Monkeys love them, humans crave them on cornflakes, and dogs may even drool when offered a reward of banana bits. Cats, with their discerning (some might say finicky) palates, are not famed for going bananas over bananas. But do felines even need the popular fruit?
The 411 on bananas: they’re a prime source of potassium, a mineral that supports heart and kidney functions. But bananas are heavy on carbs, which is one reason Margaret Gates, director of the Feline Nutrition Foundation, says cats do not need them.
Gates, who began the foundation as a way to educate people about cat food, says, “Cats have no requirement for carbohydrates in their diet and feeding carbs to cats can lead to many problems.”
“While cats can digest them in a limited way, carbs should really only make up 0-2% of their diet,” she adds.
Dr. Marcus G. Brown, DVM, of the cats-only vet practice, NOVA Cat Clinic in Fairfax, Virginia, says that unless doing so prevents them from eating their regular diet, he sees no reason that cats cannot eat bananas. “Maybe an important question is, will cats eat bananas?”
Brown says that as carnivores, felines may not be able to use any of the fats or limited amount of protein in bananas because “cats lack the enzymes to digest and use a lot of plant food sources.”
Gates, who switched her own cats to a raw-meat diet in 2008 and observed positive changes in all of them, elaborates further on carnivorous felines’ nutritional needs. She emphasizes that cats are “obligate carnivores.” That is a special class of meat-eater that has come to rely on a diet of meat only. She cites other animals besides cats that are obligate carnivores, including raptors, minks, dolphins, and alligators, all of which have adapted physically to a diet that contains only animal sources. But she notes that dogs are not obligate carnivores—which is why dogs can function on a vegetarian food regimen but cats absolutely cannot.
As for any possible feline nutritional benefits from bananas, such as potassium, Gates says that could be supplied “with a more appropriate food. Cats that are fed a balanced raw meat diet do not need the addition of any fruits, vegetables or grains.”
But what if a cat, for whatever reason, loves and demands a banana?
“Well, there may be some cats that might want to, as cats can have unusual or unexplained food interests,” Gates says.
If you have a cat that likes bananas, a small bite now and then likely wouldn’t hurt them. But keep in mind that this is a completely inappropriate food for a cat. Your cat would be much better off if you fed a healthy, meat-based snack.
In an unscientific experiment, I offered my own cats, Starli and Shamrock, the chance to sample bananas: a few thin slices cut in bite-size quarters, a spoonful of mashed banana, and a larger, just-peeled piece. Both Starli and Shamrock sniffed delicately and then walked away. Starli returned and sat pointedly as if asking for a better snack than these, please.
Gates says that what cat parents need to realize is that “a cat is not a dog or a person. We need to think about what to feed a cat on their terms, not ours. Feeding a cat high levels of carbs is harmful and contributes to many of the diseases that cats suffer from in high numbers, such as diabetes and irritable bowel disease (IBD).”
So when it comes to cats and bananas, make your kitty’s home a banana-free zone.
Kathy Blumenstock is owned by cats, loved by dogs, writes about both, and still longs for a horse.