Seven foods your cat shouldn’t eat

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Reviewed by Corinna Klupiec BVSc PhD Grad Cert Ed Stud (Higher Ed)

Don’t cats love raw meat and relish the idea of milk, cheese and cream? Unfortunately, some common ‘human’ foods can cause gastrointestinal distress in cats – or can trigger a variety of other health problems. Learn more about the foods you shouldn’t feed your cat.

Our cats are members of the family, our companions and confidants. And as their caretakers, it’s only natural for us to want to spoil them. But some foods and treats can pose serious risks to their health. Here are seven foods you should avoid feeding your cat:

1. Milk, cheese and other dairy products

Many of us grew up with the image of kittens drinking milk or cream in cartoons or picture books. But in reality, cats and dairy products don’t mix. Most cats are naturally lactose intolerant, meaning that cow’s milk and dairy products made from it – like cheese or cream – can upset their stomachs, causing vomiting and diarrhoea.

And what about kittens? The same rule applies: cow’s milk and by-products should be avoided. For kittens that are too young to eat solid foods and don’t have a source of their mother’s milk, veterinarians recommend feeding kitten-specific milk formulas, which provide essential nutrients for growing kittens and are gentle on their tummies.

2. Chocolate

Though most people find chocolate delicious, this cacao-based treat contains two ingredients that are toxic to cats: theobromine and caffeine. Both milk chocolate and dark chocolate can cause several dangerous symptoms, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Seizures

In cases of high exposure to theobromine and caffeine, cats can also suffer from heart failure, weakness or coma.

3. Raw eggs, meat or fish

 You might assume it’s safe to feed your cat raw eggs, meat or fish – after all, what could be more natural than raw? However, these raw foods may contain dangerous E. coli and Salmonella bacteria, which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and lethargy in cats. Exposing your cat to these pathogens can even prove fatal.

Raw egg whites also contain a protein called avidin. If consumed, avidin can prevent your cat from properly consuming the B vitamin biotin, potentially causing skin conditions and a dull coat.

4. Dog food

If you also have a dog, chances are your cat has sampled their food from time to time. But while an occasional nibble likely won’t harm your cat, a steady diet of dog food instead of cat food can cause malnutrition. Cats need vitamin A, taurine and arachidonic acid – all essential nutrients not necessarily provided in dog food.

If your cat only eats dog food, they’re at risk for developing several conditions:

  • A lack of vitamin A can cause skin issues, a dull coat, muscular degeneration or night blindness.
  • A taurine deficiency can cause vision degradation, heart disease, unhealthy coat or skin, and lethargy.
  • A lack of arachidonic acid can cause liver and kidney problems.

5. Bread and yeast

Cats can safely eat bread on occasion but note that bread contains no nutritional value for them (it has very little fat or protein), so it should not replace their normal cat food diet.

Yeast and raw bread dough are not safe for cats – after it’s eaten, the dough can rise in a cat’s stomach and cause dangerous digestive issues.

6. Tuna

What cat doesn’t enjoy tuna? This fish can serve as an occasional treat for your cat, but you should avoid feeding them a tuna-heavy diet. Tuna lacks several nutrients cats need to stay healthy, and too much tuna can lead to mercury poisoning. And, as noted above, you should never give your cat raw tuna.

7. Onions and garlic

Onions, garlic and other members of the allium family like chives and leeks can cause anaemia in cats. Whether raw, cooked, powdered or dehydrated, garlic and onions can damage a cat’s red blood cells, and can also cause nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Remember that most cats are curious creatures, and love to investigate food that’s been left out on countertops or in sinks. If your cat can easily jump on a table or counter, make sure to keep dangerous or toxic foods well out of reach – sealed behind a closed pantry door or kept in a high-up cabinet.

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