Cat owners commonly contemplate about the toxicity of human foods. The questions about the safety of different foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic which yielded a lot of press coverage. The most important toxic foods in cats are onions, garlic, chocolate, alcohol, and excessive amounts of fish. In dogs, Grapes and Raisins, and Peanut Butter are commonly discussed dangerous foods.
Exposure to the dangers of dangerous foods have encouraged pet owners ask about other human foods such as can cats eat cheese. Learn more about what cats can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Cats Can’t Eat.
Can Cats Eat Cheese?
Cheese is a food product made from milk. It is formed by the coagulation of the milk protein casein. Cheese can be made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo. Cheese can be created into a large variety of textures and flavors.
When researching the safety and dangers of cheese for cats, while cheese is not considered toxic or dangerous, it is not necessarily good for your cat. It can be fed to some cats in very small amounts.
Why is cheese not good for cats? The answer is that most cats are considered to be lactose-intolerant. This is contrary to popular belief. After all, many children’s books contain iconic photos of adorable kittens lapping up saucers of milk.
Lactose intolerance is a normal part of being an adult cat. Kittens produce an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose which is the milk sugar. As kittens age and are weaned, they produce less and less lactase and therefore are unable to digest most dairy products.
When lactose is ingested and not broken down by the lactase, the lactose continues through the intestinal system and is not digested. Water is drawn into the intestine and bacteria ferment the undigested milk sugars. This results in symptoms that may include gas, discomfort, and diarrhea in 8 to 12 hours.
NOTE: Any food can cause gastrointestinal upset in cats. What may not bother some cats may cause signs of illness in another cat. The same can happen in people. Some foods can bother some people and not others. Overfeeding can cause gastrointestinal upset and/or obesity.
The Dangers of Cheese to Cats
As discussed above, cats naturally have an inability to digest lactose. This can affect some cats more than others. Ingestion of any type of cheese or dairy product can produce severe symptoms in some cats.
Flavored cheese such as with garlic, onion, or garlic/onion powders can cause severe problems in cats. Cats lack the enzyme to appropriately digest onions that can cause flatulence (gas), vomiting, diarrhea, or severe gastrointestinal distress. Regular ingestion of onion or garlic products can cause life-threatening red blood cell damage.
However, some cats appear to be more lactose intolerant than others. I’ve seen cats on dairy farms seem to tolerate milk ingestion. I personally have a cat that begs for cheese and loves it. I only feed a small amount the size of a pea and he seems to consistently tolerate this without any signs of problems. In general, dairy products are not recommended for most cats.
How Can You Tell if Your Cat is Lactose Intolerant?
You can test your cat’s ability to digest lactose by offering a small amount of milk such as a tablespoon of milk and look for abnormal symptoms.
There are differing amounts of lactose in the various dairy products. For examples, goat milk commonly contain less lactose than cow milk. Therefore, some cats may digest cheese made with goat milk better than cheese made with cow milk. Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream all have different amounts. Some dairy products may agree with your cat more than another.
With that being said, there is nothing in cheese that your cat requires. It is safest to choose a different treat that is without risk.
Do Cats Like Cheese?
Some cats love cheese and other cats don’t. This really varies cat to cat. Some cats often love the flavor of cheese, soft texture, and enjoy this as a healthy snack. Cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, and Vitamin B12. In fact, I personally have two cats that love cheese and beg for it at every occasion.
Do Cats Need Cheese?
There is nothing in cheese that cats require. What cats do need is a high quality AAFCO approved cat food. Learn more about Nutrition in Cats.
There are healthier snacks for cats other than cheese.
The Safest Way to Give Cheese to Cats
The safest way to give cheese to your cat is to give a very small piece of sliced soft cheese free of flavors such as onion. Some cat lovers hide medication such as pills in cheese, although this is a more common technique used in dogs.
Can Cats be Allergic to Cheese?
Although uncommon, cats can be allergic to cheese. Both cats and dogs can be allergic to cheese and other dairy products. Other common food allergies are to chicken and beef. Food allergies in cats can cause skin infections and/or gastrointestinal problems.