Before sharing your plate with your cat, learn what nutrients they need and which foods are toxic.

By Sarah Mouton Dowdy
August 24, 2020
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perets / Yevgen Romanenko / Michael Zwahlen / EyeEm / Science Photo Library / Rosemary Calvert / Yevgen Romanenko / Brian Hagiwara / Penpaga Trato / EyeEm / Getty

Cats are part of the family, right? That could explain why it feels so natural to share everything with them—from our homes, to our thoughts, to our food. But sharing isn’t always caring: cats and humans have different nutritional needs, and some foods that are safe for humans are actually toxic to cats. It’s important to know what cats need to eat, what they can eat, and what foods they should avoid eating altogether. 

Are There Nutritional Benefits to Feeding Cats Human Foods?

We teamed up with the University of Missouri Small Animal Clinical Nutrition Service in Columbia, Mo., to find out what kind of foods should be on the menu for your feline friend. The Clinical Nutrition Center explains it as first understanding that cats have specific nutrient requirements that must be met by their diet, and what they need differs from what humans need. “The simplest and most convenient way to meet a cat’s nutrient requirements,” the Clinical Nutrition Center explains, “is to provide them with a complete and balanced commercial diet formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or an individual with a PhD in animal nutrition.” That’s why—as obligate carnivores—cats rely on nutrients found only in animal products (which is why cats should never be fed a vegetarian diet). 

This means that as long as your cat is eating a complete and balanced diet, treats aren’t nutritionally beneficial. And it’s important to note that exceeding the amount of nutrients cats require doesn’t necessarily result in a healthier cat. It can even be harmful in some circumstances. 

Are There Any Risks Associated with Feeding Cats Human Foods?

There’s a long list of foods and beverages you should absolutely avoid feeding your cat, and the Clinical Nutrition Service says that it likely isn’t exhaustive because there are many human food items that simply haven’t undergone peer-reviewed studies to determine their toxicity in pets yet. 

However, there are also many human foods that are generally considered to be safe for cats to eat. But before getting to that list, it’s important to cover some caveats from the Clinical Nutrition Service. 

  • Foods on the safe list are considered to be safe for healthy cats. So if your cat has a health condition (such as diabetes), the general rules don’t apply.
  • Every cat is unique and can vary a great deal when it comes to tolerating certain foods. “Cats must be considered individually,” the Clinical Nutrition Service explains, “as some cats may consume a particular food item with no issue and another cat may consume the same item and develop vomiting, diarrhea, or other adverse signs.” 
  • The majority of your cat’s calories should come from foods that are specially formulated to give them the nutrients they need. Treats should only be given occasionally and in moderation. “If you want to give your cat human foods or other treats, they shouldn’t account for more than 10 percent of your cat’s daily caloric intake,” the Clinical Nutrition Service explains. “For example, if your cat eats 250 calories per day, no more than 25 of those calories should come from treats or unbalanced food sources.” 
  • The Clinical Nutrition Service says that even safe foods can have unexpected reactions, so watch your pet for signs of gastrointestinal problems (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea) after consuming 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 anything it eats on the “safe” list, call your veterinarian. 

Which Human Foods Are Safe for Cats to Eat?

While the foods below are generally considered to be safe for cats, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian before giving your cat any new foods.

  1. Apples. Apple flesh is safe for feline consumption, but apple seeds, stems, and leaves contain cyanide, which is poisonous to cats and must be removed before serving. 
  2. Bananas. Be sure to remove the peel first, as it can be difficult for your cat to digest.
  3. Blueberries. Give them a good rinse and remove any stems before sharing with your cat.
  4. Strawberries. Like blueberries, strawberries need to be thoroughly washed and have their stems removed before they can be served to your pet.
  5. Watermelon. Be sure to remove any seeds and the rind before serving this classic summer treat to your kitty. 
  6. Peanut butter. Check the ingredient list for xylitol, a common sweetener that’s toxic to cats. 
  7. Cooked eggs. Raw eggs can carry harmful bacteria, so cook any eggs you plan to feed to your cat.
  8. Baked bread. The “safe” designation applies only to baked bread. Bread dough with yeast can be toxic, and many breads contain ingredients that are poisonous to cats, such as raisins, garlic, and chocolate. In general, the plainer the bread, the better.
  9. Cheese. Cheese can be safe, but there are a lot of potential problems with using it as a treat, as well—including the fact that many cats are lactose intolerant or have allergies to dairy. 

Should Cats Eat Human Foods?

The bottom line: nutrients before treats. Because the foods above aren’t 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 them. 

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 question (or treat) is too small to discuss.