Rhubarb is a very common sight in many yards and in grocery stores. It’s used primarily in desserts or jams and is considered a delicacy to many people.
Those who have them growing in the yard can note that they don’t require any care whatsoever and taste really good. But if you’re making up a batch of crumble, can you share it with your begging feline? Can cats eat rhubarb?
Short answer: No. Rhubarb, both the leaves and the stalk, are very toxic to cats (as well as dogs and horses).
Do Cats Like Rhubarb?
Fortunately, cats aren’t likely to care too much about rhubarb. The leaves are far too bitter to attract them, and the rhubarb stalk itself is a plant and cats don’t generally try to eat plants except out of boredom or to induce vomiting (and then they’ll usually go after grass).
Even cooking rhubarb is unlikely to attract a cat’s serious attention. The fact that rhubarb has to be cooked with a lot of sugar before most people will eat it means that cats will still just taste the rhubarb which may not very pleasant to them, and the high sugar content can cause health problems.
If you do have a cat with more curiosity than sense, it’s important to keep your rhubarb away from your cat by using a fence or finding other ways to keep your cat away, so that your cat doesn’t try to nibble on it and poison itself.
Do Cats Hate Rhubarb?
Most cats probably will not even go near rhubarb, so the argument could certainly be made that they don’t like it. Cats tend to have a good sense of which foods are truly toxic to them and will avoid them. I’ve never had a cat show the slightest interest in rhubarb, not even plants outside.
Can Rhubarb Kill My Cat?
Rhubarb absolutely can kill your cat, though most of the time, it will make your cat very uncomfortable and build up to long-term damage. Liver damage is the most common thing which causes a pile of other problems for cats and can easily lead to their death over time.
Rhubarb is toxic to cats because it has a lot of soluble oxalates. It’s largely concentrated in the massive leaves, which is why they are considered poisonous even to humans, (though you’d have to eat a lot of leaves or eat them over a long period of time to suffer the ill effects), but there’s also enough in the stalks to cause a cat harm.
Soluble oxalates are absorbed into the body and then they bind with the calcium in the blood. This causes hypocalcemia as well as a residue that damages the kidneys.
Symptoms of low calcium in the blood include:
- Diarrhea, vomiting, reduced appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Lack of coordination
- Disorientation and restlessness
- Kidney failure
These symptoms are more likely to come up if your cat eats the leaves of a rhubarb plant, but they have been seen in cats eating the stalks as well, so nothing about the rhubarb is ‘safe’.
Rhubarb leaves can even cause this in humans if enough is eaten and of course, a cat is much smaller, so it won’t take nearly as much to cause this effect. (Dogs, horses, and other livestock suffer from this as well. Curiously, wild herbivores like deer, do not).
Cooking the rhubarb can help to greatly decrease the number of soluble oxalates in rhubarb, to the point where technically speaking, a nibble is probably safe for your cat. However, rhubarb is also very high in fiber and so can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in your cat: indigestion, diarrhea, and stomach aches being the most common issues.
And considering how most rhubarb is cooked down with a lot of sugar, it’s still no good for your cat to eat because of the sugars! If your cat is particularly sensitive to foods, cooking the rhubarb may still not make it safe enough, so it’s best to just avoid it entirely.
Although rhubarb is high in vitamin C and K, manganese, calcium, and fiber, all of which (aside from the vitamin C) are things that are beneficial to cats, the toxicity means that you’re far better off getting your cat to eat their own food and get the nutrition they need from that.
And if your cat is the type to eat anything, make sure your rhubarb is sequestered from your pet so that you don’t end up with an abrupt and potentially costly run to the vet.
How Much Rhubarb Is Safe for My Cat to Eat?
Rhubarb poisoning is more commonly seen in livestock that graze on the leaves and end up eating far too much. The average cat, on the other hand, is likely going to avoid eating it entirely or will only eat a nibble and then back off due to the flavor.
With that in mind, should you immediately worry if you catch your cat eat a nibble of the rhubarb plant?
It’s best to at least give your vet a call and monitor your cat for symptoms. It could be a nibble that won’t do anything to your cat except give it a very bad taste in its mouth, but depending on the size of the cat, the size of the nibble, and the sensitivity of your pet, you could find that your cat has an irritated mouth or stomach problems that you can at least talk to your vet about.
It’s very important to discourage your cat from going near your rhubarb by doing things like having a fence around it, keeping your cat engaged in play, and stifling boredom, and by keeping them well away.
Some cats simply don’t get the hint the first time they do something dangerous! (I have been joking – sort of – lately that I have two toddlers; my human one and my newest cat who is only three and acts more like a kitten still and that means spending time chasing them both away from danger, often the same danger many times!), meaning you’ll have to take more drastic measures to dissuade them from the rhubarb.
While rhubarb is a great treat for humans and quite healthy besides, it’s a terrible thing to give your cat. They probably won’t even like it and it can make them quite sick.
Leave the rhubarb crumble for the humans to eat and feed your cat their own treats that they will love and won’t make them sick.
Do you have to chase your cat away from the rhubarb plants?