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Exploring Feline-Friendly Snacks: What Human Foods Can Cats Eat?


As you relax and grab lunch in front of the TV, your sweet cat slides in and stretches up to your lap. You look down at those big eyes, the little paw reaching up to you beseechingly, and you think, “She wants some of my sandwich.” So you pull off a tiny piece and offer it to her. She quickly gulps it down and then, even more urgently, stretches out to you again for more. So you give her a bit more.

You start to think, "Is this okay? It’s a good homemade sandwich; what could be the harm? But am I hurting my cat? Is human food good for cats, too?"

Humans can eat a wide variety of foods, so “people food” covers a lot of options. Because we love our cats, it’s natural to want to share good things with them. But because cats are not people, we also have to acknowledge that their needs are different.

There are some “people” foods that your cat can eat and enjoy. But there are others—maybe even a few of your favorites—that can make your cat seriously ill or worse. Carelessly offering people food to cats or allowing them to clean up after you can risk their health or their lives.

Why Cats Are Different

Like their larger cousins in the wild, house cats are carnivores. This means that they must eat meat. There’s no way of getting around that. The MyPlate diet for a cat would feature a large chunk of meat and not much else—high in animal-derived proteins, with some fats and few carbs. Because they evolved as hunters, cats are not equipped to handle many other types of food that we enjoy.

These Are a Hard NO

Briefly, here are some of the main types of foods you should not offer to your cat:

  • Chocolate. Toxic for cats as well as for dogs.
  • Onions and garlic. Toxic for cats, whether cooked or uncooked. These are common in lots of foods, so beware.
  • Caffeine-containing foods and drinks are a no-no.
  • Alcohol, in moderation, may be enjoyable to us, but it's NOT good for cats.
  • Most dairy products are off-limits. We’ve all seen pictures of cats lapping up a dish of cow’s milk, but most adult cats are lactose intolerant, so it’s not a good idea.
  • Nuts are generally not good for cats.
  • Foods containing xylitol, a sweetener, are hazardous to many pets.
  • Avoid grapes and raisins.

This is not an exhaustive list. It’s always best to check with your veterinarian before you offer any human food to your cat.

These Are Okay in Moderation

It’s best to feed your cat a cat-specific diet, and don’t let them eat any “people food.”

However, you might feel better if you know what “people food” shouldn’t harm your cat on occasion and in small amounts.

  • Cooked meat. Because cats are meat-eaters, beef, chicken, and turkey are generally okay. So are most types of fish, as long as they are cooked. Note the following:
    • Cooked means cooked. Raw meats can contain harmful germs or parasites, so be careful if you believe a raw diet is better than a more traditional cat food diet.
    • Make it lean. Trim off the fat. Avoid fried meats.
    • No bones. These can splinter and cause serious injury if your cat tries to swallow them. Fish containing small bones pose a particular risk.
    • Avoid meats cooked with sauces or seasonings, which may contain harmful ingredients.
    • Be careful with cured meats such as ham and lunch meats. Highly processed meats can contain ingredients that are bad for your cat.
  • Eggs (scrambled or boiled). Cats can safely eat cooked eggs, which are high in protein.
  • Cooked vegetables. Carrots, broccoli, asparagus, peas, green beans, and sweet potatoes are okay if your cat seems to like them. They’re not a natural part of a cat’s diet, though, so keep portions small and watch for signs that the food does not agree with them.
  • Most fruits, even if a cat is attracted to them, may be hard to digest. Avoid grapes and raisins.

Any food can present a choking hazard to your pet, so if you do decide to share, cut it into small pieces. And watch your cat for a while afterward for any negative reactions, such as vomiting.

What Is Best for Your Cat?

Most of what your cat eats, of course, should be a balanced diet of high-quality commercial cat food.

Why? Commercial pet food companies work with veterinary nutritionists. There are varied choices (wet, dry, regular, premium, or targeted to special needs) and price points, but all are based on what cats need. Your pet may also have particular requirements based on age, obesity status, tooth loss, or chronic issues such as diabetes or kidney failure, for example.

For the best guidance on these and other issues regarding your pet’s well-being, your veterinarian is your best resource.

But as a loving pet parent, it’s okay sometimes to give in to those big, cute eyes and that soft meow. Just make sure that whatever you share from your own plate is small (no more than a one-inch cube for meat, even smaller amounts for other foods) and safe for cats.

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