8 Foods You Should Never Feed Your Cat

When they say curiosity can kill the cat, they mean it. One bite of the wrong food, and your cat's nine lives could be up! Unlike dogs, who can eat almost anything (and usually will), cats are carnivorous by nature with finicky digestive systems. The canine digestive tract is, like humans', six times the length of its body, but a cat's digestive tract is one-third shorter (just four times the length of its body). It is designed to efficiently extract nutrients from meat, but it can also digest carbohydrates, fats and protein from certain plants as well. Beyond toxic house and yard plants like lilies, poinsettias and aloe, there's plenty of everyday foods that can cause cats harm or discomfort. Here's a list of foods that your kitty should never eat.

1. Raw Meat
While cats are meat eaters, they should stick to cat food or the infrequent bite or two of well-cooked, unseasoned lean protein, free from bone, gristle, or other bits that could be a choking hazard. Raw meat poses the same risks of disease to cats as it does humans, and given their size, it takes far less for them to fall ill.

2. Milk or Dairy Products 
Contrary to popular belief, cats should not consume milk or cheese. Most cats are lactose intolerant, and even a small amount can cause diarrhea and stomach upset.

3. Canned Tuna
All types of canned fish pose several risks to cats. The high concentration of mercury can lead to neurological disorders over time, and long-term consumption can lead to depletion of vitamin E stores.

4. Garlic and Onions
While humans might appreciate their meat cooked with these aromatic vegetables, they are actually harmful to cats and dogs. When our pets eat them, these foods can harm red blood cells and cause anemia.

5. Chocolate
Unlike humans, cats can't taste sweets. But chocolate--even in small quantities--is potentially fatal. Two chemicals, theobromine and caffeine, accumulate in animals rapidly, putting them at risk of poisoning.

6. Grapes and Raisins
Experts aren't sure exactly what causes harm to animals, but even a small amount of grapes or raisins (including juice, baked goods and wine) can be toxic and cause kidney failure in both cats and dogs.

7. Xylitol
This indigestible artificial sweetener found in gum and toothpaste can cause liver failure if ingested.

8. Other Junk Foods
Like humans, cats need a diet based on whole, unprocessed foods, but that doesn't mean they can make sound nutrition choices on their own. Processed foods, with their excess fat, sugar and/or salt, do not have a place in a cat's diet.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Some of the foods above may seem "natural" and even harmless to feed your cat--especially since we know many of them to be healthy for humans. When it comes to most foods, it's probably not worth the risk. Even if a food is "safe" for cats, your cat could have an unpleasant reaction to eating it. Resist the urge to supplement your cat's diet with these little "treats" and your pet will love you just as much--and stay healthier.

Be sure to "Pin" this graphic for future reference and read on for tips about safe treats for cats.

If you want to give your cat a healthy treat now and then, here are a few simple options that are generally safe.

Cat Grass
Either buy or sprout your own "cat" grass at home. Wheat, barley and oat grass are all palatable to cats, who eat it for one of two reasons, according to experts. They either do it to fulfill an oral fixation or as an instinct to ward off intestinal parasites. My cat Dizzy can plow through a container of cat grass in a day (eating until he is ill), so now we monitor his intake and take it away after a few minutes.
While most cats only sniff this enticing leaf, some will actually eat it. The plant, which is related to mint, has varying effects (and some cats aren't affected at all), but experts say it mimics cats' "happy hormones." Provide it fresh or dried to calm stressed-out kitties or just watch as they enter feline nirvana! Note: Cats can become immune to it, so use it sparingly.
Olive or Vegetable Oil
If your cat is prone to dandruff or dry, itchy skin, adding more oil to his diet might help. At the advice of our veterinarian, we pour about a teaspoon into our cat's dish a couple of times a week, and he happily laps it up. Talk to your veterinarian before trying this approach and to decide how much oil (if any) is appropriate for your cat.
If your cat is willing to eat veggies, experts agree there is no harm in feeding them a few bites now and again. Some cats love steamed broccoli and other greens! Stick with green leafy veggies or carrots, and never feed a cat anything from the onion family, green tomatoes or raw potatoes. Just make sure the vegetables are clean, soft (cooked) and small enough to avoid choking; a cat's teeth are designed to tear apart meat, not chomp on crunchy veggies.
Brown Rice or Cooked Grains
While cats are carnivores, they can digest grains. As with humans, they should be fed whole grains over refined varieties. This should be a rare treat (a spoonful at most), and the grains should be free of any seasonings or added fats.
Bottom line: Cats should eat cat food and little else. Experts say that the biggest problem facing animals today is overfeeding; our pets are growing as much as we are and suffering many of the obesity-related diseases that are plaguing humans. Any "extras," can adversely affect your pet's weight. Treats, whether made at home or of a commercial variety, should comprise no more than 10% of your cat's diet (for a 12-pound cat, that's 31 calories a day).

This article has been reviewed and approved by Kristi Snyder, DVM.
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