Whether it’s Tom and Jerry drinking from the same bowl of milk or Garfield going crazy for a slice of lasagne, we’ve grown up seeing furry felines enjoying dairy in their diet. But can cats eat cheese? Or, more specifically, should you be feeding them cheese?
As we learn more about the digestion of our furry friends, it has become clear that, while they may enjoy a slice of cheese or a bowl of milk, they’re not designed to dine on dairy. In this post, we’ll bust one of the most common feline myths and discuss all there is to know about feeding cheese to your cats…
Is cheese bad for cats?
Dairy isn’t a natural part of any cat’s diet. All cats and their ancestors are natural carnivores, meaning they survive and thrive on meat products. The high fat and protein content – and its delicious taste! – leaves most cats craving the dairy treat. But, despite what we’ve seen in TV programmes, cheese can actually upset your cat’s digestive system. That includes everything from cream cheese and cottage cheese to feta, parmesan, blue cheese and even mac and cheese!
Why? While humans and other omnivores naturally produce a lactase enzyme to help break down lactose and other nutrients from dairy products, cats simply don’t have these enzymes. This makes it a lot harder for them to process dairy. As a result, the majority of cats are actually lactose intolerant, meaning cows’ milk and cheese can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
Some leading brands of cat food contain dairy, check the ingredient list to ensure yours doesn't. You may be tempted to treat their kitty to a chunk of cheese of two if they’re well behaved. After all, they do love the taste of the treat. But, while small amounts of cheese are safe for cats, it will pose an unnecessary risk of digestive issues for your furry friend.
What about non-dairy cheese?
Cats can’t eat cheese because they’re lactose intolerant, which raises the question – can they eat non-dairy cheese? Some products, designed for lactose-intolerant humans, will have their lactose removed or be supplemented with the right enzymes to help lactose-intolerant stomachs break it down.
However, cheese also contains high levels of salt and fat, which can hinder your kitty’s development and growth. As well as adding further complications to feeding your cat cheese, this makes it inadvisable to feed your cat non-dairy cheese as well. Whatever the case, be sure to check the ingredients of any product you’re considering for your furry friend.
Can kittens eat cheese?
We know what you’re thinking. Kittens can clearly digest milk, as they feed from their mother. So, they can digest cheese too, right? Not exactly…
Kittens do produce a larger amount of the lactase enzyme which allows them to consume and digest their mother’s milk. However, this production significantly slows down as soon as weaning starts. So, by the time your kitty is able to eat solids without a risk of choking, their ability to digest dairy is long gone.
On top of this, kittens have very specific dietary requirements. As they grow and develop, they need plenty of the right nutrients to keep them strong and healthy. Feeding them something that may cause poor digestion and loose stools could permanently damage their intestines.
You may also be unknowingly masking signs of more complex health issues. For example, if you’re feeding your kitten cheese and they’re experiencing stomach problems, you may just put that down to the dairy. In reality, they may be suffering with a parasitic infection or another serious condition which will only worsen the longer it goes unnoticed.
Other ‘human food’ cats can’t eat
You should always consult your vet before giving your cat any form of cheese, even as a treat, to make sure they don’t have any other health issues that prevent proper digestion. However, cheese isn’t the only ‘human food’ that could cause harm to your furry friend…
Cats and tuna go together like fish and chips, right? Think again. You should avoid feeding your cat too much tuna, whether it’s been made for cats or humans. Cats can very easily become addicted to the fish, which could lead them to eating it in excess. Just as it can for humans, too much seafood can give cats mercury poisoning. So, it’s best to save tuna and other fish as an occasional treat rather than a diet staple.
Onions & garlic
All forms of onion – powdered, raw, cooked – can be dangerous for your kitty. While an occasional small dose shouldn’t hurt, you should avoid giving your cat anything containing onion – it can break down a cat’s red blood cells, leading to anaemia. Garlic can be even more dangerous. The popular clove is around 5 times more toxic for cats than onions, so even if they ingest a small amount, garlic can cause severe digestional issues.
Grapes & raisins
For years, grapes and raisins have been given to cats as a treat. However, grapes and raisins can actually cause kidney failure – and the same goes for dogs too. Even a small amount can make your cat ill, causing vomiting and hyperactivity.
What to do if your cat eats something they shouldn’t?
Of course, we can’t have eyes on our kitty at every moment. Sometimes, even the most diligent pawrents can be faced with the scary realisation that their pet has eaten something they shouldn’t. If your cat starts to behave unnaturally – vomiting, experiencing diarrhoea or suffering from respiratory problems – its important not to panic.
First off, you should seek your vet’s advice as soon as you can to determine what your next steps should be. If you know what your cat has eaten, let your vet know. If not, you may have to take them in for further testing. Its important not to try to intervene yourself, giving them medication or attempting to make them vomit as you could make the situation worse.
What can you feed your cat?
The best cat foods for your precious kitty are those that offer a complete diet and have been tailor-made for them. Natural recipes with limited, hypoallergenic ingredients are perfect for your cat as they are packed with all the nutrients they need, without all the harmful additives that are often found in cheaper pet food recipes.
As natural carnivores, cats gain the majority of their nutrients from meat. But that doesn’t mean they can’t eat anything else. Instead of treating your cat to some cheese, here are some friendly "human foods" cats can eat instead:
Fruit & Vegetables
Despite being obligate carnivores, vegetables should form a part of your kitty's diet. Most complete cat food recipes will incorporate some healthy vegetables like carrots, asparagus, broccoli, green beans or chopped greens which are healthy and nutritious sources of fibre for your kitty. If you like to feed cat treats, let your kitty gnaw on these vegetables instead to avoid all the unnecessary sugars and salt in cat treats. You can explore treating with some fruits but be sure to make sure they’re free of pips and seeds first. Apples, apricots, bananas, oranges and pears are all healthy treat options for your cat.
Cats and fish go hand in hand supposedly. In reality a lot of cats steer clear from fishy flavours but there are always exceptions like our Boo who adores fishy things. If your cat likes the taste of fish be cautious on which fish they eat and how much of it. Too much fish, particularly carnivorous fish (tuna, swordfish, salmon) can lead to mercury poisoning, as touched upon earlier. Be sure to avoid raw fish too, as uncooked fish contains high levels of thiaminase, which leads to the deteriation of thiamine – an essential vitamin for your kitty. Tinned salmon or sardines are options for natural cat treats to give your feline a tasty treat, without the negative health impacts.
Eggs are a great addition to both human and cat diets, because they’re so rich in protein. They’re especially useful for pregnant cats, who need plenty of protein. While most vets agree that cooked eggs, including scrambled or hard-boiled, are a great treat for cats, raw eggs should be avoided. Although there is little research into the digestion of raw eggs, the risk of serious bacterial infections, such as salmonella or e-coli is too high.
Keep cats away from cheese
Cats can be inquisitive animals that will taste anything and everything they can get their paws on. That said, some can also be very fussy when it comes to their diet. Whether you’ve got a prima donna kitty or an all-they-can-eat feline, choosing the right diet for them is important.
At Scrumbles, we’ve spent years researching and experimenting with our cat foods to produce a nutritious, affordable and natural recipe that all kitties will love. We offer dry cat food, and four flavours of meaty pate cat food recipes; including our chicken grain free wet cat food, tuna cat food and turkey, with tummy-soothing slippery elm too.