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What foods you can and can’t feed cats

Learn which common human foods are dangerous or lack nutrition for your cat.


Fact checked

Many of the foods that humans eat don’t have the same nutritional value for fuzzy felines as they do for you. In fact, some common table scraps can cause serious harm to your cat’s health, while others can be given as treats in moderation.

Foods that cats can’t eat

While not an exhaustive list, some of your cat’s worst enemies for food include:

  • Chocolate. Chocolate may be tasty and sweet, but it contains a compound called theobromine that’s toxic to cats, even in small doses. Baking chocolate can do the most harm compared to varieties with added ingredients like milk chocolate.
  • Garlic. For cats, garlic leads to worse effects than bad breath – it’s toxic for cats in large doses. Garlic can damage a cat’s red blood cells, leading to anemia.
  • Grapes or raisins. This wrinkly or juicy fruit can cause kidney failure in cats, although the reason for its toxic nature isn’t known. Your cat might get hyperactive or lethargic and may vomit within 12 or 24 hours of eating this food.
  • Milk and dairy. Like humans, many cats have less tolerance for lactose as they age. That said, some cats have no problem with milk or dairy products, while others suffer from tummy troubles like upset stomach and diarrhea. This is especially true with cow’s milk.
  • Pork. This processed meat is loaded with salt. A single slice of bacon can hold ten times as much salt as a cat should eat in a day, not to mention the saturated fat.
  • Potatoes. Unripe potatoes have an ingredient called solanine that can affect your cat’s digestion and nervous system. Since cooked potatoes don’t offer much nutritional value, you can steer clear from this food.
  • Tomatoes. All tomatoes contain solanine, which interferes with a cat’s nervous system.

Foods that cats can eat in moderation

You might let your cuddly fur-baby nibble on some of these foods if they deserve a treat or insist on sharing with you. You’ll want to keep these out of your cat’s regular diet, though.

  • Peanut butter. This sandwich staple is full of fat and sugar and provides no nutrition to cats. Most cats won’t try to eat peanut butter, although it won’t hurt in moderation.
  • Mushrooms. Like peanut butter, mushrooms don’t give cats any necessary nutrition. If your cat ate wild mushrooms, you’ll want to watch for mushroom poisoning signs like vomiting, diarrhea or any unusual pet behavior.
  • Bread. Cats love eating little bits of bread, but they don’t need carbohydrates filling their diets. If you do give a little bread as a treat, avoid bread with extra ingredients like tomato, onion or spices.
  • Corn. Cats love corn, millet or barley because the food is small and has interesting textures. However, most vets recommend feeding these to cats in moderation. Cooking the corn or grain first makes it easier on your kitty’s digestive system.
  • Avocado. You can smear it on toast or rub it on your face, but what about feeding it to your cat? Avocado contains a heap of nutrients that are good for you and your cat. But vets recommend keeping the avocado munchies to a minimum because the pit contains a compound that’s poisonous to cats.
  • Bananas. This potassium-packed fruit benefits humans, but bananas are rich in carbohydrates that cats don’t need in their diets. Keep this food out of your cat’s regular feeding routine, but sharing a nibble shouldn’t hurt them.
  • Strawberries. Strawberries fall into the camp of ‘sure, why not’ foods. While your cat won’t suffer ill effects from gobbling a strawberry or two, they won’t gain much nutrition either.

Foods that cats can eat

A few human staples can add nutritional value to your cat’s diet. However, cat food is designed for safety and nutrition, so you might use these foods as occasional treats:

  • Eggs. Cooked eggs are a great source of protein for humans and animals, but some natural diet enthusiasts encourage raw eggs. Raw eggs pose danger to your cat because they risk getting salmonella or e. coli poisoning.
  • Chicken. Cooked chicken is one of the best meats your cat can eat. Just make sure you don’t feed huge amounts of highly salted chicken or any other meat.
  • Watermelon. Watermelon itself is harmless and can provide extra water for your cat on sunny summer days. However, the seeds can contain trace amounts of compounds that harm your cat’s health. Pick out the seeds, and you’re good to go.

Does pet insurance cover food poisoning in cats?

Yes, cat food poisoning should be covered under your pet policy’s accident coverage if you have pet insurance before the incident happens. Most policies require you to pay for the vet bills upfront and then file a claim for your pet insurance to reimburse you later. You’ll need to meet your deductible and coinsurance before your policy pays out.

However, if you don’t have pet insurance or just bought a policy a few days ago, you’ll pay out of pocket for this accident. Most policies have a waiting period ranging from three to 14 days, depending on the company.

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How much do cats need to eat?

The average adult cat requires around 30 calories per pound per day, although the exact portions waver based on your cat’s age, activity level and whether they’re spayed or neutered. You could count the calories listed on your cat food package, or follow the feeding instructions on the package.

If you’re concerned about your kitty’s weight after following these recommendations, talk about the serving sizes and any weight problems with your vet. You’ll know your cat’s too thin if their backbone and ribs show through their skin, or too fat if you can’t feel their ribs through their rounded tummy.

Wet vs. dry cat food

Both wet and dry food come with pros and cons when choosing which one to feed your cat. The main factor is that meat like poultry and fish are the core of every feline’s diet. Dry food should include a lot of animal protein and little plant protein since cats are natural carnivores. Wet food should include mostly meat with as little filler as possible.

While some dry cat foods are more nutrient-dense, wet food contains extra water for hydration and is easier for your cat to digest. However, dry food costs less for the volume compared to wet food.

So long as your cat’s getting the right nutrients to keep them healthy, give your cat whichever type of cat food that you or they prefer.

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Bottom line

Cats can eat several human foods in small amounts, but food specifically designed for cats can ensure that they get the nutrients needed. But if a serious food incident does happen, a solid pet insurance policy will cover any vet bills for getting your fur-baby back to health.

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