Harmful Foods Cats Should Not Eat: A List to Watch For
By Elizabeth Racine, DVM March 28, 2019
We all love to spoil our cats occasionally, and often that means giving them an extra special treat. However, many pet owners do not realize that some of the foods that they enjoy can be toxic to their cats. If you are looking for something new for your cat to try, please avoid the items in this list to keep your cat safe.
While house plants are not a food per se, many pet owners will provide plants as décor or even as a toy for their cats. Cats love to chew and bat at leafy plants, and this can be a great source of environmental enrichment. However, many common house plants are extremely toxic to cats. Perhaps the most dangerous are those in the Lily family, including Easter Lilies and Day Lilies, among others. Lilies will cause kidney failure in cats, and toxicity occurs so rapidly that many pet owners do not realize there is a problem until it is too late. Even something as simple as licking Lily pollen off of his paws can be enough to kill your cat, so it is best to keep these plants out of your house entirely. Never allow your cat to chew or eat house plants unless you are certain they are non-toxic. The ASPCA Poisonous Plants database is an excellent tool to ensure your house plants are safe for your cat.
Onions and Garlic
Plants in the genus Allium are toxic for both dogs and cats, but cats are particularly sensitive to their effects. This genus includes onions, garlic, scallions, and chives. These foods cause damage to your cat’s red blood cells, which results in anemia. Onions and garlic are used as flavorings in a wide variety of foods, including broth, baby food, and prepared meats. If you want to give your cat any prepared or pre-packaged human foods, be sure to read the ingredients list first to ensure all of the components are safe for your cat.
Somehow the image of a cat lapping milk from a saucer has become idyllic in our minds, but the truth is that dairy is not very good for cats. Cats lack the enzymes to digest lactose – the sugar naturally found in milk – which can lead to stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea. Cats with food allergies or inflammatory bowel disease also tend to be more sensitive to dairy. They may experience flare-ups if allowed to eat these foods. Dairy products also contain a high amount of fat and calories, which can lead to obesity if fed on a regular basis. If your cat tolerates dairy well, it is safe to give some as an occasional treat, but only if it is a very small amount and does not happen regularly!
While most people know better than to give their pets alcohol intentionally, it is not uncommon for a curious kitty to investigate an unattended glass. Cats are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than humans. Even small amounts can result in vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, tremors, and even death. Hard liquors contain more alcohol per volume than beer and wine, so these beverages are particularly dangerous. Similarly, ingesting raw bread dough is dangerous to your cat because it ferments to alcohol in the cat’s stomach, causing the same symptoms as ingestion of an alcoholic beverage.
With the legalization of marijuana in many states and the increasing popularity of edibles, ingestion of marijuana is becoming a more prevalent problem for our pets. Toxicity can also occur when marijuana smoke is blown into a cat’s face. So it is best to keep your cat out of the room when partaking in this activity. Signs of marijuana toxicity in cats include drooling, restlessness or hyperactivity, sedation, swaying, weakness, increased vocalization, and aggression. In some cases, toxicity can be severe enough to be life-threatening.
Chocolate and Caffeine
Chocolate and caffeine both contain methylxanthines, which when ingested can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and tremors. Severe toxicity can be fatal. The risk for chocolate toxicity is highest with darker chocolates – such as baking chocolate – which contains higher concentrations of methylxanthines per volume. If you believe your cat may have ingested chocolate, determining the type of chocolate and the amount consumed can help your veterinarian develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Raw Meat and Eggs
Raw meat and eggs contain potentially harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. These bacteria can cause gastrointestinal illness resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and weight loss. These bacteria are also transmissible to humans, and there have been many cases of pet owners developing illnesses from feeding their pets raw meat diets. Raw meat is particularly dangerous for people and animals with less robust immune systems. This risk is highest for young, elderly, pregnant, and patients with a compromised immune system.
Many cats love salty snacks like pretzels or potato chips. However, excessive salt intake can cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, seizures, and death. High-sodium foods can also worsen some medical conditions, such as heart disease. High-sodium foods such as chicken or beef broth, deli meats, cheese, processed foods, and many soft treats should be avoided.
Ingestion of high fat foods can not only cause weight gain, but also gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea. In some animals, high-fat foods can lead to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas which causes abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and fever. Foods such as ham, bacon, meat trimmings, and cooking grease should never be given to your cat.
While dog food is not necessarily toxic for cats, it is not an appropriate diet for them. Cats have unique nutritional needs that differ from those of dogs. It’s okay if your cat likes to steal a piece of food out of the dog’s bowl now and then. But dog food should never be given long-term or as a sole diet for your cat. Doing so can lead to nutritional excesses or deficiencies that can cause permanent health problems.
My Cat Ingested Something – Now What?
If you believe your cat may have ingested a potentially toxic food or substance, you should immediately call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline (888-426-4435). Depending on the product and the amount ingested, you may be instructed to take your cat to a veterinary clinic immediately.
Once there, a veterinarian will assess your cat and may recommend decontamination. This usually involves giving your cat a medication to induce vomiting in order to bring up the ingested substance and/or feeding activated charcoal, which will bind to the substance in the stomach to prevent it from being absorbed into the blood-stream. If the toxicity is severe, your cat may need to be hospitalized for further treatment.
Many common foods that we humans enjoy can be harmful or even fatal to our cats. Being aware of the potential dangers and taking care to keep these items out of reach will help keep your cat safe. If your cat may have ingested a potentially toxic food, seek medical attention immediately.