Have you ever stepped away while prepping food for just one moment only to turn around and see your cat has eaten something you left out? Do you maybe live with children and know they are handing small bits of food to your cat, and you’ve never had a problem, but you still wonder just how okay it is for them to eat what they’re sneaking?
Some human foods are safer than others for cats to eat, and there are general guidelines to follow when feeding cats anything outside their normal diet, so we will help you identify the big no-nos, the foods okay in moderation or by accident items, and the human foods that might benefit your cat to eat.
What Are Cats Supposed to Eat?
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they meet their nutritional requirements by eating animal-based proteins: meat.
While domestic cats don’t have “wild” populations, feral or outdoor dwelling cats usually eat several small meals throughout the day made up mostly of small rodents, though insects, frogs, fish, and birds can also be a part of their diet.
In addition to meat, cats can eat carbohydrates, but the more carbohydrates they consume, the less digestible the rest of their diet becomes, leading to potential nutritional deficiencies and other health concerns.
Cats over 7 weeks of age rapidly become unable to eat dairy products due to an inability to digest lactose. While small amounts of dairy can be eaten (the cutoff is about 1 g/kg of body weight), a cat that has eaten dairy runs the risk of developing diarrhea or other gastrointestinal (GI) upset signs.
The safest food to feed a cat is a balanced commercial cat-specific diet. Any changes from their normal diet, even with technically safe foods, may cause GI upset, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or inappetence. If a cat is eating an appropriately balanced diet, it should not be necessary to supplement with additional foods, no matter what nutritional benefit they may offer. In the case of some specialized or prescription diets, doing so may, in fact, negate the positive health effects of the prescribed diet.
That being said, we know sometimes you need to use human food as a treat, to hide medication, or that a cat will take what they want without your permission, so here’s what you need to know about which foods are safe in that capacity.
Human Foods That Are Safe for Cats in Small Amounts
Please remember that even if a small amount of a food is unlikely to harm a cat directly, any changes in diet can cause GI upset, and it is therefore not recommended to purposefully vary their diet, even in small amounts. This list should be used with that in mind.
None of these foods should be seasoned; all meats should be cooked, skinless, deboned, or shelled. If your cat is fed a home-cooked diet, you may also see recipes using these foods, and they would be safe.
Now, not all cats will eat everything on this list, especially any fruits and vegetables! If they happen to like specific odd items or eat something else that contains a fruit or veggie, it helps to know which ones are a problem. In small amounts, if they aren’t on the list of toxic human foods, it is likely okay that they ate some. The ones here are just some of the more common options you may see around your house or in treats.
What Human Foods Can You Safely Feed Your Cat?
There are only a couple human foods that are highly unlikely to cause a problem for a cat, unless they have a food allergy to that specific item. Those are:
Human Foods That Are Toxic to Cats
Never feed a cat any of the following foods in any capacity. If you find your cat has eaten any food on this list, please contact your veterinarian immediately or reach out to the Pet Poison Helpline.
What to Feed Your Cat If You Run Out of Cat Food
Running out of our cat’s diet happens to the best of us. Sometimes we lose track of time, or auto-shipped diets are delayed. What should you do if sudden changes in a cat’s diet can cause diarrhea?
If it isn’t possible to go out and get some new cat food, the safest human foods to feed at home would be a chicken and rice mixture. If your cat will only eat the chicken, that’s okay. This isn’t nutritionally complete long term, but it will be okay until you can get them more of their diet. For cats with sensitive GI tracts, we recommend keeping 100% canned pumpkin puree in the house to add to their meals when something like this happens.
For cats with a chicken allergy, you can substitute cottage cheese for chicken, even though it’s a dairy product, as it contains very little lactose.
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While there are numerous human foods cats can eat safely, even safe foods can cause GI signs when fed outside their normal routine. It may be tempting to share what you’re eating with your cat, but a safer option would be to feed them some of their own food or small pieces of unseasoned lean meat. Some cats will be more sensitive to human foods than others, and even cats that appear unbothered by various human foods may be affected, such as large quantities of carbohydrates affecting the digestibility of other foods.
Some classic human foods, such as milk, cream, or fish, can actually be harmful to cats depending on the circumstances. I hope this explanation has given you some peace of mind for when your cat inevitably eats something outside their typical diet!
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