Eight Human Foods That Your Cat Can Safely Eat
Putting together a home-cooked meal is a wonderful way to show someone special that you care, and our pets are no exception. But if you're considering pulling out those pots and pans to whip up some savory treats for your cat, think again. Dr. Gerald Buchoff, BVScAH, owner of Holistic Pet Care in Little Falls, New Jersey, offers what you should know about the digestive system and dietary needs of your cat, as well as what foods to stay away from and what foods are safe to feed to your pet.
With regards to your cat's digestive system, Dr. Buchoff reminds us, "Cats are obligate carnivores, and they require meat to meet their energy and protein requirements, and fat requirements. They do not require carbohydrates, but they do need fiber. Out in the wild, when a cat catches prey, they eat the fur with the rest of the animal and the fur is the fiber. Also, there's some vegetables in the intestine of the prey animal—a mouse, a bird, or whatever—so they're getting fiber there too, but mostly from the fur." Dr. Buchoff also points out that when you add vegetables to your cat's diet, you're providing them with a healthy helping of phytonutrients, which provide valuable bioflavonoids and phenols that impart extra health benefits and can help fight against cancer, autoimmune disease, and infections.
If you're wondering if there are any human foods that you should never offer as a treat for your pet, Dr. Buchoff says the answer is a resounding yes. "Stay away from iceberg lettuce and onions—those are the only two biggies to stay away from. Iceberg lettuce will just make everything too runny, or give your cat diarrhea, and the onions will cause anemia." Dr. Buchoff adds, "I would stay away from potatoes and squash also, because those are carbohydrate vegetables and cats don't need that. In fact, starch is antithetical to their digestive system. They don't do great with it, and it causes in the long run obesity and metabolic diseases, or diseases that throw off their hormones and metabolism, like diabetes and hormonal imbalances."
Another basic principle regarding cats that Dr. Buchoff points out is, "Cats, by nature, require most of their water, if not all of their water, to come from their food. So if you see a cat drinking water, there's usually something a little wrong. You should always feed wet food, meaning that if you have to give dry food, at least wet it." This simple step in your cat's regular food prep will prevent your cat from chronic dehydration as a result of only eating dry food, which Dr. Buchoff warns can lead to all sorts of diseases, notably hyperthyroidism and urinary tract diseases, including kidney failure." Buchoff also shares that he's not a fan of wet cat food, for a very simple reason. "When you cook food, you destroy up to twenty-five percent of the nutrients. Also when you cook food, you destroy the bacteria and digestive enzymes, so it becomes less digestible, that's why you see [when] cats eat anything cooked they have a lot of stool. If they eat raw food, they don't have as much stool because their body uses all those nutrients. On top of that, when you cook food at high temperatures as they do to cook dry food and canned food, they actually are producing cancer-causing and allergy-causing chemicals."
Along with all of the "food for thought," take stock of your running grocery list and add our list of approved foods, because giving your cat some fresh human food will go a long way to maintaining and supporting your feline's health.
Broccoli is a vegetable known to be both a "functional" and medicinal food. It's loaded with antioxidants as well as well as vitamin C and bioflavonoids, helping to support the immune system of your cat. Broccoli also offers fiber. When serving broccoli to your cat, be sure not over expose it to much heat (the more raw, the better) and do not season—remember that this is a special order for your cat and seasoning add-ons can upset their stomachs.
Carrots have lycopenes and are high in antioxidants, and lycopene-rich foods offer protection from certain cancers. "They are a great defense against degenerative diseases and cancer cell growth," offers Dr. Buchoff. "One out of every two dogs get cancer, but one of out every five cats get cancer." Lycopenes also slow the progression of vision loss with age: "Cats, as they get older, their lens can get cloudy, and lycopenes can help with that." When preparing human food for your cat, Dr. Buchoff says to be sure to make it mushy if not tiny, or else your cat will not eat it and they won't receive any of the benefits of the food.
Leafy green vegetables have a lot of vitamins and nutrients that can be very beneficial to your cat. Kale is rich in vitamin A and copper, which are very important. Vegetables being served to your cat should only make up five to ten percent of the diet. Lightly steamed and minced vegetables should be mixed in with the meat that you will serve your cat. "It would be a rare cat that would eat the vegetables separately," says Dr. Buchoff.
All of the vegetables—including collard greens—as recommended by Dr. Buchoff offer a healthy dose of fiber. Be sure the leaves are fresh and green, to ensure maximum vitality of the vegetable and benefit to your cat. To prepare these vegetables, Dr. Buchoff suggests mincing, then exposing them to a bit of steam for 30 to 50 seconds to soften the vegetables. "What that does is soften the cell membranes to expose the nutrients of the vegetables," Dr. Buchoff explains. Cooking the vegetables destroys the nutrients, so do not expose them to high heat or fire if you want your cat to reap the maximum benefits.
Bok choy is a vegetable that may take a little getting used to for your cat as it tends to be a bit on the bitter side, but the benefits of this super-food are many. As a rule of thumb, Dr. Buchoff says, "if the animal will eat it, give it." When eating optimally, the average life span of a healthy cat should be 18 to 20 years. Comparably, on store-bought cat food, you can expect your cat to live 12 to 15 years. On a raw food diet comprised of healthy vegetables and meat, "Not only do they live longer, but they have a better quality of life," Dr. Buchoff says, "and so does the owner, because they spend less money at the vet."
Apples, Pears, Plums, and Peaches
Though it's best to avoid citrus fruits (because some cats do not do well with them), Dr. Buchoff says that apples, pears, plums, and peaches are all fine treats for your cat in small amounts. He warns that excessive amounts of these fruits can cause the "skittles" or runs, so suggests offering these with moderation. Dr. Buchoff says that if you're making your own food for your cat, you need to add into the cat's regular diet a calcium supplement as sell as a phytonutrient supplement mixture to fill in the cracks in the diet for the optimal health of your cat. Both items should be available at your local pet shop or veterinarian.
Overall, roughly 70 percent of a cat's diet should be muscle meat, with about 25 percent of the diet being organ meat: chicken, beef, turkey, and lamb are all accepted varieties to feed your cat. The meat should not be exposed to any heat whatsoever. "It's very important to give a variety of organ meats because of glandular therapy theory, that dictates that if you need help with a certain organ, you should eat that organ, from a different species of animal," Dr. Buchoff says.
Whereas people and dogs make taurine in their bodies, cats do not, so they need to eat it. "Taurine is an amino acid that cats can get from meat, from hearts, from tissue, and from brains. There aren't any meats that I can think of that are negative, unless they have a reaction to it," he explains.
Hearts, livers, kidneys, spleens, and a little bit of stomach or skin are all important organs that can be purchased from your local or neighborhood butcher (giblets are a little bag that has animal gizzards in it that are available for purchase, as well as pancreas, also known as "sweat breads." Once home, simply grind up the raw organs and meat in a grinder, or you can request that the butcher grind the meat.
No more than 15 percent of your cat's diet should be comprised of fish or about once a week. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish make it really healthy for cats. But Dr. Buchoff warns against trying to feed your cat flaxseed oil as a source of omega 3's because cats simply don't have the conversion mechanism to process those particular omega chemicals into the ones that function in their bodies, so it's best to stick with fish. One to two drops of grapefruit seed extract combined with one ounce of water is a solution that can be used to soak the raw meat, organs and fish in should you be considered about bacteria, salmonella, listeria, or E coli should there be a concern, but Dr. B. says cats are built to consume raw meat and handle the bacteria.