Sure, most cats love cheese. It’s high in protein, fat and very tasty to boot, but is cheese safe for your cat to eat? A few bites of cheese every now and then is safe for most cats, but cheese shouldn’t be a regular part of your cat’s diet for several reasons.
Is Cheese Bad for Cats?
We’ve already touched on the benefits of cheese-it’s high in protein and taste, and you probably enjoy it too. But that doesn’t mean you should always share it with your cat.
- Fat: Cheese is high in fat; that’s part of the reason it tastes so good. Even small pieces of cheese pack a high-fat punch. And while that doesn’t seem like a big deal to us humans, it can add up quickly in your cat. As an example, an average 10 lb cat eating a 1 oz piece of cheese would be consuming the caloric equivalent to us eating two and a half hamburgers! If your cat is already on the verge of being overweight or you’re constantly fighting to keep their bulge under control, cheese should not be your go-to treat.
- Lactose: Even though a cat drinking a saucer of milk creates a picturesque scene, it’s not a good idea to give a cat more than minuscule amounts of dairy. That’s because dairy products, including milk, cheese, and ice cream, contain the sugar lactose. While humans, and some other animals, produce the enzyme lactase to break down this sugar, cats don’t. Most cats are actually lactose intolerant. This means that lactose goes through their system undigested, which can lead to gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, especially when dairy products are eaten in large amounts.
- Allergies: Besides being lactose intolerant, some cats can even be allergic to dairy products like cheese. Dairy allergies are different than lactose intolerance in that eating dairy actually creates an inflammatory response when they eat dairy products. Allergies usually require multiple exposures to a specific food, while lactose intolerance can cause problems after just one piece of cheese. Cats with dairy allergies will appear similar to cats with lactose intolerance in that they may have vomiting, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal discomfort. But they can also show up with skin conditions such as a rash, itchiness, dry skin, and hair loss.
- Other Conditions: Cheese is also not an ideal treat for kitties that need to lower their salt intake due to a heart condition or high blood pressure. This is because cheese is also high in salt and can exacerbate these issues.
- Cheese Extras: Cheeses with seasonings or cheese dips are definitely on the “don’t-eat” list for your cat. This is because some of those seasonings, mainly onion and garlic, can be severely detrimental to your cat.
How to Feed Your Cats Cheese
With what you’ve just read, you’re probably wondering why this section even exists. It’s because it’s not uncommon for veterinarians to recommend cheese as a mask for medication. A small chunk of cheese can be the perfect hidey-hole for a pill with its irresistible flavor and texture. If you’ve ever tried to give medicine to a cat, you’ll probably appreciate this.
However, by no means should you give your cat cheese all of the time. You’ll want to give it in small quantities, basically just bigger than the size of the pill, only when you need to. Of course, if your cat has a known dairy allergy, you’ll need to find something else.
Types of Cheese to Give Your Cat
Some cheeses are better for cats than others. This is primarily due to the lactose content. Cheeses like cheddar and Swiss are lower in lactose than other types of cheese., but they still can cause some digestive upset if given in high amounts.
Soft cheeses, like mozzarella, are higher in lactose content and should be avoided. Unpasteurized and molded cheeses, like blue cheese, should also be avoided.
Non-dairy cheeses pose an interesting question when considering giving cheese to your cat. They are lactose-free but are still high in fat and salt, so these types of cheese should also be avoided.
If you choose to treat your cat every once in a while with a bit of cheese, be sure to keep the amounts small and only offer it infrequently. Not only can cheese cause digestive issues due to its lactose content, but it can also cause weight gain and exacerbate heart troubles.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.