A small piece or two of ham might be OK for a cat once in a while ... but some cats should steer clear.

Ham is a holiday staple for some Americans, and for others, cured pork is a regular staple for meals around the clock. While you'd think meat-eating cats can have ham, too, it's not as straightforward as you might think—and depending on how it's prepared, ham may actually be bad for cats.

Can Cats Eat Ham Safely?

Ham is not toxic to cats, but it isn't great for them to eat, either. Cats are obligate carnivores and need protein for a happy, healthy life, according to the Association of American Feline Practitioners. Which could include pork meats like ham, right?

"A small piece or two of ham is not likely to be problematic in a healthy cat," says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.

Striped cat eyes camera while creeping onto dinner table toward a plate of food
Credit: Yekaterina Hirsh / EyeEm / Getty

In fact, a nibble of ham is one way of getting a hesitant cat to take medication, according to Schmid. However, ham is not a part of a cat's balanced diet. It's high in fat and salt, and may be seasoned or cooked with ingredients that will upset a cat's digestion. Onions and garlic and some other seasonings are harmful to cats.

How Much Ham Is Bad for a Cat?

Veterinarians usually advise that human food and other treats outside of a cat's normal, balanced diet should be no more than 10 percent of a feline's daily caloric intake. That's not much. Banfield Pet Hospital did the math, and that means one slice of deli ham at 46 calories is equivalent to 20 percent of an average cat's daily caloric intake!

Too much can lead to problems, Schmid says: "Larger amounts, especially on a daily basis, can cause a risk for gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis."

If your cat swipes some ham from the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas without your permission or supervision, watch for these signs and check with your veterinarian if your cat doesn't quickly improve after the meal.

Ham's high salt content can particularly be a problem for pets with heart disease or other chronic illnesses, so Schmid advises owners of older cats to steer clear.

What About Ham Bones?

Schmid says cat owners should avoid feeding bones to cats (they can be a choking hazard!). While cats in the wild eat bones as part of their captured meals, there are other, safer ways to get nutrients to your house cat.

"Any real bone can splinter, and this can cause damage to a cat's esophagus, stomach, or intestinal tract," she says. "Ham bones are generally more brittle than other bones, like chicken, and can splinter more easily. Cooked ham bones have a larger concern with this."

Your Healthy Cat Might Enjoy These Foods

Is every human food dangerous to cats? No. But typically your cat will get all the nutrients he needs from a well-balanced, vet recommended cat food diet. If you do decide to share a snack with your feline friend, here are a few cat-friendly human foods that are typically OK in moderation for a healthy cat without pre-existing health issues.

If you're offering a new food or treat to your cat for the first time, give her a a small amount to taste first to make sure it agrees with your cat before giving her a full helping. And check with your veterinarian if you have nutrition questions for your particular pet.

Steer Your Cats Away From These Harmful Human Foods

You'll want to be sure to keep these toxic human foods away from your favorite felines. These treats are bad for cats, whether you feed them yourself or if Mittens sneaks them off the kitchen counter while you're not looking.

  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruit
  • Coconut flesh or coconut water
  • Coffee
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Raw eggs or fish, or undercooked meat
  • Raw salt
  • Foods containing xylitol (a common sugar substitute)
  • Onions and garlic