The big eyes….
The loud purrs…
The demanding meow….
Yep, your cat is mooching again!
Cat food (dry and canned), as well as cat treats, are specially formulated for cats to meet their unique nutritional needs. However, much like humans enjoy eating things that aren’t too good for them, cats also enjoy partaking in food beyond what’s in their food dish. And we humans enjoy letting our cats eat them. Is there anything more well-known as a ‘cute’ image than a cat licking up cream? Or a cat begging for turkey and happily eating it? Or a cat licking peanut butter?
We thought not!
Assuming you are a conscientious cat owner, it may have crossed your mind to wonder whether that human food your cat longs for is actually good for them, junk food equivalent, or downright bad for their health (or even likely to make them sick). Cats have very particular nutritional needs after all and not meeting those needs, or trying to replace those needs with something else, can lead to a very ill cat.
Well, we have gathered together a lot of information about cats and what they can and cannot eat if you’re looking to share some of your dinner or snacks with your pet. But before we start brushing on some of that, let’s look at what cats are meant to be eating and what to watch out for in general when it comes to making sure your cat’s needs are met.
Cats Are Obligate Carnivores
The main thing to keep in mind is that cats are obligate carnivores. This means that all of their nutrition is meant to come from, you guessed it: meat. Cats are not built to be vegetarians or vegans; their digestive system cannot process fruits or vegetables, even though they may enjoy chewing on things like grass. Cats that have been forced onto a vegan or vegetarian diet end up quite ill and may die of it because they aren’t getting the nutrients they need.
Primarily, cats require:
- Protein from meat. Protein is absolutely required as it’s what they use to break down carbohydrates into energy. Without protein, they will break down their own muscles and organs and die
- Vitamin A from the pre-formed state, not from beta-carotene (from meat in other words)
Cats have a very short digestive tract, and they don’t produce the bacteria that plant-eaters have to break down vegetation. They produce their own vitamin C, so there’s no need for that addition, and calcium and other minerals come from eating meat and now, quality cat food. (Protein can also come from eating bugs, though some bugs can cause cats digestive issues, so keep that in mind before relying on them for pest control).
Cats Don’t Get Enough Water
Cats are notorious for not drinking enough water to meet their needs. This is largely because of how they drink water – lapping it up may look cute, but it’s not terribly efficient. Cats do this though so that they can keep an eye on their surroundings and make sure nothing is sneaking upon them. For this reason, a lot of their water needs are met through the consumption of meat.
Domestic cats get much of their water from wet cat food, as well as from keeping their water bowl topped up and placed somewhere quiet so that the cat can drink peacefully. A cat living solely off dry food without good access to water will quickly become dehydrated which can cause kidney damage. Cats that are diabetic also feel thirsty a lot more than healthy cats, giving you an indication of your cat’s health.
Cats are Lactose Intolerant
Cats licking up cream and milk is cute (and they often like it); however, their bodies do not like it.
Up until about 12 weeks of age, cats can handle the lactose found in milk because they are drinking their mother’s milk (or a substitute if the mother is unable to nurse). After 12 weeks of age, as a kitten shifts to eating more solid food, its digestive system loses the ability to break down the proteins in milk and by about a year of age or so, cats become lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance in cats generally manifests as:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Sometimes vomiting
While cats will still sometimes go for things like milk and cream, it really doesn’t end well for them when it comes time to use the litter box or to feel comfortable later. They often ‘never learn’ though, so it falls on humans to keep dairy products away from them.
Some cats can handle it fine and a better substitute is yogurt or cheese. These things tend to be tolerated better by cats but should still only be used as an occasional treat, not something they eat every day.
If you want to try your cat on milk, only give them a small (a tablespoon or two) amount and then monitor the litter box to see if they had a reaction. Even if your cat did not though, it’s still a good idea to greatly limit their intake as cats don’t get much nutrition out of milk anyway. And cow’s milk is not appropriate to give to kittens as there is too much lactase and they cannot get all of the nutrition they need from it. Instead, use kitten formula if the kitten cannot nurse.
So, What Can Cats Eat?
We’ve gone over some of the basics of do’s and do not’s (Do not feed dairy, veggies, or fruits and do feed high-quality protein-based cat food) and in this site, we will go into greater detail on some of the most common foods we get asked about. These include:
- Can cats eat ice cream? (no)
- Can cats eat strawberries (yes, in small amounts)
- Can cats eat peanut butter (yes, in moderation)
- Can cats eat plants (mostly no, but with some exceptions)
There will be a ton of information here on all different sorts of human foods that cats may want to go after, but if you cannot find your particular food on here, keep in mind a few general things:
- A cat’s diet should be primarily made up of protein-based foods, whether that be good quality cat food or responsibly sourced raw meat (from a quality butcher and with no bones or skin)
- A cat needs a good supply of water
- Cats should have as little sugar as possible (preferably none)
- Cats should have as little salt as possible
- ‘Treats’ (i.e., anything that isn’t their usual cat food) should make up no more than 5-10% of their calorie requirements. This means that, for example, if your cat should have 200 calories per day, their treats intake should only be 10-20 calories.
- Cats tend to be lactose intolerant, from very mild to severe
- Cats cannot get any nutrition from vegetables or fruits or grains
And of course, let us know if you want us to do a write-up on a particular food that you are curious about!
A cat that is properly fed and helped to stay healthy can live a long time. All of my cats have easily cleared fifteen years of age (indeed, my current cat is 15 and shows no sign of dying any time soon). What a cat eats is an especially important part of keeping them healthy and while it may be fun to let them eat what you eat; you’ll quickly find that they become overweight and unhealthy.
Check back on our various guides to see what’s safe to eat, what’s not safe to eat, and in what kind of quantities, and remember that all human food are treats, no matter how healthy they seem they should be!
Please enjoy our guides to what a cat can eat and let us know if there’s any food that you would like to know about!
- How Long Should Kittens Eat Kitten
- When to Feed Kittens Wet Food?
- How Long Can Cats Go Without Eating?
- What Do Cats Eat in the Wild?
- Can Cats Have Chocolate Ice Cream?
- Can Cats Eat Turkey Cold Cuts?
- Why Do Cats Like Milk so Much?
- What Can I Feed a Stray Cat Besides Cat Food?
- Can a Cat Go 24 Hours Without Food?
- Why Do Cats Like Fish?
- My Cat Ate a Raisin. Should I Be Worried?
- Best Grain-free Cat Foods 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- Best Cat Food For Sensitive Stomach 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- Best Dewormers For Cats 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- Best Dry Cat Food 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- Best Automatic Cat Feeders 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- Best Cat Water Fountains 2020: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide
- What Kind of Milk Can Cats Drink?