With the holidays fast approaching, you may find your cat begging for table scraps on more than one occasion. But is anything you consume at your feasts actually safe for a feline family member? Human food for cats can be a tricky area to navigate. You’ve probably wondered, do cats and chocolate spell disaster? What about raw meat?
Most of the major food groups have a few items that your cat can safely enjoy—and they all contain food that you should actively avoid giving to your cat, or accidentally leaving out for your cat to ingest.
Keep in mind that human food for cats should be an occasional treat, not a typical occurrence. Pet obesity is a growing concern across the country. At most, allow your cat 20 calories per day from safe human food.
Cats are carnivores, so their diets must be largely made up of protein. A major misconception about human food for cats is that felines should be consuming raw meat. It’s true that some pet parents put their cats on a raw food diet, but this requires extremely cautious preparation work. Raw meat containing E. coli, salmonella, or listeria will sicken a cat, just as it will humans. So, only serve your kitty plain (seasoning such as garlic or onion powder could be toxic) and cooked meat—and talk to your veterinarian before putting your cat on a raw food diet.
- Cooked salmon (omega-3 fatty acids help with vision, arthritis, kidney disease, and heart disorders)
- Canned fish
- Skinless chicken
- Lean beef
- Lean deli meats
- Cooked eggs
- Sushi/raw fish
- Raw meat
- Fat trimmings
- Raw or cooked bones
- Raw eggs
Some veggies contain the added nutrients, fiber, and water that any cat could use, particularly for digestive issues. Cook or steam broccoli, asparagus, carrots, and green beans for easier consumption. Do not allow your cat anything from the allium family (including spices and powders), such as garlic or onions—these can cause damage to your cat’s red blood cells, leading to anemia or even death.
- Green beans
- Spinach (avoid if your cat has had any urinary or kidney problems)
Cats can’t taste sweet flavors. Yet there’s always the occasional oddball that enjoys a piece of fruit, which can also aid with digestive issues. For a creamy treat, blend the fruit with a tiny bit of plain, low-fat yogurt.
- Peeled apples (no seeds)
- Cantaloupe/watermelon (no seeds)
- Pumpkin/squash (no seeds)
- Grapes and raisins (even a small amount can cause kidney failure in cats)
Many cats enjoy grains with a smaller texture, like couscous and millet. Make sure you don’t feed your cat raw dough of any kind, as it causes expansion or creates alcohol in the stomach. Finally, not all seeds or nuts are harmful to cats, but many are—and those that aren’t are likely high in salt and fat. It’s best just to avoid these altogether.
- Cooked corn/polenta
- Oats/oatmeal (high in protein)
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Mashed brown rice, barley, or wheat berries
- Raw dough
- Seeds and nuts
Many people are either under the misconception that cats should have lots of dairy (think little saucers of milk), or have heard that cats are actually wildly lactose-intolerant. The truth lies somewhere in the middle: Every cat is different, but most can tolerate a small amount of low-lactose dairy.
- Hard cheeses (like cheddar, swiss, or gouda)
- Low-lactose cheeses (cottage cheese)
- Yogurt (plain, unsweetened, low-fat)
- Cow’s milk
- Soft cheeses
- Anything high-lactose
Other human foods that may be harmful to cats
- Do cats and chocolate mix? No
- Plant-based milk (high in fats and oils)
- Sugar and spices in general
- Candy and gum, including sugar-free varieties (these contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to cats)
- Anything marijuana/THC-infused
- Human medications/supplements (the exception might be fish oil, in small doses)
When it comes to human food for cats, err on the side of caution. Even if the food you serve your kitty isn’t known to be harmful, she could still have a small bout of upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting. If that happens, she may be a little more sensitive to human food than the average cat. Practice prudence in any case!