Cats are part of the family, so it’s only natural to want to share our food with them. Although your cat may not be interested in a lot of the things you eat, she may still help himself to something she shouldn’t eat.
What to Watch For
Any food not specifically formulated for cats can affect the digestive system, causing vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite. Here are some foods of particular concern:
- Alcohol. Yes, cats too can get drunk, but it can also easily cause severe liver and brain damage. As little as a tablespoon can put an adult cat in a coma; a little more can kill her.
- Chocolate. The compound in chocolate that is of major concern is theobromine. It is in all forms of chocolate, and most concentrated in dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate. Consumption can cause heart arrhythmias, muscle tremors, or seizures. Chocolate also contains caffeine.
- Coffee, Tea, Energy Drinks. These and other caffeinated drinks and foods can cause your cat to become restless, have rapid breathing, heart palpitations, muscle tremors.
- Dairy Products. Cats can become lactose intolerant when they become adults. If ingested by these cats, dairy products can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
- Fat Trimmings, Raw Meat, Eggs, Fish. Please consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist first before adding these foods to your cat's diet, as there is a risk vomiting, diarrhea, Salmonella or E. coli associated with these foods for some animals, especially when given improperly.
- Grapes and Raisins. Cats are not likely to eat these, and there are no reports of cats becoming ill from these foods. However, dogs can suffer acute kidney failure from eating grapes or raisins, so it is best to not to risk your cat's health and not let him eat these foods.
- Onions and Garlic. All members of the onion family can cause problems if eaten in sufficient quantity. A little bit of onion or garlic in some sauce is not likely to cause any problems. However, eating a clove of garlic or a green onion may cause digestive upset. Eating some type of onion on a regular basis could cause anemia. Baby food made from meat is often seasoned with onion or garlic, so read the labels carefully if you feed these to your cat.
- Tuna. Tuna when made into cat food is perfectly fine for cats. On the other hand, tuna sold for human consumption may cause digestive upset when given as an occasional treat in small amounts. It can even cause a painful condition called steatitis, or inflammation of the body's fat, when fed to cats on a regular basis.
- Xylitol. This is a sweetener used in a lot of sugar-free foods, especially chewing gum. There are no records of cats becoming ill from this product, but in dogs it can cause a severe drop in blood sugar followed by liver failure. Therefore it is better to be safe and not let your cat eat foods that contain this ingredient.
- If you suspect your cat ate any of these foods, try to determine how much she may have eaten.
- Call your veterinarian for specific advice; in many cases small quantities are not likely to be a problem but larger quantities may require you to induce vomiting in your cat or to take her to your veterinarian.
- If your veterinarian is unavailable or unequipped to handle the situation, call the nearest animal hospital or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680. This is especially important if your cat is displaying symptoms such as muscle tremors or repeated vomiting.
Treatment involves supportive care until symptoms resolve. This may involve hospitalization, intravenous fluids, monitoring of organ function via repeated blood testing, and other measures as indicated by the specific circumstances.
The best prevention is obviously to keep your food out of reach of your cat. An added advantage of not giving your cat your food is the prevention of begging behavior. If you choose to give your cat human food, follow these guidelines:
- The food should only be considered a treat and only given on occasion to prevent gastrointestinal upset and nutritional imbalances.
- If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your cat. If you wouldn’t eat the food raw, then your cat shouldn’t either.