Cats are much-loved family members, but owners should always remember felines have very specific dietary needs.
As the holidays approach there will be more candy and alcohol in our homes than usual. While humans may love our sweet treats and the odd tipple, it may not be wise to share these with our furry friends.
Debra Zoran, Professor of Medicine at Texas A&M University, believes "feline diets are a lot different than human diets."
So, can cats eat chocolate or raisins, and is alcohol toxic to your pet? Newsweek asked the experts.
Zoran told Newsweek: "In the wild, cats usually prey on small animals, such as mice and birds. But as a pet, a cat might only be preying on a can or bowl of cat food."
As a result, she believes it is vital for cat owners to mimic the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet their cat would naturally eat in the wild.
Zoran added: "People would like nutritional advice to be easy ... 'do this, feed that' or make specific diet/brand recommendations (and often we do), but it's just not that simple to predict what food will be best for your individual cat.
"The diet should be complete and balanced (since you are providing for them what they would normally get on their own), but each cat or kitten is an individual, and just like people—may have taste or texture preferences, unique dietary needs or require different nutrient profiles to meet their individual body's needs."
Teresa Keiger, a Cat Fanciers' Association allbreed judge, adds meat should be a key component to every cat's diet.
She told Newsweek: "Probably the most important thing to remember about feline nutrition is that cats are obligate carnivores; they must have meat in their diets. Cats cannot manufacture taurine, an essential amino acid, and must obtain it from eating meat.
"Humans and dogs are omnivores, meaning that we can manufacture taurine and don't need it from an outside source. When choosing cat foods, make certain that meat or meat by-products is the first ingredient listed.
"While some folks like making their own cat food, that can be tricky as cats still need a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, plus several vitamins and minerals; meat alone won't contain all of those nutrients."
Professor Zoran adds prepared canned food is the best—and easiest—option for cat owners.
She said: "In general, it is best to choose a canned-food diet that says on the label 'complete and balanced'.
"You can feed some dry, but it really should be a very small proportion of the total (less than a quarter) diet to get the cats diet to be overall low in carbohydrate, higher in protein, and be a water-based food.
"If you want to feed a homemade cat diet or other type of whole-food diet (also an excellent way to mimic their natural diet), that's quite fine, but it puts a much great onus on the owner to be sure to consult a nutritional expert to ensure the natural/whole diet meets all of your cat's needs.
"Just feeding chicken or other animal proteins (fish, beef, etc) to your cat is not a balanced diet and will result in some very serious fatty acid, vitamin or mineral deficiencies."
Read on to find out what experts suggest cats can—and certainly can not—eat.
Cats process foods very differently than humans do, and there are foods that can be very toxic to cats for this reason.
While humans view chocolate as a welcome treat, owners should always keep this sweet away from their kitties.
Keiger said: "Ingesting chocolate can cause cats to have seizures, cardiac arrest, become weak, or even go into a coma."
CFA Creative Director Keiger suggests members of the allium family, including garlic, onions and chives, break down cats' blood cells, making them anemic and weak.
She said: "Avoid in both fresh and dried forms and in any foods which may contain them, [such as] onion soup mix and baby food."
Contrary to popular belief, cats should under no circumstances be given milk from any other animals.
Teresa Keiger said: "Cats–like a lot of the human population–are lactose intolerant. Avoid giving them milk or milk products."
Cats should never be allowed to sample even the smallest amount of intoxicating substances.
Keiger said: "Alcohol – don't let kitty try to sample your own drink. They are very sensitive to alcohol, and just a couple of teaspoons of liquor can make them significantly ill.
"And now that marijuana is legal in parts of the U.S., make certain that they don't ingest it either."
Even a small amount of grapes and raisins can cause your cat to become ill.
Keiger said: "We don't really know the mechanism behind it, but grapes and raisins can make cats ill and even cause kidney failure."
Although dog food is not necessarily bad for cats, it does not contain the specific nutrients cats require to be healthy.
Keiger said: "The problem comes about when a cat eats the dog's food in lieu of eating his own food for a period of time."
There is nothing really wrong with good commercial cat food, as long as it provides plenty of protein and essential elements.
However, Keiger cautions: "If you know that your cat has a grain allergy, then do avoid foods containing grains or gluten."
Professor Zoran added: "Cats are used to getting a large percentage of their daily water needs from their diet, so if a cat is primarily eating dry food, it may have a harder time staying hydrated.
"All dry foods are low moisture (less than 10 percent moisture), so cats that eat only dry foods consume overall less water and are more prone to dehydration."
While you can give your cat cooked meat or fish as a treat, remember it should never be their primary food source.
Keiger said: "It won't provide them with the additional vitamins and minerals. The same can be said of canned tuna; it's nutritionally much different than canned cat food."
Fortunately, some cats love fruits and vegetables, such as green beans, peas, blueberries and melons.
Keiger said: "They contain fiber (good for digestion) and varying amounts of other minerals. But again: give only as a treat.
Professor Zoran added: "Some cats will eat pumpkin or cantaloupe, and they are not harmful in small quantities, but in general, avoid giving your cat fruits and vegetables as treats – they have some added minerals and ingredients that may not be helpful or can be harmful.
"Some plant sources affect the absorption of other nutrients (such as amino acids like taurine) that may result in a deficiency of that nutrient, so it is just best to remember that cats don't eat plants (except grass) and when they do it is because they want it for the indigestible fiber – not because it will have any nutritional value."
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