Cats tend to gravitate towards whatever their owners are eating and drinking. This can be frustrating, especially when your feline companion has her own water dish and a full bowl of food sitting in the kitchen. Why does your cat insist on trying to drink your cappuccino or steal your sandwich when she has the drinking fountain you got her and a bowl of lovingly chosen Duck and Rabbit Supreme? The simple answer is that you’re eating or drinking it. If you, her trusted colony-mate, are happy with these substances, then it follows that they must be safe for her. This is, unfortunately, a mistake.
Can cats drink coffee? No, cats should never be allowed to drink coffee. The caffeine in coffee is toxic to cats and can make them very ill. Coffee also contains other substances that are very bad for cats. Even a little coffee can be dangerous.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have questions about your cat and coffee.
- Can cats have coffee?
- Why is coffee dangerous for cats?
- If your cat does drink coffee, should you take her to the vet?
- What are the health effects of coffee on cats?
- What other drinks should cats avoid?
- What should cats drink to stay healthy?
- How can you dissuade your cat from trying to drink your coffee?
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. We have all the information you need. Read on to find out more about cats, coffee and healthy kitty drinks.
Can cats drink coffee?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal No. Cats should never, ever be allowed coffee in any quantity. It may be that if your cat manages to steal a lick or two of coffee from a cup she will be fine; however, you should still try to avoid letting your cat drink coffee. It’s dangerous and can harm them. Some people believe that cats should be okay with decaffeinated coffee but this is a serious misconception. There are lots of compounds in coffee that are bad for cats, not to mention all the things we like to add to our coffee. Even the cow’s milk used in many drinks can make cats ill.
Coffee contains two main compounds that are very bad for cats: caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine is extremely dangerous as cats are highly sensitive to it — much more so than humans. Because of this additional sensitivity and their small body size, it only takes a
very small dose of coffee to make a cat desperately ill. Pet poison experts regard caffeine as a life-threatening toxin.
Coffee also contains theobromine, which is severely toxic to cats. Most pet owners know that theobromine is toxic to dogs but not everyone is aware of how dangerous it can be to cats. Most theobromine poisoning incidents in pets involve dogs consuming chocolate. Because cats aren’t sensitive to sweet tastes, they’re less curious about chocolate than dogs and tend not to eat it. Unfortunately, theobromine is present in coffee, which seems to be more attractive to some cats than chocolate. The combination of caffeine and theobromine in a cat’s system can be disastrous.
In general, I find it advisable to keep cats away from “people food” and “people drinks”. My own cats know that if they go after the things that I’m eating or drinking, they’ll get a firm “No!” and might be shut out of the room so I can finish my morning coffee in peace. I know one household where they’ve resorted to cups with lids because their cat (a Siamese, naturally) insists on sticking her head in unsealed containers. You probably won’t have to go quite that far but you should stop your cat from trying to drink your morning cup of joe.
What happens if cats drink coffee?
Much depends on the cat and how much coffee was ingested. A fit, healthy adult cat who happens to lick up a little spilt coffee will probably take very little harm from it. A less healthy cat or a kitten who consumes the same amount might become sickly. Any cat who drinks more than a few spoonfuls of coffee could become very ill and might even die, regardless of how healthy she is.
The first sign that a cat has been poisoned by coffee might be agitation and anxiety. In low doses, the effects are similar to those in humans who’ve consumed an unusual amount of caffeine: anxiety, jitteriness and general state of nervous excitement. The cat might be unusually restless, appearing skittish and hyperactive even if she’s normally calm. Her heart rate may be elevated; her blood pressure and body temperature may rise. She may show a lack of appetite or begin vomiting.
In more severe cases of caffeine poisoning, the cat may develop an abnormal heart rate. If the condition isn’t promptly treated, this alone can pose a serious hazard to her well-being. A cat with caffeine poisoning can develop tremors and may collapse. Seizures may occur in some cats. If medical attention is not rendered promptly, the cat may well suffer permanent impairment or even death.
This is why it’s very important to prevent your cat from consuming coffee or other drinks that contain caffeine. If the worst happens and your cat ingests more than a lick or two of coffee, you should immediately take her to the vet. Timely care by a vet might be the only thing standing between your pet and lasting harm.
Can cats drink weak or milky coffee? What about other caffeinated drinks?
Cats must never drink any kind of caffeinated beverage. Weaker coffee will be less harmful than strong coffee but will still be unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Drinks like tea, cola or energy drinks are also inappropriate for cats and may be toxic.
Because adult cats are lactose intolerant, milky coffee drinks can be almost as bad as ordinary coffee. A cat will start out able to digest milk, but will naturally lose the enzyme that allows her to process lactose as she grows out of kittenhood and is weaned onto adult foods. With rare exceptions, cats don’t do very well on milk once they reach maturity. Even modest amounts can upset their stomachs, causing diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort. In extreme cases, this can lead to real health problems; cats who are frail or elderly can become dehydrated after drinking milk and may need intravenous fluids in order to recover. For this reason, you should make sure that your cat doesn’t manage to get hold of your latte. (There is lactose-free cat milk on the market, of course, but you’re unlikely to put these in your coffee.)
Milk or cream in coffee makes it taste less bitter and milder to the human palate. Although this makes the coffee seem less strong, it doesn’t actually do anything to offset the effects of the caffeine. A drink that’s more milk than coffee may deliver less caffeine but will still be unhealthy for cats. Cats may also be more interested in milky or creamy coffee drinks because of their pleasant taste, potentially making them riskier in terms of accidental poisoning.
Drinks like cola or energy drinks aren’t usually very interesting to cats unless you have one of those individuals who insist on trying anything you’re drinking. When cats are accidentally poisoned by these drinks, it is usually because they’ve been spilt and the cat has licked up the fluid out of curiosity. The best way to avoid this is simply to mop up spills as soon as you can.
What should cats drink instead?
As a general rule, cats should really only be given water. It’s the healthiest drink for them. You should encourage your cat to drink by placing multiple water dishes around the home. Ideally, cat owners should get a powered water fountain. Most cats are a little dehydrated and this can lead to some long-term health issues.
You should not give your cat milk as this can upset most cats’ stomachs due to the lactose it contains. Cats can also be sickened by plant milk such as oat, almond or soy. There are specially formulated cat milk; you can give your cat a little of these as a treat but don’t overdo it. They’re higher in calories than a cat’s normal drink, water, and can encourage overweight in susceptible animals. Milk may also cause skin problems. I will occasionally give a little cat milk if I think my cats aren’t drinking enough, especially in hot weather.
Another thing I will let my cats drink, in moderation, is certain types of broth. Don’t grab stock off the supermarket shelves, as this typically contains sodium and other things cats can’t have (onions and garlic being the worst possible ingredients). I make my own cat-safe broth at home, using only foods that are safe for my cats (fish, chicken, and various meats). Do not give it to them while it’s hot as this can hurt them. The broth is enticing for cats and can encourage them to drink.
You can also boost your cat’s fluid intake by switching from dry food to wet and mashing a little water into the food. Remember that in the wild, feral cats get most of their fluid from the tissues of their prey. They are not very thirst-motivated so delivering fluid through their food this way is likely to be more helpful than expecting them to drink. Cats can also benefit from being given small pieces of melon, cucumber and other cat-safe fruits or vegetables. while they can’t taste sweetness, many cats do appreciate the sensation provided by cool, crunchy vegetables. The fluid content of the vegetables can help keep your cat hydrated.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.