OK, so most cats won’t gobble up people food as ravenously as a dog. And heck, most cats will even turn their nose at foods that would cause a dog to sacrifice a limb in exchange for a nibble.
But that doesn’t mean cats will never partake in some human food, should the opportunity present itself. Actually, there is enough misinformation about cats that many people inadvertently give them foods they think are nutritious and delicious, but in actuality might send the cat’s stomach for a whirl — or maybe worse.
The following foods are best if they’re only used as treats, or kept away from your cat entirely.
There are few images more quintessentially “cat” than a group of them gathered around a saucer of milk. If these pictures were a little more honest, they’d show the aftermath of upset stomachs and diarrhea. Because, despite the cliché, cats are not equipped to handle the lactose in dairy products. This means any milk or dairy product from cows, sheep, goats, and even other cats (after they’ve been weaned as kittens) can cause digestive issues. Watch Dr. J explain more about why cats and milk just don't mix in this video:
2. Onions and Garlic
Cats should not eat onions, garlic, shallots, chives, or other foods that contain thiosulphate, a compound that can cause serious problems. When enough is eaten, the thiosulphate causes destruction of their red blood cells, a devastating condition called hemolytic anemia. Thankfully, most cats won’t go hunting for bits of onion or garlic, but they might take a few nibbles of your dinner that was cooked with onion and garlic, or sneak some onion rings off your plate when you’re not looking! You may also give it to them inadvertently in chicken or other broths that you might add to their food or water (either to encourage your cat to eat better, drink more, or just as a treat). It’s typically OK to give your cat a bit of chicken broth, but make sure it doesn’t include onions or garlic (or too much sodium).
Even small amounts of alcohol (after all, cats are pretty small) can cause a range of nasty symptoms if your cat manages to take a drink.
- Digestive upset
- Breathing troubles
Don’t leave drinks unguarded on coffee tables, etc., and promptly clean any spills before your cat gets a chance to take a taste. Seriously, it doesn’t take much more than a lick or two of alcohol to cause big problems in cats.
It’s not just dogs that have a problem with chocolate. Though less well-known, chocolate can also be toxic to cats, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, blood pressure drop, breathing troubles, and even heart failure. Cats are less likely than dogs to chomp down a toxic dose of chocolate, but it’s still best to keep it away, especially darker chocolates that contain more cocoa.
5. Grapes, Raisins, and Currants
While we know for sure that these popular fruits can cause kidney failure in some dogs, we’re still not 100% sure of the danger they pose to cats. But it’d be wise to not give your cats any grapes, raisins, or currants intentionally, and try to keep them away from your cats in general, as acute kidney failure is just too great a risk.
You might need a cup of coffee to get going in the morning, but the same amount of caffeine in your morning joe is more than enough to harm your cat. Caffeine toxicity in cats can cause:
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing difficult
It’s unlikely that a quick taste of your coffee, energy drink, or soda will cause severe issues for your cat, but raw coffee grounds and tea bags could contain enough caffeine to quickly create a problem, should your cat be so inclined to eat some.
7. Raw Meat
It can be tempting to give your cat raw meat as a way of mimicking what they would eat “in the wild.” But just because a wild cat will eat raw meat, it doesn’t mean that raw meat is necessarily safe for your cat. Uncooked meat is more likely to contain harmful disease-causing bacteria (like Salmonella and E. coli, some of which could even be resistant to antibiotics!) and parasites (like Toxoplasma and even tapeworms). If you want to home-prepare your cat’s food, or feed them a “less processed” diet, at least freeze and properly cook the meat to minimize the risks of giving your cat (and yourself) food-poisoning or a parasitic infection. (And also be sure to work with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that your cat’s diet has the correct nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other components — and that they’re in the proper amounts and balance, too.
8. Raw Dough
When eaten, the yeast contained in even a small amount of raw bread or pizza dough can quickly produce enough alcohol and carbon dioxide to cause serious problems for a cat. And the dough itself can “rise” (expand) within the cat’s stomach to a size that can require surgery to remove the digestive obstruction.
9. Cooked Tuna
As an occasional treat, tuna fish can be fine for cats. However, cats have complex dietary needs that tuna fish alone can’t fulfill. Furthermore, a strictly tuna fish diet — or a diet made mostly of tuna fish — can put your cat at risk of mercury poisoning.
10. Raw Seafood
Raw tuna, anchovies (Caesar salad anyone?), sardines, herring, carp, mussels, clams, and other water-dwelling critters contain the thiaminase enzymes, which break down and can cause a deficiency of thiamine, an important B vitamin. Fortunately, the heat from cooking these foods is enough to change the thiaminase enzymes and render them harmless.
11. Liver (raw)
A bit of liver here or there isn’t a problem for most cats. In fact, liver can be a great source of protein, iron, and several other nutrients. But you can have too much of a good thing! Liver is very high in vitamin A, and vitamin A is fat-soluble (builds up in fat cells within the body). So a cat eating too much liver for too long can build up a dangerous imbalance of vitamin A — a condition called hypervitaminosis A.
12. Raw Eggs
Along with the Salmonella risk that raw eggs can pose to cats, there’s also a protein in egg whites, called avidin. When eaten raw, avidin can block the absorption of biotin, an important B vitamin, from the intestines. However, cooking the egg whites changes the structure of avidin, rendering it harmless. (If you're trying to think why anyone would give cooked eggs to a cat, it can sometimes be a component of home-cooked diets; e.g., for allergy/elimination trials.)
Small, brittle bones — like those in chicken, turkey, and other birds — can splinter and cause serious damage to the mouth and digestive tract of cats.
14. Dog Food
While the occasional nibble from Fido’s food bowl shouldn’t cause too much trouble for your kitty, a steady diet of dog food will. Cats aren’t “small dogs” and therefore have different nutritional needs than dogs, such as a higher requirement for dietary taurine. This is an amino acid breakdown product that is critical in proper health and function of the heart, eyes, and other organs.
Are there any foods you’re concerned about feeding your cat? Ask about them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer.
Related Information About Cat Food Safety