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Can Cats Eat Garlic or Onions?

Est. read time: 5 min.

Although we universally try to avoid garlic breath, there’s no denying how much people love their garlic—in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find savory meals that don’t contain it. The same can be said for onions and other members of the allium family. But can cats eat garlic or onions? The answer is always no. Here’s out why garlic, onions, and more are toxic for our felines.

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Can cats eat garlic?

No: Cats should never eat food that contains garlic, whether it’s a dash of garlic powder or meals made with cloves or whole bulbs. Not-so-fun fact: cats are most sensitive to this type of toxicosis. They are followed by dogs and some livestock. So if you were wondering if your dog could have garlic, the answer is that dogs should not be eating garlic either. 


Garlic contains sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds are activated when the plants are physically manipulated: chopping, chewing, mincing, smashing, grinding, and cooking all activate the sulfur-containing compounds. Once activated, these oxidizing compounds rendezvous with the red blood cells circulating through a cat’s body and wreak havoc: causing those red blood wells to become very fragile and burst. 

In short, ingesting garlic may result in the destruction of a cat’s red blood cells, a deadly condition known as hemolytic anemia. This process typically begins within 24 hours of ingestion and peaks a few days later: so the destruction of the red blood cells may occur 3-5 days after ingestion. In more severe cases, the kidneys may be negatively impacted as well. So it usually takes a few days to see symptoms of toxicosis. 

“Even a small amount of garlic (approximately one clove or 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder) can lead to organ damage, organ failure, or death in a cat.” - Laria Herod, DVM

Photo by Kelly Common on Unsplash

Can cats eat onions?

Although onions are not as toxic to cats as garlic is, the answer is the same: no. Not that it’s a competition, but garlic is 3–5 times more toxic than onion. All types of onions also contain those pesky sulfur-containing compounds that can cause the destruction of red blood cells and cause life-threatening anemia. In fact, all members of the allium family of vegetables contain these problematic compounds.

So, cats should avoid the allium family. What else does that include?

In addition to garlic and onions, the allium family of vegetables includes:

  • Shallots
  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Scallions

Shallots, leeks, chives, and scallions are commonly found in salads and casseroles. They are also sometimes used as a garnish. 

What happens if my cat eats garlic or onions?

Say your full-grown cat is healthy and happened to sample some sauce or broth that contained a very small amount of garlic, onions, or other allium-family vegetables—chances are, your cat will be okay. 

However, symptoms of toxicity may not appear for 2-5 days in your cat. If you know your cat has ingested food with even a small amount of garlic, onions, or allium-family veggies in it, keep an eye on them for at least the next four days. Symptoms of toxicity may include:

  • Drooling
  • Oral irritation
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Discolored urine
  • Inappetance
  • Lethargy
  • Elevated heart and respiratory rate
  • Panting
  • Weakness 
  • Coma

If your cat ingests a clove of garlic or more, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) immediately for life-saving advice. 

*Keep in mind that you can’t induce vomiting in cats at home safely, so most of the time, an emergency vet visit is a must!

Diagnosis and treatment

Your vet may want to perform tests to determine if your cat is suffering from low levels of red blood cells, including a complete blood count, urinalysis, and blood chemistry profile. 

If you know for sure that your cat was recently poisoned by garlic or onions, the vet will likely attempt to induce vomiting. Beyond this, your cat will then be monitored to determine whether he needs supportive care such as IV fluids or oxygen therapy. In severe cases, cats may need complete blood transfusions in order to survive anemia.

Other potential poisonings 

Always check the nutritional labels of your pet’s food. Keep in mind that garlic and onion pet poisonings can pop up in surprising places, including:

  • Baby food
  • Supplements
  • Meal prepping (don’t leave these ingredients out on the counter if your cat is prone to jumping up)
  • Chicken breast, fish, or other meat boiled in onion and garlic
  • Broth

Be aware that there are lots of websites and sources out there attempting to “debunk” the dangers of allium veggies: the bottom line is that it’s not safe nor is it worth the risk. 

Whether you're asking if cats can eat garlic or if cats can eat onions, the answer is always absolutely not. Learn more about human food for cats—what’s safe and what isn’t! Find out which common herbs, houseplants, and OTC medications you should also keep away from your kitties.


Cover photo by Sébastien Marchand on Unsplash

red, white, and yellow onions at a supermarket - can cats eat garlic or onions? no