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Can cats eat cheese?

Grey tabby cat eating cheese advice © Shutterstock

Dairy products are a bit of a bind for carnivores. Find out whether cats can eat cheese or whether they are best to avoid it.

By Nick Whittle

Cats are carnivores through and through. That means that unlike us omnivores who can eat and digest just about anything organic non-toxic cats are only good at digesting and processing the meat of another animal.

The lion is an ancestor of the cat. It gets everything it needs from a feast of wildebeest, zebra and impala. It doesn’t often stop to chew leaves or berries or even drink milk. The cat is no different in this respect (and as a matter of fact cats don’t naturally drink milk either).

Why are some things bad for cats?

There are lots of foods that are toxic to cats. Things like custard, grapes, raisins, garlic and onions can cause a cat a lot of distress (seizures, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, organ failure) and if taken in big enough doses can even kill them.

Cheese isn’t going to kill a cat if he eats a little bit and very infrequently, but it isn’t going to do him any good either.

Some of us have made admirable choices about the sorts of thing we eat. We are divided into meat-eaters, beegans, vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians. But when it comes to our pets we can’t enforce the same regimens.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Cats need meat. If they don’t have meat they get poorly. Most good-quality cat foods are formulated to provide a cat with everything he needs to live long and prosper. Cat food has minerals and nutrients in it that a cat can easily digest and process.

If you choose to feed your cat anything more or less than a balanced and well-considered cat food diet you are skating on thin ice!

Is cheese bad for cats? 

In order that you know why cats shouldn’t eat cheese it is useful to know what is in cheese that makes it undesirable. For this example we’ll use cheddar cheese:

Typical Values Typical Values Per 100g
Energy Values 1725KJ/416 kcal

Fat

(of which saturates)

34.9g

21.7g

Carbohydrates

(of which sugars)

0.1g

0.1g

Protein 25.4g
Fibre 0.0g
Salt 1.8g
Calcium 739mg (92% RI* per 100g)

Most cheeses are made from cow's’ milk. Despite popular opinion cow’s milk is not a choice beverage of cats. It upsets their stomachs because they are lactose intolerant. Cats do not have the right digestive enzymes to break down the milk proteins.

Thus for a cat that is fed cheese on a regular basis the likelihood of his being 100% fit and well is slim.

Most cow’s milk is also high in salt and fat, and delivers a fair punch of carbohydrates. Cats do not need additional carbohydrates and they certainly don’t need too much salt. Any energy they need comes via the protein they digest from a meat-based meal.

Cats that eat a lot of additional carbohydrates are prone to become obese and malnourished.

Can kittens eat cheese?

A kitten has the ability to process milk. Clearly, it would need to do so in order to drink its mother’s milk. Thus, it is likely kittens can process cheese more readily than can cats. However, there are two points arising from this: 1) a kitten should not have solid food before it is weaned and 2) when it is weaned its tolerance to lactose drops off.

Furthermore, a kitten has a fragile and underdeveloped digestive system. If it is introduced to something as rich and as fatty as cheese it could end up suffering with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Be careful of flavoured cheese

If you are to feed your cat cheese you should at the very least make sure that it does not contain ingredients that are toxic to him. Some cheeses include onions and garlic, some contain spices and others contain chocolate. Some artificial flavouring is also toxic.

What problems can eating cheese cause a cat?

A feline problem associated with poor diet is obesity. To eat cheese on a regular basis will cause your cat to become fat. Not only will he be fat but he will also be undernourished because he is unable to digest the nutrients found in milk.

Cat obesity is a big problem in the UK. International Cat Care states that, ‘between 39 and 52 per cent of cats in the UK are overweight or obese’. The condition can lead to several nasty diseases that without proper care and management can lead to the cat’s demise.

Here is just a handful of the knock-on health problems associated with obesity. 

  • Breathing problems 
  • Decreased immunity
  • Decreased stamina and lethargy 
  • Diabetes 
  • Dystocia (problems giving birth)
  • Hepatic lipidosis     
  • Osteoarthritis    
  • Skin inflammations    
  • Urinary tract diseases

To treat your cat with a small lump of cheese now and then is not going to cause him harm. It isn’t the worst thing you can give him after all. But you must be mindful of its effect on your pet and how it doesn’t really touch the sides of his digestive capability. Be vigilant of his health after feeding him even a small bit of cheese. If he seems to be in pain and discomfort then avoid any more cheese treats at all cost.

You could try a different type of food instead. Something like cooked chicken or eggs, tuna or cooked carrots are worthwhile foods to substitute the cheese with. There is also a special formulated ‘cat cheese’ on the market.

As a responsible owner you should consider your cat’s health at all times when providing him with food, and remember: a well-balanced and good-quality cat food is really all he needs. Anything more should strictly be fed to him in moderation only.

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