Cats do the weirdest things – that is why we love them! And what a cat thinks is a tasty treat is often no exception. As a veterinarian for over 15 years, I believe I have heard it all when it comes to odd things that cats like to eat. Butter is pretty high on the list of everyday kitchen staples that seem to tempt our furry feline friends.
So, can cats safely eat butter?
Cats can eat butter; however, they really should not eat very much. I often find that not many pet parents choose butter as a treat for their cats. Most people wonder if it is safe for a cat to eat butter after they catch their sneaky kitty grabbing a bite of it off of the counter. There are some people that ask if butter can be used as a treatment for hairballs too.
Is Butter Toxic To Cats?
Butter is not toxic to cats, so if you have just come into the kitchen and found your feline friend snacking on your butter, be reassured that toxicity is not a problem.
That being said, eating too much butter can definitely cause some gastrointestinal upset in a cat. Depending on how much butter your cat ate, you may see vomiting, stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea.
Butter is meant to be consumed by people, not cats. Though cats may find it very appealing, and it is not toxic, it also is not very good for them.
Cats are not tiny humans, and they have vastly different nutritional needs than we do.
Cats are “true” or “obligate” carnivores. This means that they should be getting greater than 70% of the calories in their diet from meat.
This carnivore designation means that cats have an incredibly high protein requirement.
If a cat fills up on other foods not meant for them (i.e., butter, etc.), they may not consume enough of their cat food to fulfill their dietary requirements for protein.
Before cats were domesticated, they ate primarily other small animals as the mainstay of their diet. This included mice and birds. This diet high in meat and moisture provided them all of the protein and other nutrients that they needed.
I am often asked, “Are cats lactose intolerant?” The answer is “Yes” most of the time. Once they reach adulthood, cats typically lack the enzyme needed to break down the sugar contained in milk, which is lactose.
If a cat is given too much lactose, usually in the form of cow’s milk, they will experience gastrointestinal upset and distress in the form of stomach pain, gas, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The issue is usually dose dependent, meaning small quantities of milk, or lactose, are fine, but too much may make the cat ill.
Other dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and butter, have much less lactose in them and rarely cause an issue for cats unless they are especially sensitive or eat a large amount.
Not all cats are lactose intolerant, and some can handle eating large quantities of lactose containing products. However, this brings us back to the issue of preventing the cat from eating their regular diet if they are too full of human food.
Why Do Cats Like Butter So Much?
It is common to see cats portrayed in books or art peacefully lapping up milk from bowls. Though it is true that most cats like milk and will drink it if offered, as discussed, it is not the best treat for them.
Cats like milk and butter because of their high fat content. They are smooth and tasty with no spices or bitter tastes that would turn off a cat and their delicate palate.
Unfortunately, much like children, cats often do not know what is best for them when it comes to nutrition. If left to their own devices and given a choice in their dietary menus, most cats would become very unhealthy.
Butter To Treat Cat Hairballs
Now that we know butter is not toxic but also not a good dietary choice for our feline friends, what about the theory that giving some butter to a cat is an effective treatment for hairballs?
Hairballs can be a distressing issue for both you and your cat. If you are home and hear your cat trying to vomit up a hairball, it can be very scary.
Typically, hair that your cat swallows will pass through the gastrointestinal tract and be expelled in their feces.
Hairballs occur when the hair builds up and gets trapped in the cat’s stomach. Because a cat cannot digest hair, if the hairball cannot pass out of the stomach into the intestines, the cat must vomit the hair back up.
Almost all cats get hairballs from time to time because they are self-groomers. Long-haired cats tend to have more issues than shorter-haired cats.
There are a few things you can do to help your cat if they are struggling with hairballs. Always speak to your veterinarian if you are concerned with the health of your kitty.
Brushing and Grooming
Always brush and groom your cat on a regular basis to reduce the amount of loose hair that they may be ingesting. Regular brushing sessions will go a long way in keeping the hair off of your cat’s body and, therefore, out of their stomach.
Your cat should still self-groom, but with less loose hair, you should see a dramatic reduction in hairballs, and regular brushing sessions are a great way to spend quality time with your pet! Some cats also benefit from regular clippings where the cat is shaved completely.
Shampoos and Bathing
For the more adventurous cat owner, there are shampoos and wipes that can work to loosen and remove excess hair. Some cats may be opposed to water and wetness, so these should be introduced slowly and carefully.
Hairball Control Foods
There are foods marketed to aid in hairball control. These foods use special blends of fiber to aid in the cat’s digestion and to help any ingested hair pass through the intestinal system. The formulas also contain ingredients meant to nourish the skin and hair to keep them healthy. These diets should always be paired with regular brushing.
Butter is not necessary, nor probably helpful, for the control of hairballs in cats.
If your cat has many hairballs that are not easily remedied with the methods mentioned above, is losing weight, or ever has any difficulty breathing or vomits more than usual, they need to be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Can cats eat margarine?
The answer to this question is much the same as the answer for butter; however, margarine is a different product than butter.
Margarine is made from vegetable oils instead of animal fats. This product is derived from plant-based oils, but does this mean margarine is good for cats? Again, no, but it is not toxic either.
Plant oils are high in fats, though not as high as animal fats, but margarine is also low in protein that cats need.
Eating margarine, just as eating butter, will likely fill up a cat and prevent them from consuming adequate amounts of the necessary cat food they need.
Margarine may also cause gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, stomach pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Can Cats Eat Cheese?
Cats can eat cheese as it is not toxic, but as the majority of cats are lactose intolerant, too much cheese may cause gastrointestinal upset.
Most cats like cheese due to its taste and high fat content. It can make an easy and convenient treat.
Small bites of cheese as an occasional treat are fine, but they should be limited to small nibbles and discontinued if any stomach upset is observed.
Can Cats Eat Olive Oil?
Cats can consume olive oil and foods cooked in olive oil. Olive oil is not toxic to cats. However, cats are not accustomed to diets high in vegetable oils, and a large amount of oil may lead to tummy trouble. Avoid allowing your cat to eat too much olive oil or excessively oily foods.
If too much olive oil is eaten, cats may exhibit signs of gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting, stomach cramping, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Ill cats should be taken to a veterinarian right away.
Olive oil should never be used as a treatment for hairballs. Not only is this not an effective treatment for hairballs, cats being fed liquid oil for hairballs may inadvertently get the olive oil into their lungs. This is extremely dangerous.
Olive oil (or any oil or other liquid substance) in the lungs may lead to aspiration pneumonia and can be fatal.
If your cat is struggling with hairballs, frequent brushing is the most effective tool to combat the issue. If the condition is bothersome, please consult your cat’s veterinarian.