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. Find out why garlic, onions, and more are toxic for our felines.
Can cats eat garlic?
No: Cats should never eat food that contains garlic, whether it’s a healthy dash of garlic powder or meals made with cloves or whole bulbs. (Dogs shouldn’t either!)
Garlic contains compounds called disulfides and thiosulphates, which can cause the red blood cells circulating through a cat’s body to become very fragile and burst. Therefore, ingesting garlic may result in the destruction of a cat’s red blood cells, a deadly condition known as hemolytic anemia.
In severe cases, 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.
Can cats eat onions?
Although onions are not as toxic to cats as garlic is, the answer is the same: no. All types of onions also contain disulfides and thiosulphates. In fact, so do all members of the allium family of vegetables.
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, and scallions are commonly found in salads and casseroles, and are 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 2-4 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 him for at least the next four days. Symptoms of toxicity may include:
- Oral irritation
- Pale gums
- Discolored urine
- Elevated heart and respiratory rate
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 your cat was recently poisoned by garlic or onions, the vet will likely induce vomiting using activated charcoal. 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
- Garlic 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
Whether we’re asking "can cats eat garlic" or "can cats 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