In the United States alone, pet owners spend over $10 billion dollars on pet food a year. Yet, despite all the finest cat food available, some finicky felines would rather eat what we eat. You may not be aware, however, that certain foods good for humans can be dangerous to your cat and can cause various illness or death.
Food may be toxic due to ingredients or through improper cooking, storage or poor hygiene.
Even if not fed intentionally, you need to be careful that your cat cannot access any of these dangerous foods accidentally. Knowing what foods are dangerous can save you a trip to the vet and maybe even your cat's life.
Ethanol is the component in alcoholic beverages that can be toxic if an excessive amount is ingested. Being much smaller than a person, cats can be highly affected by even a small amount of alcohol. It can lead to death.
Signs of ethanol toxicity include:
- Odor of alcohol on the animal's breath
- Behavioral changes
- Increased urination
- Slowed respiratory rate
- Cardiac arrest
Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches and Plums:
Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches and Plums all contain a cyanide type compound. Ingestion of large amounts of stems, seeds and leaves of these fruits can be toxic.
Signs of toxicity include:
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty breathing
The toxic component in the avocado is "persin," which is a fatty acid derivative. The leaves, fruit, bark and seeds of avocados have all been reported to be toxic. The amount that needs to be ingested to be toxic is unknown.
Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal enlargement
- Abnormal fluid accumulations in the chest, abdomen and sac around the heart.
Some baby foods are formulated with onion powder, which can be toxic to cats. If fed in large amounts, it can even result in nutritional deficiencies.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda:
Baking soda and baking powder are both agents commonly used in baking. A leavening agent produces a gas which causes batter and dough to rise. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder actually consists of baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar, calcium acid phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate or a mixture of the three. Ingestion of large amounts of baking soda or baking powder can lead to electrolyte abnormalities (low potassium, low calcium and/or high sodium), congestive heart failure or muscle spasms.
Bones from fish, poultry, or other meat sources:
Bones of any size can cause an obstruction or laceration of the digestive system. Bird bones in particular are susceptible to splitting.
Canned Tuna (for human consumption)
Large amounts of human grade canned tuna cause malnutrition in a cat because it lacks proper levels of vitamins and minerals.
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic in high amounts. The levels of caffeine and theobromine vary between different types of chocolate. For example, white chocolate has the lowest concentration of stimulants and baking chocolate or cacao beans have the highest concentration.
Depending on the type of chocolate ingested and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. The high fat content in chocolate may result in vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Once toxic levels are eaten, the stimulant effect becomes apparent.
- Muscle twitching
- Increased urination
- Excessive panting
- Heart rate and blood pressure levels may also be increased
- Seizure activity may occur in severe cases
Citrus Oil Extracts
Citrus oil extracts can cause vomiting.
Coffee (grounds and beans) tea, and other caffeine:
Cats that eat coffee grounds or beans can get "caffeine" toxicity. The symptoms are very similar to those of chocolate toxicity and can be even more serious.
Dog food is not formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of a cat. If a cat eats it occasionally, it will not cause a problem, but if fed repeatedly, it can result in malnutrition and diseases affecting the heart. Learn more by reading the article Cats Shouldn't Be Fed Dog Food.
Dairy products are not highly dangerous but can pose problems for two reasons. Their high fat content increases a risk of pancreatitis. In addition, cats digest dairy products poorly because they lack the enzyme required to digest lactose. This can cause gas and/or diarrhea.
Small amounts of plain yogurt or cheese are tolerated by most felines. Lactose-free milk products are available for cats.
Fatty Foods/ Fat Trimmings:
Rich and fatty food are favorites of pets. They often get them as treats, leftovers or from getting into the trash. These fatty foods can cause pancreatitis. The cat may become very sick quickly and often needs intensive fluid and antibiotic therapy.
Signs of pancreatitis generally include:
- Sometimes diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Hunched posture or "splinting" of the abdomen when picked up.
