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Can Cats Eat Cheese?

As a cat lover, you’re probably guilty of feeding (or attempting to feed) your cat table scraps. After all, you can’t just ignore your cat’s large-eyed, watery stare as you chow down, can you? If this sounds like you, you’re most likely wondering what scraps you should or shouldn’t be feeding your cat.

Should your cat really be eating the leftover cheese from taco night? What about the cheese from your hamburger that you took off to save a few calories?  The answer isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect, unfortunately. In fact, it’s a controversial topic among cat owners, both sides claiming that their stand is best for our feline friends.

Can Cats Eat Cheese?

Cats, by nature, are carnivores. To survive, their diets in the wild consist of meat. In captivity, most of their dry processed foods contain a good portion of meat and meat products to keep them healthy and strong. This being said, the ideal feline diet does not contain cheese. Believe it or not, cats are lactose intolerant. They have trouble digesting any dairy products (yep, even milk).

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However, cats are curious and can often be found watching their humans as they eat. Sometimes, they can will even sneak some food scraps out of the garbage or off of plates.

If your cat gets hold of a stray piece of cheese, there’s no need to fear. Although cats shouldn’t eat a large portion of cheese or eat it regularly, a piece or two is unlikely to cause too much harm. This being said, however, the cheese your cat eats must be free of harmful chemicals and additives or else it could warrant an emergency veterinarian visit.

Additionally, there are certain types of cheese that are more cat-safe than others, so it’s important to know which ones are safe and which are a cause for concern.

What Types of Cheese Can Cats Eat?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid feeding your cat rich cheeses. Plain cheese with as few additives as possible are the best idea. Cheddar and Swiss cheeses are fine to give your cat as an occasional treat.

Cheese that are high in lactose such as blue cheese and many varieties of process cheese should be avoided. Soft cheeses also tend to contain more lactose, so when feeding your cat cheese, try to opt for a harder variety.

If you’re set on feeding your cat cheese, consider purchasing goat’s milk cheese. These cheeses typically contain less lactose than cow’s milk cheese – just make sure that they are pasteurized. Unpasteurized cheese can cause health issues such as the introduction of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in both humans and cats.

Why Should Cheese Be Limited?

Cheese contains lactose, which is a substance found in cow-based dairy products. When kittens are born they drink milk, which does contain lactose. However, after weaning, kittens quickly become lactose intolerant as their bodies prepare to embark on a lifelong carnivorous diet.

This means that after the weaning, cats are not able to properly metabolize lactose and too much of it can cause unpleasant effects. Why? This happens because when kittens are surviving off of their mother’s milk, their body is making lactase, an enzyme that digests milk sugars such as lactose. This capability dwindles as cats age.

blocks of cheese on top of one another

Again, it’s important to stress  that unless the dairy product your cat is given contains harmful additives or other unsafe ingredients, dairy is unlikely to seriously hurt them if it is given (or stolen?) in small amounts.

It can, however, result in diarrhea, vomiting, and a generally upset stomach. In addition, too much cheese can cause weight-related issues such as obesity and heart disease, and kidney problems due to the high sodium content in many cheeses.

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How Much Cheese Is Too Much Cheese?

Like the general question, this question doesn’t have a definitive answer. In reality, the amount of cheese your cat can safely consume depends on your cat. The varying factor is your individual cat’s level of lactose tolerance.

To test how much cheese is too much for your cat, give your cat what you would consider a generous but not over zealous portion. Keep an eye out for lactose intolerance symptoms over the following 12-24 hours. If you notice loose stool, vomiting, or unpleasant smelling gas, you’ll have found your cat’s lactate threshold.

If Your Cats Eats Too Much Cheese

If your cat eats too much cheese and ends up feeling  a bit under the weather, rest assured that he or she will most likely return to normal within 24-48 hours. In the meantime, there are a few basic measures you can take to ease your pet’s discomfort.

If your cat is suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, he or she will be susceptible to dehydration. To combat this, encourage your cat to drink plenty of water. Keep a bowl of fresh, clean water where your cat can easily get to it should he be lacking strength and/or energy.

You should also try to ensure that your cat eats. If he or she cannot keep solid food down, try offering wet foods. Don’t force your cat to eat, though, as this can be counterproductive and actually make your pet feel worse instead of better.

If your pet has been suffering from lactose intolerance symptoms for more than a few days or has eaten a lot of cheese, you may want to get him checked out by a vet. The vet will run tests, check his symptoms and, if need be, admit him in for observation and inpatient treatment. A serious problem resulting from cheese is a relatively rare occurrence.

Help Your Cat Stay Happy And Healthy

Cheese is a no no, but there are plenty of things to do to help your cat have his or her best, healthiest life. You can check out our food section to learn more about how to keep your cat happy and healthy.

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