issues and even failure in cats. It only takes a small amount to make your cat sick. Repeated vomiting and hyperactivity are early signs of illness, however some cats do not show any ill symptoms after eating grapes and raisins.
- Chocolate – Similar to in dogs, chocolate can be lethal for cats. The toxic agent contained within it is called theobromine and is most heavily concentrated in both dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate.
- Alcohol – This one may be obvious, but alcohol has a similar effect on our cats that it does on ourselves. The difference is that it takes far less to cause our pets damage, poisoning, and death than it does for humans.
- Caffeine – Although this should be another obvious one, caffeine in large enough quantities can be fatal for cats. Symptoms of caffeine poisoning include restlessness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, and muscle tremors.
Introducing Human Foods to Cats
When trying any new foods with your animal, expect them to have a little bit of gastrointestinal upset. Their bodies will need time to adjust and get used to it, so you should always begin with very modest quantities. Avoid potentially dangerous foods and try giving them a variety of healthy foods so you can learn what they like and don’t like. Talk to your vet for any specific food related questions.