There’s no doubt that cheese is one of the world’s most-loved food items. The savory taste and mouth-watering texture just makes it perfect for anything from a grilled cheese sandwich to an extra-large pepperoni pizza. And it’s not only us humans that enjoy the great taste of this dairy byproduct – our four-legged feline friends do too!
But can they actually eat cheese? Although most cats come running towards their human companions when they open up a cheese wrapper, the truth about cheese and cats may surprise you. Read on below for the full scoop on whether cats can eat cheese.
Cheese is not natural food for cats
Before we get into anything, it’s worth establishing that cheese is not a natural food for cats. Period. Cats are carnivores – this means that cats get all of the nutrients they need via meat protein such as beef, poultry, fish and pork.
You may be asking, “but isn’t cheese high in protein, too?”. Yes, cheese has high protein levels. But the high protein levels in cheese also come with a high dairy content – and contrary to popular images of cats lapping up milk in a bowl, a high proportion of dairy in a cat’s diet can really upset their already delicate digestive system.
Why is this so? Well, cats lack the lactase enzyme, which is a naturally occurring enzyme in humans (and other omnivorous species) that helps to break down the lactose present in dairy products. This essentially means that cats – or at least a majority of cats – are lactose intolerant.
Cats are dairy intolerant
When cats consume and digest dairy, they run the risk of experiencing gastrointestinal problems like inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting and constipation. This is due to their dairy intolerance. Here are some common symptoms of dairy allergies shown by cats who consume lactose products:
- Excessive gas
- Loss of fur
- Itchy skin / Red patches on skin
If you notice any of these symptoms after your cat has consumed cheese, dairy or any other lactose products, get in touch with your vet as soon as possible to get these allergies treated.
Kittens and cheese
A kitten’s digestive system is slightly different than an adult cat’s, in the sense that they do have the ability to produce more of the lactase enzyme which allows them to consume and digest dairy from their mother’s milk.
However, by the time kittens are weaned off mother’s milk, the lactase production in their body significantly slows down. This means that by the time a kitten is able to eat solids, the lactase in their bodies is no longer enough to facilitate digestion of dairy.
What happens when your cat eats cheese?
With all that said, if you’re planning on giving cheese as a treat for your cat, a small piece the size of a dice every once in a while is fine. However, if cheese is a regular part of your cat’s diet, it could create problems in their digestive system or cause complications and health issues.
One such health issue to note is the caloric intake of your cat. Cheese has a high calorie count – and a diet that is high in calories will cause health complications like obesity in the future. Studies have shown that less than 10% of a cat’s daily calories should come from any food items or treats that aren’t recommended by a vet. Cheese is obviously a kind of junk food for cats, much like how humans increase their risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease by binging on junk food regularly.
In more severe cases, lactose products such as cheese may also result in detrimental effects to a cat’s immune system. So if in doubt, always get your feline friend fully checked out by a vet before putting cheese into rotation as an occasional treat for them.
What about non-dairy cheese?
Non dairy cheese has been a revolutionary newcomer to the food scene, and has been adopted as a tasty alternative to natural cheese (to the benefit of lactose intolerant individuals). However, the truth is that non-dairy cheese contains high amounts of fat and salt, to compensate for the lack of taste as compared to natural dairy cheese.
This high fat and salt content in non-dairy cheese is not healthy in large amounts for individuals, while the negative health effects will be just the same for cats who consume non-dairy cheese on the regular.
Other alternative natural treats for cats
Cats get all of the nutrients they need from meat such as poultry, beef, pork and fish. However, a great cat diet features a mix of commercial wet and dry cat food, raw and cooked meat, as well as the occasional serving of natural snacks such as:
Cooked eggs contain high protein, and are often fed to pregnant cats to boost their protein levels to promote a healthy pregnancy. Scrambled and hard boiled eggs are a cat’s favorite, but it’s best to experiment how your cat likes his or her eggs before including it in their regular diet.
Celery, Carrots, Asparagus, Green Beans and Broccoli are some of the healthy snack options that are highly nutritious for cats. The high fiber content helps with regulating your cat’s digestive system, making for a healthy lifestyle overall.
Fruits are a healthy snack option for cats as well. Cats love fruits like watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe, while the introduction of apples, bananas, oranges and apricots into their diets will keep them healthy and happy for a long life. However, always remember to remove any rinds or seeds that may otherwise cause a choking hazard to your cat.
Cats can be very curious creatures, and often come round sniffing whatever you’ve got on your plate or in your hands. You may be tempted to share your food with your cat – after all, what’s a better bonding experience than to share your bounty with your animal companion?
However, it has to be said that cats have completely different digestive systems from humans, which is why they have specially prepared cat food and diet plans approved by the veterinarian society. If in doubt, always follow your vet’s advice and don’t risk your cat’s health with treats meant for humans!