While there are plenty of human foods that are very problematic for your pet -- including onions, chocolate, and caffeinated foods -- some of the foods that you eat yourself can also be healthy, tasty options for your cat. Do keep in mind that your cat is carnivorous: since meat is necessary, don’t overly substitute vegetables into their diet in place of pet food or meat. Obesity is a growing problem amongst cats in the United States, so be mindful of portion size: a small dish for a human is a big meal for a cat. But, it’s a good gamble that using some everyday foods to treat your pet will be a lot healthier than some packaged treats.
Check out five great types of food that both you and your cat can eat. You can serve this food on its own, or mixed into cat food.
Making a tuna sandwich? Broiling some fish for dinner? You may find your cat twining around your legs, looking eager for some. Fish is perfectly fine to serve to your cat, although you should serve fish cooked, and not raw. While cats generally adore it, tuna fish should not be a primary source of nutrients for cats, since it can have traces of mercury which can accumulate in the body over time, and it doesn’t have all the nutrients that a cat needs for a healthy diet, such as vitamin E.
Cats are carnivorous creatures, so meat such as beef or chicken is always going to be appealing, whether it comes from a cat food can or from your stove. Because of the risks of salmonella and other foodborne illness, meat should always be cooked, and not given to cats raw. It’s also best to avoid giving them fatty parts of meat or bones, which cats can choke on.
A great source of protein, your cat will love eating eggs scrambled or hard-boiled. Be sure not to include lots of butter or oil while cooking the eggs. And, because of salmonella concerns, avoid giving cats raw eggs. As with all human food recommendations, if it’s not cooked enough for you to eat, it’s not okay for your cat to ingest either.
While not all fruits are suitable for your cat to eat, some berries, bananas, and melons are all fit for cats to eat, as well as apples. Be sure to remove any seeds or pits, since your cat could choke on them.
Cats should never eat grapes. It’s not yet fully understood, but cases of toxicity have been reported in dogs who’ve eaten grapes. Cats should also avoid citrus fruits, which they probably wouldn’t like the taste of anyway.
Even though they’re carnivorous and meat is essential to their diet, cats do enjoy eating vegetables as well. You can serve vegetables steamed and mashed up or cut into small pieces. Some of the vegetables cats enjoy are sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, and squash.
Onions and garlic are toxic for cats, and they should not be allowed to eat them.
How to Make Your Own Cat Food
Some pet parents are eager to feed their cats with homemade food because they want greater control over the ingredients involved. Others may turn to homemade pet food as a way to tailor ingredients to reduce specific health risks, like heart disease, or urinary tract problems. Another reason to make your own cat food might be concerns about the safety of commercial food -- for pet owners, the pet food recalls of 2007, and the tragic deaths due to contaminated food, may not feel very distant.
First Things First
Regardless of the reason for dishing out homemade eats, get to know the basics of your cat’s nutritional needs before you switch to cooking for them. Without the necessary nutrients and proteins, your cat can grow very ill. Before embarking on a homemade diet, we recommend you consult with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. You may also want to show them some recipes to ensure that the meals provide your cat with all its dietary needs.
What’s in a Balanced Diet?
So what exactly do cats need in their diet? The following is a list of the essential items that should be included in your cat’s food, whether you’re purchasing it or making meals yourself:
- The best proteins for a cat are from animal meats, like turkey, beef, and fish, because of the nutrients that are contained in a meat-based diet. Some of these nutrients simply aren’t present within plants, and can’t be derived from vegetables during digestion, even though vegetables do have proteins within them.
- Fats are a necessary part of a cat’s diet. Omega fats, such as those found in meats, are important for a cat’s health.
- Vitamins and minerals help with your cat’s teeth and bone strength and help keep your cat’s body running strong. It’s important to note that, just as a shortage of vitamins and minerals can cause trouble, so too can an excessive amount of them.
- Hydration is an essential need for cats (as with all mammals). Dehydration can have a negative impact on your cat’s health, so make sure to always provide water to accompany your cat’s food.
A caution on raw food diets -- many pet owners are eager to make homemade food for their cats because they theorize a raw diet is healthier for their cat, mimicking the natural world. (After all, if you weren’t dishing up food for your cat, they would likely be hunting small rodents to survive). However, a raw food diet does carry with it some risks, such as exposure to bacteria, like Salmonella.
Similar caution is also necessary about vegetarian or vegan diets -- cats are carnivorous and the amino acids contained in meat allow them to thrive. Cats require meat-based nutrients like taurine, vitamin A, and others that can’t be found in plants. While vegetarianism or veganism are healthy choices for people, for cats, it means being deprived of life-essential nutrients and vitamins.
Keep in mind that cats are finicky eaters, and are also generally content to eat the same food day after day, week after week, with maybe only a few changes a year. You may find that your cat is confused at first by homemade food, and reluctant to eat. Give it a bit of time to see if your cat begins to enjoy your homemade concoctions.
Supplements for Homemade Cat Food Diets
Supplements can be helpful if you are very aware of a gap in your cat’s diet. However, be cautious about providing them -- some omega-3 fatty acid, for instance, can be helpful if you know your cat doesn’t get seafood in their diet. But providing too much omega-3 -- or any supplement -- can be just as dangerous as not providing enough.
More on Feeding Your Cat
Nutrition for Feeding a Senior Cat
What to Feed a Kitten
Why Cats Eat Grass and Other Self-Medicating Habits
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.