Layne is an animal lover and grew up in a household full of rescued critters. She is a registered veterinary technician.
Poisonous/Dangerous Foods That You Should Never Feed to Your Cat
Cats are generally known to be picky eaters, but that doesn't stop them from wanting to try novel foods. Although your kitty might indicate that they are interested in eating something that you have, some foods are toxic or poisonous to cats.
While there is a large list of healthy human foods that you can offer your kitty, there is an equally long list of human foods that you should never feed to your cat.
Some of these ingredients may seem obvious and some may seem less familiar. Xylitol, for example, is an ingredient that is often found in many common foods. It's used as a substitution for sugar/sweetness and might be hard to detect on the food label. Xylitol appears in peanut butter, yogurts, and candy, for example, and is extremely dangerous if ingested by dogs and cats. We'll talk about why further down.
Enjoy reading through this list to keep your kitty safe.
1. Alcohol and Alcohol-Containing Foods
Alcohol is extremely dangerous for cats and dogs. While people might think it's funny to offer their pet beer, this is considered abusive and puts your pet's life in danger. If your cat happens to consume alcohol, you might notice that they have digestive problems, difficulty breathing, and are acting disoriented. Contact your vet immediately, as alcohol toxicity can result in coma or death. Also, beware of foods that contain alcohol or alcohol derivatives.
Cats are obligate carnivores and have an entirely different digestive process than humans. The skin of the avocado fruit contains persin, which is generally toxic to cats and dogs. If your cat accidentally ingests avocado, they may have vomiting/diarrhea or develop acute pancreatitis due to the fat content.
Many other species cannot eat avocados because they are considered very dangerous—birds, horses, and goats, specifically. Dogs are especially at risk of consuming the pit of the fruit (ingestion can cause suffocation or impaction).
Chocolate is toxic to cats and can cause some serious issues. Cats aren't necessarily interested in chocolate, but anything containing cocoa or chocolate chips puts them at risk. Pets that consume chocolate often exhibit diarrhea and vomiting, cardiac issues and blood pressure issues, and sometimes dyspnea.
The toxicity of chocolate is always dose-dependent—milk chocolates tend to be less potent because it contains more milk fat (fats usually contribute to acute pancreatitis), but the darker the chocolate, the higher the risk.
Quantity is important: If a 60-pound canine eats one milk chocolate chip, they are unlikely to be affected; if the same 60-pound canine eats 3 milk chocolate bars, that's another story. You can use this toxicity meter calculator to check the risk based on your pet's weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount consumed. Do note that this is for dogs, not cats, and the effects between species vary. As always, communicate with your vet immediately if your cat or pet ingests something toxic.
Dairy is long-debated as to whether or not it is bad for cats. The whole notion of feeding cats a bowl of milk is extremely misleading (it should not be done, plain and simple). Some cats do enjoy cheese and dairy in very small quantities (like a flake of parmesan cheese or a taste of a cottage cheese curd), but all in all, dairy from cows and other species can cause major digestive upset (similar to humans who experience lactose intolerance).
Dairy can give cats gas, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. More importantly, kittens should never be fed dairy (unless nursing from their mom or on a vet-approved milk replacer).
Cats are especially sensitive to caffeine, and it all depends on the quantity consumed. A few accidental licks of the substance might not cause major problems, but anything more than that will require an emergency trip to the vet. You will notice the symptoms of caffeine toxicity within the first 30 minutes of ingestion and symptoms can last up to 12 hours.
Watch out for dropped coffee beans, for example, which are VERY dangerous for cats. Coffee and caffeine are considered poisonous and can cause death in small animals. Look out for caffeine hidden in other foods or less obvious foods like black tea or similar.
6. Citrus (Oranges, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Tangerines)
Cats actually hate citrus, much like canines, and it is often used as a repellent to deter bad behaviors. This does not mean you should use it on or near your cat! The volatile oils in citrus, limonene, and linalool are pungent and irritate mucous membranes in cats.
If a cat consumes citrus, they will likely show symptoms of gastrointestinal distress and skin irritation. You'll want to be especially careful if you use an essential oil diffuser in your home—avoid citrus!
7. Dog Food
Although pet food tends to be produced by the same company and does have some overlap, and your cat might take interest in dog food, you should not be switching the two up. First of all, the size of the kibble or meat chunks is likely to vary; secondly, dog food and cat food have different nutritional requirements.
Cats are obligate carnivores and eat meat exclusively. Dogs are omnivores and can eat grains and vegetables in addition to meat. Cats also require high protein and high fat diets, and taurine in particular. It's not a good idea to exchange these foods as well because they can cause GI upset.
It's fairly well known that garlic is dangerous for cats. Although some homeopathic vets might make a second argument about garlic for dogs, garlic should not be fed to cats at all. Garlic contains thiosulphate which can destroy red blood cells and trigger hemolytic anemia. In most cases, cats won't even take to garlic, but a curious cat might give it a taste. Beware of broths (chicken or beef) and baby foods that contain garlic powder as well, in addition to too much sodium.
