Have you ever left your meal unattended for a moment and come back to find your cat nibbling at your dinner? Do you like to share your food as a treat for your cat? Many cat owners often wonder if it is safe for their pets to eat certain human foods.
In my veterinary practice, I receive many calls every week from concerned cat owners needing to know what is safe for their cats to eat. Frequently it is human food, such as French fries, that the worried pet parent is inquiring about. So, is it ok for a cat to eat French fries?
Cats can eat French fries, but there are some notable exceptions to be aware of. Cooked French fries, in small quantities, will not harm your cat, though they may cause some gastrointestinal upset. Raw (uncooked) French fries are toxic to cats and could potentially pose a serious health risk to your cat.
Everyone has heard the saying “curiosity killed the cat.” This saying is popular because there is some truth to it when it comes to the behavior of our feline friends.
Cats are curious creatures, and they have amazing athletic abilities. There are few places in your house that a cat cannot access. This means that any food, including French fries, can be a snack for a cat in a matter of seconds if left unattended.
Cats will often sneak food off our tables and even off of the counter or stove top as it is being prepared!
Therefore, it is essential to know which foods are safe and which foods pose a threat.
Are French Fries Poisonous For My Cat?
The answer to this is both yes and no. This answer may sound confusing at first, but let’s break it down and see how this can be true.
French fries are typically made from white (Russet) potatoes that contain a substance that is toxic to cats (and dogs). This substance is glycoalkaloid called solanine. It is also found in the green parts of potato plants.
If your cat jumps up onto the counter and helps itself to slices of raw potato that you are making into French fries, then a dangerous toxicity could occur.
This is also true if the cat eats potato peels or green plant parts of the potato that may be found in the trash or compost pile.
Frozen French fries are pre-cooked and will not lead to a potato toxicity.
Potato toxicity will cause vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and possible neurological side effects such as lethargy, depression, and disorientation.
If your cat has ingested raw potatoes or potato plant parts, they should be taken to a veterinarian right away. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam, draw blood for blood work, and begin treatment.
Treatment may consist of decontamination and intravenous fluids. Medications may be given to control nausea.
Most potato toxicities in cats are mild, and the prognosis is generally good, but cats may become very ill and require hospitalization.
Cooked French Fries
French fries that have been cooked are almost irresistible to a cat. They are warm and salty and fried. Luckily, these are not toxic for a cat.
Cooking, and usually in the case of French fries, frying, inactivates the solanine, and the potatoes are no longer toxic.
Heat is the important factor that causes the degradation of the toxic compound. Solanine begins decomposing in the potato at 340 degrees Fahrenheit. Potatoes should always be cooked thoroughly to ensure their safety before being eaten.
Though French fries that have been cooked or fried are not toxic for cats, they are not the healthiest snack for a cat.
French Fry Facts
No one really knows where French fries first originated. Most people believe they came from France, hence the name. However, both Belgium and Spain also claim to have been the creator of this delicious fried food.
French fries made their way to the United States via Thomas Jefferson after his ambassadorship to the country in the late 1800s.
For the true French fry enthusiast, there is an entire museum dedicated to just French fries located in Bruges, Belgium. The museum is named the “Frietmuseum.”
What Is In A French Fry?
There are two main categories of French fries – those that are store-bought or purchased at a restaurant, and homemade.
While they may seem like a simple food, French fries that are not homemade often contain nearly 20 different ingredients.
On the other hand, homemade French fries truly are simple. These fries consist of potato slices, your choice of oil, and salt or a seasoning of your choice.
The main ingredient of both types, potatoes, are healthy root vegetables and contain high levels of carbohydrates. They are also rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
Cats And Carbohydrates
Cats are true carnivores. This means that greater than 70% of their diet should be meat and that they have no need for grains. Diets high in carbohydrates are not an ideal fit for a cat as they don’t fit the appropriate nutritional profile for a cat.
Cats do require some fiber in their diet, but potatoes are much too high in fiber and carbohydrates to be a good food source for a cat.
An excess of carbohydrates will lead to obesity in a cat as their bodies and metabolisms are equipped to eat all meat diets. Feeding French fries to cats in excess is not a good idea.
French Fries Are Fried
Besides the high carbohydrate content of French fries, the other consideration is that they are indeed, fried.
Fried foods are not only unhealthy for cats, they may cause gastrointestinal issues.
Cats’ digestive systems are not accustomed to fried foods and eating French fries may cause a cat to vomit, have stomach cramps, or give them diarrhea.
Often, if a cat is being sneaky and stealing French fries from your plate or off of the counter when no one is looking, it may be the seasoning that causes an issue.
French fries may be coated with seasoning salts that may simply irritate or make your cat sneeze (think pepper) or may actually be toxic (onion or garlic flavorings).
Both onions and garlic are toxic to cats. These two spices, when ingested, may cause a hemolytic anemia. The anemia may be delayed for days to weeks after the ingestion of the spice, so the cat should be taken to a veterinarian for care.
Other toppings, such as malt vinegar, ketchup, or mustard, can irritate a cat’s mouth as well as upset their more sensitive gastrointestinal tract. Cats ingesting these sauces may drool, vomit, or show other signs of stomach upset.
Better Treats For Cats
As discussed earlier, cats are true meat-eaters; they have no need for grains in their diets. This makes meat a great treat for your kitty.
Try sharing a tiny sliver of meat, for example, ham, turkey, or roast beef, with your cat. You can even give them a bite of meat from your sandwich at lunch.
Another snack that most cats love is cheese. Cats are lactose intolerant, which makes milk a poor choice, but the lactose in cheese is processed and typically does not cause an issue. A small nibble of cheese is a great treat for a cat.
A little outside of the box, but many cats love peanut butter. Before you share this yummy treat with your favorite feline, ensure that the brand you have is not sweetened with xylitol (can also be listed as birch sugar). Put a little on a spoon and see what your cat thinks!
Final Thoughts on French Fries
French fries can be toxic to cats (and dogs) if they eat them raw.
Cooked French fries do not necessarily pose a toxic threat to cats, but due to their high carbohydrate load and the fact that they are fried, they are not the best choice as a snack for your cat.
Seasonings and sauces commonly used on French fries can cause gastrointestinal issues, so keep these away from your cat.
A tiny bite of French fry shared with your kitty isn’t going to do your healthy cat much harm if that French fry isn’t covered with other seasonings or sauces.
There are much safer, healthier treat options for cats, even of the human food variety. A small bite of meat, a nibble of cheese, or even a dab of peanut butter will make most cats happy.
If you are ever unsure whether a food is safe for your cat, please consult your veterinarian. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
If your cat has already eaten something that you are worried is toxic, immediately consult your nearest veterinarian or call the ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline for advice. They can be reached at 1-888-426-4435.