If your cat is a permanent resident near the dinner table, it’s tempting to share a bite of your dinner. But can cats eat human food? And if so, what human foods can cats eat? While some of our favorite foods are safe to share with kitties, others can make them sick or even be life-threatening.
These extras should be viewed only as occasional snacks and make up a small amount of your cat’s diet. Treat recommendations are for healthy cats only; if your pet has a health concern or eats a prescription diet, consult with your vet before offering any human food.
Here are some of the more cat-friendly people foods.
Meats for Cats
When it comes to human foods cats can eat, meat is where it’s at. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are designed to maximize the nutrition in meats and require meat as part of their diet.
Commercial cat foods are designed around a meat base. And when it comes to treats, cooked meat is one of the safest, most nutritious options to offer your cat. But there are some rules to follow:
Avoid raw meat, which can make your cat sick.
Don’t feed your kitty meats that contain bones, which can cause injury.
Always check with your veterinarian to ensure what you’re feeding your cat is appropriate.
Chicken and Turkey
Chicken and turkey are favorite flavors of cats. They’re also high in protein and relatively low in calories.
Any poultry offered to your kitty should be thoroughly cooked (baked or boiled are both good options, but deep frying should be avoided!) with all skin and bones removed. When cooking meat for your kitty, do not add herbs, butter, oils, or other flavoring to it.
While you should keep portions small—a 1-inch cube is a large snack serving—turkey or chicken bites can be offered as a daily treat to most healthy cats. If your pet has health problems or is on a prescription diet, discuss human foods with your vet before offering them to your cat.
Fish and cats go hand in hand, and many cats love fresh fish in their diet. Most varieties of fish are safe to offer your cat, as long as they are thoroughly cooked with the skin and bones removed.
Along with being a lean source of protein, oily fish (such as mackerel and tuna) are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This can be beneficial for cats with certain health conditions, such as arthritis or kidney disease. White fish (such as cod or sole) doesn’t have these benefits, so it’s better to feed your cat oily fish.
As always, talk to your vet before adding fish to your kitty’s diet. For healthy cats, a 1-inch cube of properly prepared fish is likely a nutritious daily treat. Salmon and tuna are favorites, and even supplements such as fish oil might be an option to discuss with your veterinarian.
Beef is also a popular flavor with many cats, and it’s a safe treat for healthy kitties. Choose lean varieties of beef, and prepare it with no added flavorings. Trim off extra fat, remove the bones, and cook the meat completely through.
Like with poultry and fish, a 1-inch cube of well-cooked beef is an appropriate and tasty snack for a healthy kitty to have daily.
Vegetables for Cats
Unlike humans, who need veggies for good health, vegetables aren’t necessary for cats. As obligate carnivores, cats don’t metabolize and digest vegetables well, so it’s fine if your kitty turns his nose up at your salad.
But if your cat shows interest in what’s on your cutting board, offer him small amounts of certain veggies. But remember: These should only be an occasional, small-volume snack. And with all vegetables, watch your cat closely for signs of gastrointestinal upset, as some cats might not digest greens well.
Some cats do enjoy the occasional broccoli snack, but be sure to offer only thoroughly cooked, plain broccoli. Steamed broccoli softens the vegetable so it’s easier to digest while retaining many of the nutrients.
Peas can be steamed, boiled, or baked—as long as they’re completely plain, with no toppings or additives, such as salt or butter. Keep the portions small; cats should only eat three or four peas offered once or twice per week. Monitor your kitty closely for signs of vomiting or diarrhea.
Cooked sweet potatoes are a tasty high-fiber snack and a good source of potassium and vitamins A and C. Boiling the sweet potatoes and creating a puree can make a yummy food topper. But again, keep the portions small (less than 1 tablespoon).
Fruits for Cats
Some kitties have a sweet tooth and like to snack on the occasional fruit, while many cats have no interest. While fruits are low in calories, they tend to be high in sugar, so use caution if your cat has diabetes or pancreatitis.
Most fruits are safe to feed your cat. But because they may be tough for cats to digest, feed them fruits sparingly and only on occasion, while monitoring your kitty for signs of appetite loss, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Pumpkin is a unique human food often prescribed for cats with stool problems due to its high fiber content and mild taste. Pureed pumpkin with no added spices can be used to treat both diarrhea and constipation in cats. Turn to your vet for guidance on how much pumpkin is appropriate for helping your kitty.
For a healthy cat, 1 tablespoon of pureed pumpkin fed a few times a week is appropriate. Never feed a cat raw pumpkin, which is hard to digest and can result in an obstruction. It’s also important to avoid pumpkin that has added ingredients such as butter, salt, herbs, or spices.
Watermelon can be fed raw if the seeds and rind are completely removed. Watermelon is hydrating and contains electrolytes, which is a bonus. But it’s also high in sugar content, so only offer your cat a ½-inch cube once or twice per week.
Strawberries are rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber. But the amounts that cats eat are so small that it doesn’t make much of a nutritional difference.
If your cat finds strawberries tempting, limit them to half of a small berry (washed and sliced, with the greens removed) per week.
Blueberries are also rich in nutrients, such as antioxidants and vitamins A, C, E, and K. But once again, the quantities cats are able to digest are so small that blueberries provide minimal nutritional benefit.
However, if your kitty really likes blueberries, allowing him to eat four or five washed berries per week is likely safe.
Some cats like bananas, and this yellow fruit can be served either fresh or frozen. Bananas have a good amount of vitamins B6 and C, plus potassium. However, they are also rich in carbohydrates and sugars, which are not good for all cats—particularly those with diabetes or intestinal tract disorders.
If your veterinarian signs off on feeding banana to your cat, limit the portions to one ¼-inch slice per week—as long as it doesn’t cause digestive upset.
What Human Food Can Cats NOT Eat?
Though some human foods are OK for kitties, other foods should be avoided or fed with significant caution.
Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, some foods to keep away from cats include:
Chocolate (especially dark chocolate)
Nuts (especially macadamia nuts and walnuts)
Coffee, tea, or anything with caffeine
Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt
Anything sweetened with xylitol (such as sugar-free gum, cookies, peanut butters, toothpaste, etc.)
Alcohol or alcohol-containing products
Yeast-containing raw dough
Raw meats or fish
Tips for Feeding Human Food to Cats
Keep portion sizes small. Overdoing any tasty treat can result in an upset stomach and ruin the joy of having a shared snack.
Look to complement your kitty’s diet. Feeding nutritious snacks he enjoys is far better than adding empty calories.
Think about freezing small portions of pureed meats, such as chicken, turkey, tuna, or salmon. It’s quick and easy to thaw a cube to place as a topper for your cat’s regular food.
Consider food puzzles for your kitty. Cats love to work for their meals (a throwback to the days of hunting rodents for dinner!), so putting some snacks in a food puzzle has the dual benefit of keeping your cat’s brain sharp and providing a delicious treat.
Make a game of treats. Some cats love searching out their meals, so hiding their snacks can provide entertainment. Just remember where you hid them, so you can clean up afterward!
Use human food as high-value rewards when teaching your cat tricks.
Featured Image: Adobe/Chalabala
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