Again, much like garlic, these foods contain thiosulphate, which when consumed by cats, can trigger hemolytic anemia. Your cat might try to pull these plants up from the yard or might find onion trimmings or pieces of the plant when you are chopping it up in your kitchen, so be extra careful. Every part of these plants (bulbs, roots, shoots, greens) are dangerous for cats. It should be noted, as mentioned above, that broths and seasoned meat can contain onion powder as well. Always check the label.
Grapes and raisins are fairly well-known for being dangerous when it comes to dogs and cats, but currents tend to be a lesser-known threat (they are in the same family). Grapes, raisins, and currents cause liver damage in dogs and the same precautions should be taken for cats.
11. Human Medication
Even though there is overlap between human medications and supplements and those in the pet industry, never give your cat human medication. The following human medications are toxic/lethal for pets:
- Antidepressants: Some pets are put on antidepressants under a veterinarian's direction, but large quantities can cause neurological problems.
- ADHD/ADD medications: Stimulants and prescriptions that are used to treat ADHD and ADD can cause life-threatening issues for pets.
- NSAIDs: Motrin, Advil, and Aleve can cause kidney failure and liver toxicity.
- Acetaminophen: Causes damage to red blood cells
- Birth control pills: Toxic
There are numerous other medications that are dangerous for pets; these include thyroid hormones, ACE Inhibitors, and beta-blockers. Keep them locked up and out of reach. Never count or administer your pills with your pet nearby. Never give your pets any human medication—this should only be done via your vet.
12. Macadamia Nuts and Walnuts
Macadamia nuts are dangerous for cats (they are also toxic for dogs). They can cause depression, vomiting, hyperthermia (fever), vomiting, and lethargy/weakness. If your cat or dog consumes macadamia nuts, take them to the veterinarian immediately or make an urgent call to discuss the quantity that they consumed. Your vet will know what to do.
Beef liver and liver contains a great amount of vitamin A, and the consumption can cause vitamin A toxicity in cats. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity will include muscle aches, hyperesthesia, and skeletal issues. Eating too much organ meat can cause this condition in general. Feeding your cat table scraps can also trigger this condition. Supplements such as cod liver oil should also be avoided.
Vitamin A toxicity occurs over a period of time and in middle-aged cats. It's a sad condition to witness—you might notice that your cat is sensitive to touch and movement. Don't go rogue and offer your cat any special diets; talk to your vet if you want to try something different.
14. Raw Eggs
Although cooked eggs can be fed to cats in moderation, raw eggs can be dangerous to dogs and cats because of the risk of Salmonella and E. coli. In addition, raw eggs contain the protein avidin in the egg whites, which prevents the absorption of biotin (vitamin B) in the intestinal tract and can cause long-term nutritional deficiencies and systemic issues.
15. Raw Meat and Bones
Although cats are obligate carnivores and may eat raw meat and bones out in the yard (catching mice and birds, etc.), feeding them raw fish, meat, and anything containing bones is a very bad idea.
Raw meat not only puts your cat at risk of salmonella and E. coli, but raw meat might also contain parasites. In addition, bones can get lodged in your cat's esophagus, or they might splinter and enter the digestive tract only to puncture or irritate the intestinal walls. In addition, bone consumption might result in an impaction.
Avoid raw meat and bones entirely—despite the argument that cats are wild and are made to digest meat and bones, remember that they have been domesticated for many years.
You should not be feeding your pets trimmings due to the high-fat content. Even though it is tempting to drop a piece of carved turkey or two when you see your pet begging, the fat and seasonings used in meats can cause acute pancreatitis, diarrhea, and vomiting.
This food is too rich for your pet and can contribute to all sorts of issues. If you really need to give them a taste, give them the smallest amount (pea-size) and keep it at that. Require that family members follow the same guidelines.
Xylitol is extremely dangerous for cats and dogs. It is a sugar substitute (a chemical and sugar alcohol) that also occurs naturally in various foods. It is popularly incorporated into diet foods and tastes similar to sugar. You might find it in gum, candy, medication, baked goods, snacks, yogurt, peanut butter, and in certain supplements.
Xylitol is poisonous for cats and dogs and can cause hypoglycemia and put them at risk of liver failure. If your cat or pet has ingested xylitol, please contact your vet immediately as poisoning happens rapidly (within the first 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion). Your cat may show signs of vomiting, depression/lethargy/weakness, seizure, tremors/seizure, and is at risk of falling into a coma. Get them immediate treatment right away.
18. Yeast (Bread Dough)
Yeast and any form of raw dough are extremely dangerous for cats and dogs. Dough produces alcohol and carbon dioxide in the gastrointestinal tract (think of dough rising) and can increase in size to the point where your cat might need emergency surgery to open up the gastric space and remove it. Do not feed raw dough to your cats ever.
- Wedgewood Pharmacy
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 10, 2021:
Hi Sam, thanks for reading. Our cat loves to taste everything (and would lick yogurt cups, too). That's cute. Glad that she doesn't overeat, overeating is a big problem in a lot of cat households. I still give my cat cheese and dairy but she also has a hardy digestive tract. Thanks for stopping by.
Sam Shepards from Europe on January 03, 2021:
Cool article. I didn't know about dairy, our cat sometimes licks from my empty yogurt cup. It's not really eating, just having a taste I guess. She doesn't like "human" food in general or mostly doesn't even have an interest in it. She's also very picky in cat food and never overeats etc.