Is Bread Tasty or Toxic for Cats?
You've finished breakfast and your cat is looking at you and your plate as if to say, "Are you going to eat that crust? Can I have it?" If you're tempted to slide him that final bit so you can join the Clean Plate Club, you'll want to consider whether it's safe to feed bread to your cat. The answer is yes … and no. While cats can eat bread, there are several other questions to consider before giving your cat a bite of baguette:
- Are there nutritional benefits to feeding cats bread?
- Are there risks with feeding cats bread?
- How can cats be fed bread safely?
- What kinds of bread can cats eat?
Answering these requires a quick overview of feline nutrition and some expert advice on how to partner with your veterinarian to keep your cat healthy.
Are There Nutritional Benefits to Feeding Bread to Your Cat?
As obligate carnivores, cats rely on nutrients found only in animal products. While no single best diet exists, "the best way to meet your cat's nutrient requirements is to feed him a complete and balanced diet formulated by a PhD in animal nutrition or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist," says Theresa Entriken, DVM, a veterinary consultant based in Leawood, Kan. Often this means selecting a diet that's produced by a well-recognized company that has a solid history of formulating high-quality pet food and uses strict quality control measures. Look for an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the pet food label—preferably one that indicates the manufacturer has tested the diet in animal feeding trials, Entriken says.
As long as your cat is getting all of his required nutrients from his regular diet, treats like baked bread don't have nutritional benefits. It's also important to know that when it comes to nutrients, more isn't always merrier. In some cases, giving a cat more nutrients than he needs can actually cause problems.
Is Bread Safe for Cats to Eat?
While the Clinical Nutrition Service at the University of Missouri Small Animal Clinical Nutrition Service in Columbia, Mo., lists baked bread as a safe food for cats, it notes that there are caveats.
- Baked bread is considered to be safe for healthy cats. So if your cat has a health condition, this general rule doesn't apply.
- Every cat is unique and can vary a great deal when it comes to tolerating certain foods. Some cats may consume a particular food without having any problems, and another cat might eat the same food and develop vomiting, diarrhea, or other problems.
- The majority of your cat's calories should come from foods specially formulated to give him the nutrients he needs. Human foods like baked bread should only be given occasionally and in moderation.
- Unbaked bread dough with yeast is toxic to cats. According to the ASPCA, yeast dough can rise and cause gas to build up in your cat's digestive system. This can cause your cat's stomach to bloat and even twist, which is a potentially fatal condition. Moreover, yeast produces ethanol (also called alcohol) as a byproduct. Alcohol can cause serious problems in your cat, including vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, difficulty breathing, coma, and death.
- Breads often have additional ingredients that are toxic to cats. "So it's best to feed only treats specifically formulated for cats. You can even bake your own cat treats using canned cat food. But if you do share baked bread with your kitty, avoid those that contain onions, garlic, chives, chocolate, or raisins," Entriken says. "You should probably also avoid bread made with xylitol. Xylitol is proven to be highly toxic in dogs, but a 2018 study evaluated xylitol administration in six cats and showed no toxic effects. Still, it would be best to avoid intentionally feeding xylitol to your cat," she says. The same goes for nut breads. While macadamia nuts are toxic in dogs but not known to cause the same problems in cats, it's best to avoid them, along with other nuts that tend to be high in fat and may cause other gastrointestinal issues. "Generally speaking, the plainer the bread, the better," she says.
If you know or suspect that your cat has eaten any of the toxic foods above, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) as soon as possible.
How to Feed Your Cat Bread Safely
Taking into account the caveats above and cats' nutritional needs, the following guidelines offer steps to safely feed bread to your cat:
Talk to your veterinarian before giving your cat any new human foods—even if they're typically considered to be safe for pets. "It's always best to ask your veterinarian first about changing your pet's diet, and about any non-cat-formulated foods that you're considering treating your pet to," Entriken says.
To determine how much bread your cat can safely eat, you'll need to do a little math. The Clinical Nutrition Service says treats shouldn't account for more than 10 percent of your cat's daily caloric intake. For example, if your vet recommends that your cat eat 250 calories a day, only 25 of those calories should come from treats.
Check the nutrition label on the package of bread for calories per slice so you can calculate the correct portion size. This is also a good time to double-check the ingredient list to make sure it doesn't contain any poisonous additions.
Tear a portion of the bread slice into cat-bite-sized pieces that are easy for your pet to manage. The size of your cat's kibble can give you a good idea of what to aim for.
Even safe foods can have unexpected reactions, so watch your pet for signs of gastrointestinal problems (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea) after he consumes a new food. It's also a good idea to introduce only one new food at a time. That way, if your cat does start showing signs of illness, you can more easily pinpoint the source of the problem. If you think your cat is having an adverse response to baked bread, call your veterinarian.
Should Cats Eat Bread?
The bottom line: nutrients before treats. Because baked bread isn't a part of a complete and balanced diet for felines, there's no need to go out of your way to get your cat to eat it. However, if your cat is curious or you think a bit of baked bread could help some medicine go down, follow the guidelines above for the safest approach.
If you're unsure whether your cat is getting the nutrients he needs from the food he eats every day, bring up your concerns with your veterinarian. They are ready to help you find good options for your pet. No problem (or treat) is too small to discuss.