Sweet potatoes are healthy and filling treats for humans, and they are often given to dogs for the same reasons. In fact, they are found in commercial dog food as a means of providing nutrition and meeting certain nutritional requirements for canines. But does the story change for cats? Are sweet potatoes also a good source of nutrition for felines, or should they avoid them?
When cooked, sweet potatoes are not considered toxic or poisonous to cats. This means it is safe for cats to eat this food, though it may not provide any nutritional benefits and could lead to longer-term health issues for your cat.
Sweet Potato Benefits
Sweet potatoes are surprisingly regular additions to commercial cat foods, and brands including Purina regularly include this ingredient in their cat food ingredient list. In these cases, it is claimed that the high rates of antioxidants and high fiber are beneficial to the cat. Most feline nutritionists, however, claim that there is little to no benefit in feeding sweet potatoes to an obligate carnivore like a cat.
Not Species Appropriate for Obligate Carnivores
Sweet potatoes might be beneficial to dogs, but cats and dogs are very different. While dogs can eat some fruits and vegetables along with meat, cats are strictly obligate carnivores.
Obligate carnivores eat meat and do not eat other foods unless found in the stomach of their prey.
Cats need to get their nutrition mostly from protein derived from meat sources, and while some vegetables do provide protein, they are not considered a complete protein source for cats. Feeding cats protein derived from vegetables also means they will get less of this essential macronutrient from meat sources. Moreover, sweet potatoes are mainly a source of carbohydrates, and since a cat’s diet should contain minimal carbohydrate levels, they do not make sense as an addition.
A species-appropriate diet is one that an animal species would enjoy when living in the wild. It meets the nutritional requirements of the species and helps ensure that they get everything that they need in their diet without eating foods that they shouldn’t.
A species-appropriate diet for a cat would consist primarily of small animals and rodents. They would eat mice, the occasional rabbit, and possibly young chicks. They would rarely eat fish and would never eat grain, and only 1% or 2% of their diet would be fruits, vegetables, and grass.
Sweet Potato Pitfalls
Although sweet potatoes are not considered toxic for cats, they can have long-term negative effects:
How Do You Prepare Sweet Potatoes for Cats?
Sweet potatoes are not toxic. They can be fed as treats in very small amounts, though they offer almost no nutritional benefit to your cat and if fed in excess, may cause stomach upset.
If you do intend to feed this food to your cats, you should cook them first. Although raw sweet potatoes are not toxic, they are more likely to give your cat diarrhea and stomach complaints.
Boil the sweet potato. Do not fry it, and always avoid feeding your cat processed foods that are prepared for human consumption because these can incorporate additional ingredients that are unsafe for your feline.
Are Sweet Potatoes Toxic to Cats?
When improperly stored, sweet potatoes can become moldy and may contain a furanoterpenoid toxin. Known as Ipomeamarone, this toxin accumulates in damaged or rotting sweet potatoes. It has been reported to be toxic to the liver, kidneys, and lungs of cows and experimental animals. Cooking or baking does not destroy this toxin. While no study has been done specifically on cats, chances are that cats can also become intoxicated by ingesting moldy sweet potatoes.
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Can Cats Eat Sweet Potatoes?
Strictly speaking, cats can eat sweet potatoes because the unspoiled ones are not toxic. However, although it provides some fiber and protein, this ingredient is mainly a carbohydrate source and is therefore not considered beneficial to cats. It does not meet the nutritional profile for cat food because the cat is an obligate carnivore, and a species-specific diet would be made up primarily of meat and meat-based products.
Although unspoiled sweet potato is not toxic to cats, it has an increased likelihood of giving your cat diarrhea, so if you must feed sweet potato to your cats, it is best to boil it and then feed them a very limited amount.
Never feed your cat a sweet potato that has any indications of spoilage, as it might contain a furanoterpenoid toxin. That goes for humans too! While we do not have cat- or human-specific studies, this is simply a risk not worth taking.
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