When you bite into a ham-and-Swiss sandwich or toss cheese cubes into a salad, your cat may gaze at you with hungry eyes, guilting you to drop a piece his way. But does cheese belong on a cat’s menu?
“Cheese is not a natural food for cats, simply because they are carnivores and have no need for it,” says Dr. Brad LeVora, DVM, who frequently advises clients on their felines’ nutritional requirements.
“As a protein, needed by meat-eaters, cheese is a very poor choice—it’s got milk, cream, and fat in it. Look at jungle cats like lions, cheetahs—they are not looking for a source of milk, they’re hunting for fresh meat.”
Cheese’s milk and cream makeup can upset cats’ gastrointestinal systems. Dr. LeVora says many, if not most cats, are lactose intolerant, meaning when they consume cheese, or milk, they’ll be met with unpleasant consequences, such as throwing up, diarrhea, or both
If your cat develops a fondness for cheese, he’ll quickly pack on pounds. “Cheese is very high in fat, it’s usually got lots of salt, it may have spices in it, and like milk, there’s no reason to give it to your cat,” says LeVora. “Even if your cat is not lactose intolerant, he shouldn’t be eating cheese.”
“Cheese is not a natural food for cats, simply because they are carnivores and have no need for it.”
And that means any cheese, whether basic supermarket slices or pricier Havarti, Monterey Jack or crumbly Bleu. Sorry, Tabby, no cheese for you.
But a smidgen of cheese for a cat can be useful in one particular instance, Dr. LeVora says. “Some cats are very hard to medicate with pills, and if putting a pill into a little cream cheese or wrapped in a slice of American cheese can get him to take it, then that’s a reason to give cheese. If it works to get him to take his medicine, I’m all for it.”
What about cheese as an occasional, very special treat? “When a client says he gives the cat a piece of cheese once or twice a year, I’m not going to say anything,” Dr. LeVora says. “But cats don’t need [cheese]. It’s not good for them, and if you’re feeding your cat cheese, please stop.” There are many cheese-flavored cat treats available that make a much better alternative because they are formulated specifically for your kitty.
Kathy Blumenstock is owned by cats, loved by dogs, writes about both, and still longs for a horse.