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Cat eating cheese

The essentials

  • Cheese isn’t toxic to cats — Cheese is generally a safe treat to give your cat.
  • Keep portions small — A good rule of thumb is a serving the size of a dice.
  • Many cats are lactose intolerant — Watch for signs of distress after your cat ingests cheese.

Like other dairy products, cheese is an attractive snack for many cats. You may notice your cat nibbling shreds of cheddar that fall on the floor or eyeing your cheese board. While felines may have a hankering for cheese, you’re probably wondering if it’s a safe food to feed them.

Can cats eat cheese?

The good news is adult cats and kittens can eat cheese, usually without any health consequences. While we picture cats happily lapping up a bowl of milk, cats aren’t meant to ingest dairy once weaned off of their mother’s milk. Small amounts of cheese — and the right kind — are usually OK.

👉 Consult your veterinarian before giving your cat any people food , including cheese. 

If given the green light, you still must monitor how much cheese your cat consumes. A tiny piece the size of your fingertip is plenty in one sitting. Remember, too, that dairy is not a natural part of a carnivorous feline’s diet and should never be a substitute for high-quality cat food.

Lactose intolerance

Many cats are, in fact, lactose intolerant . Others are even allergic to milk. So, despite the yummy taste, cheese may disagree with your feline baby’s digestive system. Cheese is also high in fat, which can lead to health issues in some cats.

Pros of feeding your cat cheese

Giving your cat a small piece of cheese, while practicing caution, can reap a few benefits including:

  • Protein and calcium. A small amount of cheese, with its high protein and calcium content, can complement your cat’s diet of meat, poultry, and fish.
  • Medicine delivery. A cube of cheese is a sneaky yet delicious way to hide a pill you need your cat to swallow.
  • Fat source. If your cat needs to gain a few pounds, sprinkling cheese on top of their food can help. While cheese has plenty of calories, it contains less than 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving. Cats do not need carbs in their diet.

Cons of feeding your cat cheese

Cats may develop gastrointestinal problems if fed milk products. They also risk obesity, leading to several health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Here are some of the other downsides to cheese:

  • Upset stomach. Even without a milk allergy or high lactose intolerance, cats may have trouble digesting cheese.
  • High levels of sodium. If your cat has a heart condition or needs to lower their salt intake for another reason, they should stay away from cheese, along with deli meat, potato chips, and bread.
  • Poor source of protein. The protein felines get from high-quality cat food or kitty treats is better for them than cheese or other human foods.

Types of cheese to feed your cat

Not all cheese is created equal when it comes to digestion. Hard cheeses, such as cheddar cheese and Swiss, have less lactose. Parmesan cheese also falls under the category of hard cheeses. They are a safer choice than soft cheeses such as mozzarella, brie, and feta, which have high lactose levels.

Cottage cheese and cream cheese pose similar risks. Also, avoid blue cheese. This type of cheese contains penicillin and can be toxic to pets. Avoid cheeses with garlic and onion, spices that can be toxic for felines.

Non-dairy cheese

What about non-dairy cheese? The answer is to practice caution. Whether it’s dairy or non-dairy, cheese often comes packed with salt, fat, even spices, or additional ingredients such as onion or garlic.

How to feed your cat cheese

First, determine if cheese upsets your cat’s stomach or if your cat has an allergic reaction. An ounce of cheddar cheese fed to a 10-pound cat is the equivalent of three-and-a-half hamburgers for a person, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association .

If you’ve fed your cat a tiny amount of cheese — the size of a fingertip or dice – and don’t observe obvious distress or diarrhea, an occasional cheesy treat is probably appropriate. Typically, these symptoms will take 12 to 24 hours after the cheese is ingested to show up. Again, keep the servings small. Treats should be less than 10%-15% of a cat’s daily caloric intake. For a heavier cat, it should probably be an even lower percentage.

If your cat is a picky eater,  try sprinkling a little cheese on their food to encourage them to eat. If your cat resists taking prescription medication, it’s a good idea to hide the pills in a little cheese and see it go down much easier.

Better treats for your cats

Because cats evolved as hunters and are obligate carnivores, they must get their nutrition from meat. Cats also require more than a dozen other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. Dairy products are not part of their natural diet. Neither are most other foods found in our pantries and fridge. However, if you want to give your cat the occasional treat, here are some other safe choices.

  • Blueberries. Often referred to as a superfood, blueberries are high in antioxidants, flavonoids, and fiber, and are healthy for cats as well as humans.
  • Cantaloupe. With its high dose of Vitamin C, beta carotene, fiber, and antioxidants, cantaloupe is a healthy treat for your cats. Remember to remove the seeds and rind.
  • Cooked eggs. Eggs are a good source of protein for your feline as long as they aren’t raw.
  • Cooked fish and lean meats. Cats are naturally obligate carnivores, and cooking the meat lowers the risk of bacterial infection. Keep portions small to ensure your cat gets all the nutrients they need from traditional cat food.
  • Cucumbers. This crunchy fruit contains lots of great vitamins and minerals, and they aren’t too sweet, so cats can enjoy them more often.
  • Oatmeal. With its high-quality protein and balanced amino, oatmeal is a healthy treat for your cat.
  • Pumpkin. This yummy vegetable provides a great source of fiber for cats. Some vets even recommend pumpkin as a remedy for kitty constipation and as a preventive measure for hairballs. It’s best to serve 100% pumpkin puree from the can with zero sugars or additives.
  • Rice. This carbohydrate is safe for cats and is in some commercial cat foods. However, if you share rice with your cat, make sure it’s cooked.
  • Spinach. High in vitamins, leafy spinach may appeal to cats that like to eat grass. Cats with kidney disease or urinary tract issues should avoid it.

Foods that are dangerous for cats

You’ve probably heard that you should never give a dog chocolate. That rule applies to cats, too! Chocolate contains theobromine, a type of methylxanthine that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures, and even death. Because dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cacao, it poses the biggest threat. Other people foods that can cause health problems in cats include:

  • Coffee. If your cat ingests some of your morning coffee or any caffeinated beverage, they can experience digestive issues, excessive thirst and urination, and heart palpitations.
  • Citrus fruits. While fruits such as oranges are safe in small quantities, the leaves and stems aren’t. Citric acid, if consumed in large quantities, can cause stomach issues or even central nervous system depression in cats.
  • Grapes and raisins. For reasons that are still being researched, grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in pets, so it’s best to keep them out of your cat’s reach.
  • Onions, garlic, chives. When cutting up onions, garlic, and chives, watch that none ends up on the floor where cats can eat them. These foods can cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to red blood cell damage and anemia in cats.
  • Xylitol. A sweetener found in many candies, gum, alternative sweeteners, and toothpaste, xylitol causes a release of insulin in animals that can lead to liver failure and hypoglycemia. Those changes are manifested in lethargy, vomiting, and most detrimentally, seizures.
  • Yeast dough. Because yeast is a rising agent, it can rise within a cat’s digestive system, causing gas and extreme discomfort. In a worst-case scenario, it can make their stomach twist, which is life-threatening.

Frequently asked questions 

What are the signs of lactose intolerance in cats?

If a cat is lactose intolerant, they can experience bloating, vomiting, or diarrhea.

What kinds of cheeses are the safest for cats?

Hard cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss, and parmesan are the safest. Soft cheeses such as brie and feta contain higher levels of lactose. Looking out for added spices like onion or garlic, which are both bad for cats.

Can cats eat non-dairy cheese?

Maybe, but again in small, small amounts. While non-dairy cheese may not contain lactose, it can have high levels of sodium and fat, which can cause health problems in cats if they get too much.