July is National Ice Cream Month. (Naturally!) If you indulge in this creamy sweet treat from time to time, you may have wondered: Can cats eat ice cream? Unfortunately, both cats and dogs should avoid eating ice cream. Find out why you shouldn’t share this treat with your pets—even during the steamy days of July.
Can cats eat ice cream? Here’s why they shouldn’t
Cats shouldn’t eat ice cream for the same reasons it’s not exactly healthy for humans: Ice cream tends to contain lots of sugar and fat that is unnecessary for the feline diet. However, there are other reasons for not eating ice cream that are more specific to our furry friends.
Ice cream contains propylene glycol
According to the FDA, propylene glycol is a “safe” antifreeze for human consumption. Mass-produced ice cream usually contains this ingredient to help prevent ice crystals from developing. Pet Poison Helpline explains that cats are particularly sensitive to propylene glycol, which is no longer allowed in cat foods. Poisoning can occur when cats or dogs ingest large amounts of propylene glycol, especially in liquid form.
In cats, significant ingestion of foods or liquids containing propylene glycol can lead to a condition called Heinz body hemolytic anemia, where red blood cells are destroyed. According to Dr. Karen Becker, symptoms of this type of anemia may include:
- Sudden weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Discolored urine (reddish-brown)
- Pale mucous membranes
- Skin discoloration
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your cat, call your veterinarian for advice. If you find out that your pet has ingested a lot of ice cream or other anemia-causing toxins (garlic, onions, heavy metals, acetaminophen, etc.), get to an animal hospital as soon as possible.
Most cats are lactose intolerant
Lactose intolerance is a less serious but still concerning side effect of your cat eating ice cream. As kittens are weaned, the enzyme that enables them to digest lactose begins to disappear from the gut. This means that consuming lactose—which milk and most kinds of ice cream contain—can lead to upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting in cats.
Furthermore, with its typical sugar, fat, and dairy content, ice cream can contribute to obesity in cats. Obesity is on the rise among household cats; in fact, 60-70% of cats in the United States are considered overweight to obese!
Can cats eat chocolate ice cream?
Chocolate ice cream is doubly harmful for cats. Like dogs, cats should not be allowed to consume chocolate. Chocolate contains the chemical compounds caffeine and theobromine, which if ingested by cats can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, seizures, and even cardiac failure or coma.
Can cats eat vanilla ice cream?
A tiny taste of vanilla ice cream may be the safest way to allow your cat this summer treat. If your kitty seems to crave dairy, though, we recommend offering him a small amount of plain, low-fat yogurt instead of ice cream.
So can cats eat ice cream? Now you know why cats and dogs alike should not eat ice cream. A lick of vanilla ice cream here and there most likely won’t harm your pet—but don’t make a habit of it. (And hey, that’s more ice cream for you!)
Cover photo by Nas Mato on Unsplash