From blue to brie, cheese comes in countless varieties and is a staple in most households. Take a minute, think about your life without cheese ... awful, right? As much as we love this dairy delight, pet owners must know if cheese is also enjoyable (and safe) for our four-legged friends. Certain types of cheese are fine for dogs to eat, but what about our cats? Can their small bodies handle cheese?
Is cheese toxic to cats?
If given in minimal amounts, cheese is not toxic to cats; however, cats have no nutritional need whatsoever for this dairy product. As obligate carnivores, cats require meat-based diets that are high in protein. You can give your cat small bite-sized pieces of cheese very rarely ( a couple of times a year ... that rare) as a treat, but it should absolutely not be a staple in any cat's diet.
Do cats even like cheese?
Although cats don't naturally need cheese, some kitties are inclined to sniff at and want to try anything their human parent is eating. Cheese can have an appealing smell and taste that some cats may gravitate towards.
If your cat shows no interest in cheese, then consider yourself lucky! Do not introduce it to him! If you catch him licking cream cheese off of your plate (because come on, who wouldn't?) then don't fear. He should be okay, just make sure this behavior does not become a habit. Stick with more traditional, healthier treats.
Dangers of cats eating cheese.
Cats are meat-eaters and require lots of protein in their diets. Cheese is not a significant source of protein but is high in fat, milk, and cream. As with humans, too much fat is harmful to a cat's heart (and waistline). Too much fatty cheese can lead to obesity in your cat, especially when paired with the generally sedentary lifestyle of most cats.
Additional harm comes from cheese's milk and cream contents. This is where the lactose lies. Most cats are somewhat lactose intolerant. Young cats have an abundance of the lactase enzyme (the enzyme that allows you to digest lactose), which is why they can handle their mother's milk. As cats grow older, however, that enzyme decreases and they typically become more and more lactose intolerant. Lactose, even in small amounts, can cause gastrointestinal issues and lead to vomiting, diarrhea, or both.
If your cat does eat cheese.
According to Dr. Brad LeVora, DMV, some pet owners may find cheese helpful for hiding medicine. Stubborn cats that struggle with taking pills may benefit from medicine hidden in a bit of cream cheese or wrapped in a slice of American cheese. This should only be done sparingly, however, and pet parents should consult with their veterinarian before attempting the medicine-hiding method.
If you plan of feeding cheese to your cat, you must watch for negative side effects like an upset stomach. Adult cats are often lactose intolerant and shouldn't eat cheese at all, so it's important to watch for any signs of distress if they do eat cheese.
Make sure any cheese given to your cat is pure and not mixed with other ingredients such as salt, garlic, or onions. Cheese alone is already high in sodium and added ingredients like garlic or onions can be toxic for your cat. It's best to avoid cheese all together but if kitty is allowed a small taste, make sure there are no other flavors involved.
Different types of cheese
Softer cheeses are going to contain more lactose and should be avoided. If you, for some reason, want to treat your cat with cheese, start with a harder, aged cheeses. Extra sharp cheddar and Swiss cheeses can be your safest bets as they contain fairly low amounts of lactose.
Although not toxic, cheese is completely unnecessary for cats and should be avoided in their diets. Most adult cats are lactose intolerant and cheese can lead to tummy troubles for them. Small pieces can be fed as a treat but only rarely. If you do give your cat cheese, start out with harder, aged cheeses like extra sharp cheddar. These cheese have lower levels of lactose. If after eating cheese you notice negative side effects in your cat like vomiting or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.