Cats can develop all kinds of interesting food preferences, many of them unexpected or even bizarre. I’ve known cats who enjoyed cheese, cats who liked to nibble on slices of raw carrot, and one cat who went absolutely wild for frozen peas. It’s not common for a cat to take an interest in fruit but it’s not unheard of either. In this article, we’ll look at why cats might eat fruit and which varieties are safe for them to have.
Can cats eat fruit? Some fruits are okay but many fruits are contraindicated for cats due to toxicity. Additionally, as an obligate carnivore, your cat should not eat too much fruit. She won’t get the right nutrition from it and it might stop her eating healthier food.
- Is it okay for my cat to eat fruit?
- Are fruits poisonous to cats?
- Can I feed my cat on fruits and vegetables in place of meat?
- Which fruits should cats not eat?
Keep reading to find out the answers to your questions.
Cats and fruit: what you need to know
Can cats eat fruit? I would answer this question with a cautious “Maybe.” First of all, as previously mentioned, cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they can’t properly digest non-animal ingredients, no matter how carefully these are processed and prepared. For this reason, fruit or vegetable ingredients should be kept to a minimum in your cat’s diet.
Small quantities are acceptable but large amounts can have a negative effect, filling your cat up with non-nutritious bulk while providing little in the way of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids or protein she needs to stay healthy. There are few nutrients in fruit that can actually benefit a cat and they don’t require dietary fibre (roughage) as we do.
About the only upside to fruit consumption for cats is the high fluid content, which can have a positive benefit for animals who don’t drink much water. It is rather unusual to encounter a cat who is particularly eager to eat fruit, as the feline palette is not attuned to it. Fruit is very good for humans so we have taste receptors to encourage us to eat more of it.
Cats have a completely different set of taste receptors; they don’t taste sweet things and so fruit is generally not very attractive to them. Some cats are interested in fruit because of other flavour elements or because of the sensation it produces when bitten, however. A yielding or crunchy mouthfeel might be quite pleasant. Cats may also be interested in fruit as a source of moisture, due to the aforementioned problems with drinking water.
It’s rather alarming how many of our feline companions never really drink enough because they’re not really comfortable with water dishes; for these cats, fruit may be a comforting source of hydration. Some cats consume unusual items because they have a health problem they’re trying to address; dental issues are a common culprit or poor overall nutrition.
If your cat is obsessed with eating fruit or other vegetable material such as grass, it might be a good idea to take her for a checkup and discussing her diet with your vet. Then again, there are plenty of cats who are just interested in whatever you’re eating as a matter of principle, even if it’s not anything a cat would normally consume or particularly enjoy.
You should be very careful about feeding your cat “people food” regardless of the type, as much of what we eat is actually toxic to cats; this includes certain types of fruit. Later in this article, we’ll look at the fruits that can harm your cat, as well as the reasons that a fruit and vegetable based diet is very dangerous for felines.
Fruits that are harmful to cats
Most fruits are fairly safe for cats if allowed in moderation. That said, there are a few you really should prevent your cat from consuming.
- Grapes and raisins should be mentioned here; even though I know of no confirmed cases of a cat being seriously sickened by grapes, fresh or dried, many dogs have been laid low by grape toxicity as this fruit can cause kidney failure. Out of an abundance of caution, therefore, I would not allow a cat to eat grapes or raisins.
- Apple and pear cores can be dangerous — the flesh of an apple or pear is fairly safe but the pips in both fruits contain cyanide compounds. The quantities involved are too small to harm a human but they can poison a cat.
- Something similar goes for plums, apricots and cherries — these fruits all contain small quantities of cyanide compounds, especially in the pits. Cherries in particular are dangerous as the stones are small and easily swallowed.
- Citrus fruits — oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and similar — are not healthy for cats as the oils in the peel can cause serious reactions (in general, I would caution against exposing your cat to essential oils of any description). The dangerous compounds are not so concentrated in the flesh of the fruit but are abundant in the peel; make sure fruit peels are disposed of where your cat can’t access them.
- Figs are highly toxic to cats and can cause death even in quite small amounts.
- The same goes for avocados — they’re very, very dangerous to your cat and need to be kept away from her.
Foods containing any of these ingredients should obviously be kept away from your cat. Other human foods to keep away from your cat are onions, garlic, chocolate, foods containing caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.
Which fruits can your cat eat?
Bananas are high in potassium, which may be helpful for some cats; unfortunately, they’re also high in sugars and calories, which often aren’t. Small pieces of banana now and then should be okay, though. For some reason cats seem to enjoy melon, especially cantaloupe — I’ve come across the theory that there are volatile compounds in cantaloupes which are attractive to felines. In any case, a juicy chunk of cantaloupe may make a pleasant treat if you have a fruit-loving cat. Watermelons aren’t bad either and may actually contain something useful (vitamin A).
Be sure to remove the skin and seeds from melons before giving them to your cat. The closely related cucumber is also good to give cats. If you let your cat have tomatoes you must make sure they are red and fully ripe, as green tomatoes are very bad for them.
Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are safe, if not terribly nutritious. Apple and pear slices are okay, as long as you wash and peel the fruit first and carefully remove the core. Mangos are cat safe and moisture-rich.
Pineapple is more or less okay, in small doses — don’t give your cat too much and do be aware that some cats may have a bad reaction to the actinidain contained in pineapple flesh. It bears repeating that all fruits should be carefully washed, peeled and cored (where applicable — you don’t have to peel blueberries) before being given to your pet.
Seeds can contain highly toxic compounds while peels can be loaded with shiny wax and may carry pesticides. Overall, moderation should be your watchword. Don’t load your cat up with fruit.
Vegetarian diets and cats
When people ask about safe fruits to feed cats, it’s often in the context of a broader question: can my cat live on a vegetarian or vegan diet? The short answer is “no”. While it’s true that a cat may be able to survive for some time on a meat-free diet, this will eventually kill her.
Vegetarian diets are marginally less horrific since the cat may, at least, be consuming egg yolks; vegan diets don’t even contain these and are horribly nutritionally insufficient for your cat. The omnivorous human can subsist and even thrive on an entirely plant-based diet (I’ve met plenty of strapping vegetarian and vegan athletes and body-builders). Some dogs may do reasonably well on a vegetarian diet, although many will suffer nutritional deficiencies.
Such a diet for a cat, however, is a death sentence. If you don’t feel that you can countenance giving your cat animal products, that’s perfectly fine — now rehome her with someone who can. As a cat lover, I would actually prefer to see vegan owners euthanise their cats rather than feed them a vegan diet; the net result is the same and being put to sleep is kinder. Understandably this is very hard for vegans to hear but virtually the entire veterinary profession is unanimous in condemning meat-free diets for cats. Yes, I have met one or two healthy “vegan” cats. Tellingly, they were outdoor kitties who could come and go as they pleased.
If your cat is “doing fine” on a long-term vegan diet, I assure you that she’s either getting fed meat by your neighbours or just filling up on the local rodent and bird populations when you’re not looking. Vegetables and fruit alone cannot support a cat’s nutritional needs.