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Cat eating pistachios

The essentials

  • Pistachios aren’t safe for cats — While pistachios aren’t toxic to cats in the same way chocolate or onions are, they’re still not a safe snack for your feline friend. They can be a choking hazard, cause obesity, poisoning, and even pancreatitis.
  • Cats are obligate carnivores — Because cats’ bodies are specifically designed to digest and extract nutrients and protein from meat, they lack the enzymes that can break down plant material effectively, including most nuts like pistachios.
  • There are safer snack alternatives — There are a handful of safe alternatives you can offer your furry companion, like cooked carrots and zucchini and store-bought or homemade cat treats.

As a cat owner, you’re likely to have pondered over the suitability of sharing your favorite snack with your feline friend. One such snack is the pistachio. Can cats eat pistachios? The simple answer is no. While pistachios aren’t inherently toxic to cats, they offer no nutritional benefits and can present several risks.

The risks of feeding your cat pistachios

Pistachios offer many health benefits for humans, but for our feline companions, they can be quite problematic. Let’s explore some of these risks:

High fat content

Pistachios contain a high amount of fat, which can lead to obesity in cats if consumed regularly. Over time, this can contribute to serious health problems like diabetes and pancreatitis.

Flavorings and preservatives

Many pistachios come salted or flavored, and these additives can be harmful to cats. Too much salt can lead to sodium poisoning, causing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and potentially severe kidney damage.

Choking hazard

Pistachio shells and the nut inside can both pose a choking risk or cause an esophageal, stomach, or intestinal blockage.

Digestion issues

A cat’s digestive system isn’t equipped to process nuts, leading to potential discomfort or gastrointestinal illness.

Fungus concerns

Pistachios can sometimes contain aflatoxins, a type of fungal toxin, that can be harmful to cats.

Other foods that are dangerous for your cat

While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting some of the most toxic foods for cats. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide of dangerous foods, but here are the top 5: 

  1. Chocolate. Chocolate contains caffeine as well as a compound called theobromine, both of which cannot be effectively metabolized. The effects of caffeine and theobromine on cats are similar: restlessness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, muscle tremors, and fits. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains.
  2. Onion. Onions contain a compound called n-propyl disulfide which causes the breakdown of red blood cells in cats, leading to a condition known as hemolytic anemia. Both raw and cooked onions are harmful to cats and even small pieces can be dangerous. Symptoms may not appear for several days but can include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and depression.
  3. Garlic. Thiosulfate, a compound found in garlic, is toxic to cats due to their inability to digest it. It can cause oxidative damage to red blood cells and, like onions, lead to hemolytic anemia. Additionally, garlic also contains other sulfur compounds that can cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to symptoms like drooling, nausea, oral irritation, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s important to note that all forms of garlic, including fresh, cooked, powdered, or preserved, are toxic to cats.
  4. Caffeine. Caffeine, as mentioned above, cannot be metabolized by cats. The inability to break down caffeine can lead to overstimulation of the central nervous system and heart. In severe cases, it can cause life-threatening complications like a racing heart, high blood pressure, hyperthermia, and seizures. The toxic level of caffeine in cats ranges from 80-150 mg/kg. This means even small amounts found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, or certain medications can be harmful.
  5. Alcohol. Like with caffeine and the theobromine contained in chocolate, cats cannot metabolize alcohol. When a cat ingests alcohol, it can lead to ethanol poisoning which depresses the central nervous system. This can manifest as symptoms like drowsiness, unsteady walking, vomiting, and in severe cases, unconsciousness or even death. Furthermore, alcohol can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, and kidney and liver damage in cats. Even small quantities of alcohol can lead to significant intoxication in cats due to their small size.

What human foods can you feed your cat?

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they thrive on a diet primarily made up of protein. While they don’t need fruits and vegetables for nutrition, some can be safely offered as a healthy treat.

Some safe human foods that can provide nutritional benefits to your cat include cooked fish, cooked poultry, pumpkins (but not seeds), peas, and carrots. Remember, these should only make up a small fraction of your cat’s diet and are not a substitute for well-balanced cat food that contains healthy fats, dietary fiber, and protein from meat. In fact, plant protein such as tofu does not fulfill the protein needs of cats.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if my cat eats pistachios? 

A cat that consumes pistachios may experience a range of health issues due to having too much fat, high salt content, and the potential choking hazard they present. The good news is that pistachios are not toxic to cats. However, they can cause gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain and diarrhea. In more severe cases, a high intake of fats from pistachios could potentially lead to pancreatitis, a serious and painful inflammation of the pancreas. In addition to the pistachio nut, cats should also steer clear of pistachio ice cream, pistachio pudding, and other products where pistachios are one of the ingredients.

What nuts are toxic to cats?

Specific types of nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts, can be especially harmful to cats and kittens. Walnuts, if they are old and moldy, can be very toxic, leading to tremors and seizures. Macadamia nuts can cause lethargy, vomiting, hyperthermia, and tremors in cats. Almonds contain cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause upset stomach and other discomforts. Raw cashews should also be avoided as they contain a toxin that can be harmful to cats. This toxin is typically eliminated in the roasting process, however.  

What are the potential health risks for cats consuming pistachios?

The potential health risks for pistachios include high levels of fat, salt and flavorings, choking hazard, digestive issues, and fungal toxins which can lead to excessive weight gain, salt poisoning, kidney damage, asphyxiation, and gastrointestinal distress.

Can cats be allergic to pistachios?

Like humans, cats can develop allergies to any food, including pistachio nuts. While it’s not common, a cat with a nut allergy could experience symptoms like itching, swelling, digestive upset, or difficulty breathing after consuming pistachios. If you suspect your cat has eaten pistachios and is showing signs of an allergic reaction, it’s a good idea to seek immediate care from your veterinarian.

What are some alternative cat-friendly treats as a substitute for pistachios?

There are plenty of safe treat alternatives your feline friend can enjoy. Vegetables, like cooked carrots and zucchini, commercial cat treats, or even homemade ones like catnip croutons or tuna treats, are also popular with many felines. Remember, treats should make up no more than 10% of your cat’s daily caloric intake. The rest of their diet should consist of nutritionally complete cat food. You can always consult your vet for proper guidance on cat nutrition.