Honestly speaking we all love cheese. Cheese not only tastes amazing but it also makes everything else taste better. Addicted to its highly-palatable taste, we often spoil our furry feline friends by treating them with small chunks of cheese. Yet we are not to blame. Namely cats know how well cheese tastes and guilt us into offering them pieces of this treat.
But is it good for cats to eat cheese? Sadly, the simplest and shortest answer would be no. More specifically speaking, the answer depends on several factors such as amount, frequency and type of cheese.
In a nutshell, our nutritional needs are vastly different from our cats’ nutritional needs. Simple foods we consume on a daily basis can potentially wreak havoc in the cat’s digestive system. The list of forbidden foods includes onions and garlic, grapes and raisins, chocolate and alcoholic beverages. Although not named on this list, most veterinarians and feline nutritionist agree that cheese is not best suited for cats.
Why cats and cheese are not the perfect combination?
There are several reasons why feeding cheese to cats, especially on a daily basis, is not recommended.
- Cats prefer carnivorous diet. Cats are classified as obligatory carnivores. This means that to thrive and survive cats need only meat and meat products. Cheese and dairy products are not part of the carnivorous diet.
- Most adult cats are lactose intolerant. It is a common misconception that cheese and other dairy products are good for felines. In fact, as cats mature they tend to become lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerant cats are incapable of processing dairy products because their bodies do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase needed for breaking down the milk sugar named lactose.
During the breast feeding period the kitten’s body produces enough lactase for proper breast milk digestion. After weaning the body stops producing lactase.
Feeding lactose intolerant cats dairy products results in stomach upset manifested with frequent vomiting, explosive diarrhea and excessive gassiness. Keep in mind that lactose intolerance in cats is not a health issue. It is the natural order of things and it does not require treatment.
- Cheese is too fattening for cats. Based on its size, to maintain proper body weight, the average cat would need around 200 to 300 calories per day. A single slice of cheese contains around 113 calories which is about half of the daily calorie intake need.
Problems occur when cat parents forget to extract the cheese’s calories from the daily calories intake. Even this can be fine, as long as it happens once in a while. If it happens routinely, on a daily basis, the cat will start putting on weight. Putting on weight leads to obesity and a higher risk of developing obesity-related health issues such as arthritis, diabetes, liver and kidney failure.
- Cheese is too salty for cats. Cats have an extremely low need for salt (about 21 milligrams per day) but they can tolerate as much as 42 milligrams per day. A single slice of cheese contains around 400 milligrams of salt which is almost 10 times the recommended upper limit.
Excess salt intake leads to higher thirst levels and more frequent urination, thus burdening the kidneys. High salt intake can also cause hypertension.
Are all cheeses equally bad?
The good news is that certain types of cheese can be classified as feline-friendly as long as they are used moderately and in small amounts. Such cheese types can be used either raw or baked into treats. However, it is of imperative importance to remember that their safety is limited by the feeding amount and frequency.
The group of feline-friendly cheeses includes aged cheese varieties and hard cheeses like Cheddar, Swiss cheese, Parmesan or Gouda. These cheeses have lower lactose levels and high calcium and protein contents and are relatively easy to digest. Usually the harder the cheese the less lactose it contains.
Soft cheese types such as Cottage cheese, Cream cheese and Mozzarella are relatively low in salt and fats. On the flip side, they are packed with lactose.
If you insist on feeding your cat dairy, give her extremely small amounts at first and see how her digestive system handles it. If there are no issues, you can gradually increase the amount without exceeding the safe limit.
Cheese substitutes – yes or no
With so many cheese substitutes the modern market has to offer, it is not unusual for cat owners to question both their good and bad features.
Driven by the idea that reason number 1 why cats should not eat cheese is their lactose intolerance, it is easy to assume that low-lactose cheese varieties would be more cat-friendly and appropriate. Yet, it should be acknowledged that even low-lactose cheese varieties are rich in salt and have high caloric contents.
Another option worth discussing is vegan cheese. Vegan cheese is not only lactose-free but it is also particularly low in fat and salt. Plus vegan cheese has an extremely low caloric value. Last but not least, vegan cheese is not universally good for cats. This is because most vegan cheeses are soy based and soy-allergies are quite common among cats.
When is it ok to give your cat cheese?
As cat parents, we all know how much cats love cheese. Therefore, a smidgen of cheese can be more than useful in one particular case – getting a finicky cat take its medicine.
Grinding up bitter pills and hiding the powder in cheese is a good way of tricking picky cats. In that case, the benefits of the medicine significantly exceed the drawback of adding cheese to your cat’s diet.
The final verdict
Although many human foods are safe for cats, a good general rule is that they should not make up for more than 15% of a cat’s diet. Non-processed foods like most fruits and vegetables are good for cats, but processed foods like cheese are usually not.
Simply put, despite its addictive palatability and irresistible smell, cheese is not part of the cat’s natural diet. However, a small chunk of feline-friendly cheese, now and then, is not likely to harm your cat.
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