Pictures of kittens lapping at a bowl of milk are common, but what happens as they grow up? Is dairy bad for cats, and if not, is it okay for cats to eat cheese?
Whether your feline friend snuck a curious bite off the kitchen counter or you’d like to award them a tasty treat, it’s always wise to ensure safety whenever you introduce a new food to a cat’s diet. Their digestive system can be extremely sensitive, and many human foods that are perfectly safe for us to eat can cause major health consequences in felines.
By the end of this article, you’ll know the pros and cons of feeding cats cheese, as well as what types of cheese are safe for cats (and which ones you should avoid at all costs!).
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Generally,cats can eat cheese in moderate amounts. Cheese is not toxic to cats, and most can safely consume the dairy product as an occasional treat.
Whether your cat actually needs to eat cheese is another question. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet requires nutrients only found in animal meat. Felines lack the necessary physiology to consume plant-based matter (although they can consume mineral and vegetable substances for non-nutritional reasons). In other words, dairy is not a natural part of a cat’s diet, and cheese does not offer them any nutritional benefits.
A healthy cat diet should consist of commercial-grade food, with treats making up no more than 10% of their daily calorie consumption.
While cats can eat cheese in small amounts, eating too much of it can cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, bloating, and flatulence. Pet parents should be especially careful given the following considerations:
Many people believe that cats love dairy, but this is one of the most enduring myths about felines. In truth, most cats are lactose-intolerant and cannot digest dairy-based products like cheese very well. After they’re done weaning, felines do not produce an enzyme called lactase_ _that’s essential for breaking down the sugars that occur naturally in milk (known as lactose).
Some cats can tolerate dairy better than others, which is why some may rub up against your leg at the sight of a milk carton. If you’re wondering how to tell if your cat is lactose-intolerant, they will display notable symptoms of diarrhea within eight to 12 hours of consumption.
While stomach upset due to lactose intolerance is never fun, it’s less likely to induce severe consequences than a dairy allergy, which impairs a cat’s ability to digest the proteins found in cheese, milk, and similar products. The risk of dairy allergy in cats may be relatively small , affecting 0.05% of the feline pet population. Allergic reactions may cause skin disorders and gut problems, even by consuming a very small amount of cheese. In rare cases, an anaphylactic reaction can occur, which has the potential to be life-threatening. Always monitor your pet closely after serving them new food and watch for signs of adverse reactions.
If your pet has a health condition, such as kidney disease or heart disease, your vet may advise you to monitor their salt intake. Dairy contains a high volume of sodium, so some cats can’t eat cheese without risking their overall well-being. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s diet.
Cheese is also very high in caloric fat, so if your cat eats cheese** on a regular basis, they could quickly become overweight. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition , a one-ounce cube of cheddar cheese served to an average ten-pound cat is the equivalent of a person eating two and one-half cheeseburgers in a single sitting! If weight gain leads to obesity, it can significantly reduce your cat’s life expectancy and cause a number of secondary health issues.
Some ingredients can make cheese bad for cats, so be very mindful of which type you offer. Certain additives often paired with cheesy spreads, such as garlic, onions, and chives, are highly toxic in pets. These members of the allium family can break down animals’ red blood cells, leading to anemia, so be sure to steer clear of them at all costs.
Some types of cheese are more dangerous to cats than otheres. Let's take a look.
Cats should not eat blue cheese or similar moldy varietals. Blue cheese, like Stilton, contains the mold Penicillium, which can be toxic to pets. Furthermore, although blue cheese is low in lactose (0.5 grams per 100 grams), it’s still high in fat.
Hard cheese like parmesan contains less lactose than soft cheese (like mozzarella, cottage cheese, and cream cheese), which makes them easier for your cat to digest. Nonetheless, they should only be given on occasion and in moderate quantities.
Goat cheese has the least amount of lactose and also contains less salt than hard types of cheese, so it’s generally considered the** safest cheese cats can eat.**
If you’re wondering whether lactose-intolerant cats can eat non-dairy cheese, the unfortunate answer is no. Humans may find vegan options provide a tasty alternative, but non-dairy cheese is high in salt and fat, neither of which is good for your curious kitty.
Taking everything into consideration, here are some tips on how to feed cats cheese safely if you decide to do so after consulting with your veterinarian:
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We know that our feline friends can consume cheese in small amounts, but what about other dairy products? Here’s a look at a few common options: