Ten Human Foods That Can Make Your Cat Sick...or Dead

Pets, like young children, are trusting creatures who can be alarmingly oblivious to the dangers of attractive objects – perhaps particularly when those objects are edible.  While our beloved feline friends are frustratingly picky eaters at times, they may consume foods that could potentially harm, or even kill, them. It’s up to us to keep toxins out of their reach, not always an easy task for these creatures whose nimbleness and curiosity give them ready access to almost any surface, nook or cranny!

If your cat is exhibiting any of the symptoms described below, he may have eaten something toxic.  It’s always best to at least make a call to your vet immediately; better yet, get kitty in the carrier, hop in the car and head to the clinic!

1.  Alcohol

It may take more than a glass or two of alcohol to make you tipsy, but even a seemingly insignificant amount can intoxicate your feline friend, and a tablespoon of it could put her in a coma. . . or worse.  Mixed drinks like White Russians or alcoholic egg nog (Christmas is coming, after all!) contain milk, cream or ice cream, making them particularly attractive.

Symptoms include vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor (yes, just what you see in intoxicated humans); in extreme cases, you’re looking at coma, seizures and death.

2.  Chocolate

Like most cats, yours probably doesn’t have a sweet tooth; but you might still catch him nibbling on a piece of candy or a brownie or other baked goods. It’s the caffeine and theobromine in chocolate that are toxic to cats, causing heart arrhythmias and muscle tremors.  The rule of thumb, according to the ASPCA is, “the darker it is, the more dangerous it is.” White chocolate is low in these toxins and thus fairly safe; but dark baker’s chocolate and plain, dry unsweetened cocoa power can be deadly. 

Symptoms of toxicity range from vomiting, increased thirst and abdominal discomfort to severe agitation, muscle tremors, irregular heart rhythm, high body temperature, seizures and even death. Anything more than mild symptoms require an immediate vet visit.

3.  Coffee, tea and energy drinks

Of course, chocolate isn’t the only source of caffeine.  Caffeinated drinks and foods can cause the same types of symptoms.

4.  The onion family, with one healthy exception

This family includes onions, shallots, leeks, garlic and scallions, and the danger lies in a compound called n-propyldisulfide that can damage red blood cells.  Occasional small amounts, e.g. a sauce that contains onion, are unlikely to cause any harm.  It would take consuming large amounts over an extended period of time to cause anemia or even death. Keep in mind that powdered forms are far more potent than the raw form; e.g., there might be enough in certain baby foods to make your cat sick.

Symptoms are loss of appetite, fever, and pale gums and lips.

One member of the onion family is actually touted as a healthy addition to a canine or feline diet:  garlic.  Well-known holistic vet Martin Goldstein feeds garlic to his cats and dogs on a regular basis; and Dr. Richard Pitcairn, respected vet and pet authority, recommends up to 1/4 clove of garlic per day for cats and 1/2 to three cloves for dogs. Introduce gradually; and plan to give your cat at least one day off of garlic per week, or an entire week off periodically.

5.  Bread dough

Drunk on bread dough?  Yup.  As the yeast metabolizes the sugar in the dough, it produces alcohol which, in turn, produces intoxication.  Equally harmful is the dough itself which, when exposed to the warm, moist environment of the stomach, gradually expands, potentially decreasing blood flow to the stomach and affecting breathing. In severe cases, it can even rupture the stomach and intestines.

Symptoms include a distended abdomen and signs of drunkenness, disorientation and vomiting (or trying to vomit).  If you see these symptoms, make sure your vet knows. And keep rising dough out of the reach of kitty!

6.  Moldy foods

Well, you and I are quick to ditch any food with that fuzzy blue stuff growing on it (yuck); but your cat just might eat that cheese or cream cheese that has clearly been around too long.  Mold is dangerous stuff for cats, causing what’s called tremorgenic mycotoxin poisoning. Tremors begin in fine muscles, progress to whole-body tremors and then to convulsions. Just the thought of it should make us want to be sure we dispose of moldy foods where kitty can’t possibly get at them!

7.  Dairy products

“But cats love milk!” you say.  Perhaps. Be that as it may, cats lack enough of the enzyme lactase to properly break down the lactose in milk; so it’s best to keep the milk (and cheese, yogurt, etc.) to yourself.

Symptoms include gastrointestinal discomfort, vomiting and diarrhea.

8.  Tuna

“Tuna, too?” you exclaim. Well, it’s tuna sold for us humans that’s the problem; tuna made into cat food is not.  As an occasional treat, even “human tuna” may be harmless; but it should not be a regular part of kitty’s diet. By itself, tuna is not nutritionally complete, is high in unsaturated fats (too much is bad for cats), may lead to Vitamin E deficiency and may also contain harmful amounts of mercury.  And – believe it or not – nearly one quarter of cats are actually allergic to fish.  Go figure.

9.  Grapes and raisins.

These two are great treats for kids but are best not offered to your feline.  They are unlikely to eat them anyway, and there are no reports of cats getting sick from them; but they can cause serious kidney failure in dogs, so let’s not risk kitty’s health by leaving these out on the kitchen counter.

10.  Xylitol

OK, xylitol itself doesn’t qualify as a “food;” but it is an ingredient in a lot of sugar-free foods and other products, including gum, candies, baked goods, cough syrup, children’s chewable vitamins, mouthwash and toothpaste. Once again, there are no records of cats becoming ill from xylitol (perhaps because cats are, in general, not interested in sweets); but it is clearly toxic for dogs, causing a severe drop in blood sugar followed by liver failure. So assume that it’s really bad for your cat, know where it is in your house and definitely keep it out of her reach.

Symptoms include a sudden lack of coordination, vomiting, lethargy and, eventually, seizures and possibly coma. 

Has your cat ever eaten something toxic? What are your strategies for keeping your feline friend safe?

SOURCES for this article:

"Foods That Are Hazardous to Cats."  No date.  https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-behavior/foods-are-hazardous-cats 

"Human Foods That Are Dangerous for Cats." No date.  http://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/poisoning-toxicity/e_ct_ human_ food_ poisoning 

"Plants and Foods That Are Poisonous to Cats." Dec. 3, 2009. http://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/plants-food-poisonous-to-cats