Grapes and Raisins:
In the US, a dozen canine deaths due to poisoning by grapes and raisins have been officially reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. The amount of grapes or raisins ingested has been between 9 ounces to 2 pounds, and dogs ingesting these large amounts have developed kidney failure. Aggressive, and sometimes prolonged, treatment may be necessary to give the affected animal a chance at survival; without treatment death is possible. Despite testing, the reason for the kidney failure and the amount necessary for toxicity remains unknown. For now, any pet that ingests large amounts of grapes or raisins should be treated aggressively, so contact your veterinarian immediately if ingestion has occurred.
Human Vitamin Supplements Containing Iron:
Excessive iron can damage the lining of the digestive system and be toxic to the other organs including the liver and kidneys.
Large Amounts of Liver:
Too much liver is not good for your cat as it can cause Vitamin A toxicity, which affects muscles and bones.
Macadamia nuts can be toxic although we don't know why. It has been noted that as few as six nuts can cause severe toxic signs. The signs usually dissipate in 12 to 24 hrs.
- Difficulty walking
- Abdominal pain
- Pale gums
Mary-Jane can depress the nervous system, cause vomiting, and changes in the heart rate.
Moldy or Spoiled Food:
Be sure your cat cannot get into the garbage as spoiled foods can contain multiple toxins. In addition to food poisoning, some pets can develop tremors related to the ingestion of certain molds. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea.
Mushrooms can contain toxins, which may affect multiple systems in the body, cause shock, and result in death.
Although the toxic principle is not well understood, high levels of nutmeg can be dangerous, even fatal to cats. Signs of toxicity include:
- Nervous system abnormalities
Onions or Garlic:
Cats lack the enzyme necessary to properly digest onions. This can result in gas, vomiting, diarrhea or severe gastrointestinal distress. If large amounts of onion or garlic are ingested or onions are a daily part of the cat's diet, the red blood cells may become fragile and break apart. This is due to the toxic ingredient in onions and garlic, thiosulphate. Signs can begin immediately after eating the onion or a few days later. Large quantities of garlic need to be ingested before signs of toxicity are seen. Severe anemias and even death can occur if the cat ingests lots of onions or garlic and receives no treatment.
All forms of onion and garlic are a problem for felines. This includes raw, dehydrated, cooked, powders or those in foods. The most common source of onions for cats is in human baby food. Some baby foods have onion powder added for taste. When consistently fed baby food with added onion powder, signs of toxicity can develop. Many people use garlic pills as 'natural' flea control. The amount of garlic is low but if large amounts of the pills are ingested at one time, toxicity may occur.
Persimmon seeds can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis.
Potato, rhubarb, and tomato leaves; potato and tomato stems:
Although most cats don't like to eat vegetables, the leaves and stems of these vegetables contain oxalates, which can affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems.
Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin, which decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin). This can lead to skin and hair coat problems. Raw eggs may also contain Salmonella.
Especially if fed regularly, raw fish can result in a thiamine (a B vitamin) deficiency leading to loss of appetite, seizures, and in severe cases, death.
If eaten in large quantities, salt can lead to electrolyte imbalances.
Cats love to play with string or string-like products such as dental floss or yarn. If ingested, string can become trapped in the digestive system; called a "string foreign body."
As in people, too much sugar can lead to obesity, dental problems, and possibly diabetes mellitus.
Table Scraps (in large quantities)
Table scraps are not nutritionally balanced. They should never be more than 10% of the cats diet. Fat should be trimmed from meat; bones should not be fed.
Tobacco contains nicotine, which affects the digestive and nervous systems. Symptoms of tobacco toxicity include:
- Rapid heart beat
See the article Smoking & Your Cat for additional info.
When ingested, bread or yeast dough will "rise" in the stomach just as it would for bread. Even a small amount of dough can expand to many times its size and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach or intestines.
Also, as the dough rises and ferments, alcohol is produced which can cause "alcohol toxicity."
- Abdominal discomfort