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Foods That Are Poisonous or Dangerous for Cats

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Let's face it: some cats are inveterate “bums” and will beg and plead most appealingly while you try to eat. While I will (rarely) give a cat a tidbit of chicken or turkey from my plate, it's a practice I don't encourage as a regular habit for a few reasons.

First, because cats need the nutrients specifically provided for them in good, premium cat foods, and any “extras” that they consume will take away their appetites for their regular meals.

A sliver of turkey or chicken from your dinner plate certainly won't kill a cat, but you're helping him develop bad habits. What happens when a relative comes over and your cat decides to jump on the table and try to eat their food?

However, the main reason I'd discourage feeding cats “people food” is that there are a number of foods that are toxic to cats.

You may have forgotten that the gravy slathered over your Thanksgiving turkey used broth that was flavored with onion, among other things.

While it is tasty and harmless to humans, onions are very toxic to cats. The following is a list of foods that cats should never eat:

Onions, Garlic, & Root Vegetables

Onions contain a substance (N-propyl disulphide) which destroys red blood cells in the cat, causing a form of anemia called Heinz body anemia.

Garlic contains a similar substance in a lesser amount.

Unripe Tomatoes & Potatoes

These foods are members of the Solanaceae family of plants, which includes the Deadly Nightshade, and contain a bitter, poisonous alkaloid called Glycoalkaloid Solanine, which can cause violent lower gastrointestinal symptoms.

The leaves and stems are particularly toxic. (Tomatoes in pet foods are ripe, and should cause no concern because they appear in relatively small amounts)


It's becoming more widely known that chocolate is very toxic to both cats and dogs. Theobromine is the offending substance here.

Janet Tobiassen Crosby, D.V.M. has an excellent article on the symptoms, effects, and treatment of chocolate toxicity.

Grapes and Raisins

These foods' toxicity has mainly been found in dogs, in quantities of varying amounts. The ASPCA advises: “As there are still many unknowns with the toxic potential of grapes and raisins, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center advises not giving grapes or raisins to pets in any amount.” That's good enough for me.


Although milk is not toxic to cats, it may have adverse effects. Simply put, adult cats fed a nutritious diet don't need milk, and many cats are lactose-intolerant, which means that the lactose in milk and milk products produces stomach upset, cramps, and gassiness.

If your cat loves milk, and begs for it, a small amount of cream may be okay, two or three times a week. (The more fat in the milk, the less lactose.)

Another compromise is CatSip®, a product made from skim milk with an enzyme added that helps the digestion of lactose. Catsip® is available in supermarkets such as Safeway, Albertson's and A&P, as well as pet products chains, such as PetSmart® and Petco®.

These are the most commonly seen “people foods” that are potentially harmful to cats. The bottom line is to feed your cat nutritious food developed with his needs in mind and choose treats designed for cats instead of table scraps.

Can I Give My Cat Human Medication?

The short answer is no, I do not recommend it. Your vet will have to give your cat any medication.

Most medications that are safe for humans are deadly for animals and some don’t even have the same effect so you’re just poisoning your animal needlessly without any benefit.

The only medication I know of that has been used on cats safely is Benadryl, which can be used to calm your cat down and make them drowsy, like a sedative.

Unfortunately there’s no official dosing so there’s really no safe way to administer it. What’s worse is that Benadryl has an extremely bitter taste that is so bitter for cats it makes them foam at the mouth.

When in doubt, call the local vet and ask them. I wouldn’t feel right giving you advice on giving animals specific human-based medicine but your vet may be able to point you in the right direction.

Always Keep a Cat Emergency Kit At Hand

Here are some items you need to have around for cat-related emergencies. Assemble the following supplies in a box with a secure lid. Keep the box near your cat food supplies in case you need to find it in a hurry.

  • Tweezers, preferably very sharp pointed.
  • Rectal thermometer. The digital variety is preferable because it is more readily read.
  • Small scissors, preferably with blunt ends. (For cutting hair, bandages, tape.)
  • Sterile gauze pads, rolled sterile gauze, white surgical tape.
  • Cotton balls and a roll of cotton padding.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide for cleaning out wounds.
  • Sterile eyewash solution (The human variety is fine.)
  • Antiseptic cleaner, such as Bactine®.
  • Hydrocortisone ointment for insect stings.
  • Eye droppers. You can buy these separately at your pharmacy.
  • Emergency ice pack. (Keep this item in your freezer, and wrap in a towel before using.)
  • The telephone number of your veterinarian, including night and emergency numbers. Keep this information in a waterproof packet, along with your pet's medical records.

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