I’d always believed cheese was an absolute no-no for cats, so you can imagine how shocked I was to see it at the vet’s office.
During a particularly brutal appointment, one vet tech was swaddling my cat. At the same time, the other reached into the cabinet to procure a metal, cylindrical can topped with a straight, white nozzle. Flipping the can over, she depressed the nozzle, and out flowed a swirl of something orange that my cat immediately lapped up. You guessed it: It was Easy Cheese, aka cheese in a can. So what’s the deal? Can cats eat cheese?
Some cheeses—particularly harder, aged cheeses—are safe for cats in moderation. However, others could cause serious tummy troubles. Sharing the occasional bite of cheddar cheese is probably not a big deal, but you should never let your cat have an all-you-can-eat feast at the charcuterie board.
Cats & Dairy
Most adult cats are lactose intolerant; they can’t properly digest the sugar lactose in dairy. As kittens, cats naturally produce lactase enzymes to break down the lactose in mom’s milk. However, most kittens stop producing lactase after their first year of life.
When cats consume too much lactose, it ferments in their gastrointestinal tract and causes digestive problems. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Abdominal Pain: Fermentation in the gut causes excess gas that can lead to abdominal pain. At the same time, it may be difficult to tell if your cat is experiencing abdominal pain. Pay attention to their movements. If your cat isn’t as active as usual, it could be a sign that they have abdominal pain.
- Bloating and Gas: Fluid retention and gas result from a cat’s inability to break down lactose.
- Constipation: While we often think of loose stools accompanying lactose intolerance, a cat may also experience constipation. Constipation occurs when food stalls in the digestive tract instead of moving through the intestines.
- Dehydration: Due to vomiting and diarrhea, your cat may also experience dehydration. Symptoms include dry mouth, thirst, elevated heart rate, and muscle cramping.
- Diarrhea: Acute postprandial diarrhea is prevalent in cats with lactose intolerance.
- Vomiting: Nausea and vomiting may occur after ingesting dairy.
Is Cheese Bad For Cats?
While cats can eat cheese in moderation, it’s not good for them. Too much cheese can upset your cat’s stomach, leading to diarrhea or vomiting. While some adult felines can tolerate more lactose than others, it’s best to stick to small portions. The more cheese, the greater the likelihood your cat will experience adverse gastrointestinal effects.
Cats are obligate carnivores who need a protein-rich diet for optimal health. While cheese is high in protein, it’s not your cat’s ideal source. For protein, stick to quality meat from chicken, beef, turkey, duck, rabbit, lamb, venison, lamb, or fish. Eggs and organ meats are great options as well.
While it isn’t toxic to cats, eating cheese can cause weight gain and obesity due to its high saturated fat content. An obese kitty is likelier to develop other health conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Excessive dietary fat intake, including saturated fat, has been linked to certain cancers, coronary heart disease, and pancreatitis.
Certain cheeses are also high in salt. The Pet Poison Helpline emphasizes that felines are particularly sensitive to salt and are at risk of salt poisoning if too much is ingested. Excessive salt consumption causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In severe cases, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.
Can Kittens Eat Cheese?
No, it would be best if you didn’t feed your kitten cheese. Even though kitties are more likely to tolerate lactose, their growing bodies need a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet for immune system development and growth. Adding new human foods to the mix will likely upset their digestive system, which can negatively affect their overall health. Even if your kitten has transitioned from mom’s milk (or formula) to wet food and kibble, avoid feeding them cheese.
When born, kitties have a partially functioning immune system, making them especially vulnerable to diseases. While drinking mother’s milk, they are also consuming colostrum, which aids in the establishment of their gut microbiome. It is also highly concentrated in antibodies to protect the kittens from infections.
During the four to 12-week weeks, when cats transition from milk to food, they experience an “immunity gap.” During this transition, the combined loss of colostrum and the still-developing immune system increases the chances of your kitten’s immune system being compromised. Because diet can significantly support the immune system, you should strictly stick to feeding quality, nutrient-dense kitten food.
During this time, we also recommend purchasing pet insurance for your kitten. Pet insurance covers treatment costs for eligible illnesses and accidents, especially when purchased at a young age before any pre-existing conditions occur. View our picks for the best pet insurance for cats.
Our Personal Experience With Cats Eating Cheese
My cats love cheese. I know that felines are lactose intolerant, so I try not to make a habit of giving it to them often. Cheese is often part of meals, so it inevitably ends up on the floor. My cat Zaphod loves to be a part of mealtime, so will pounce on a cheese morsel almost as fast as it hits the ground. I think he enjoys the fatty, salty taste.
I have also used bits of cheese to entice him to eat prescription kibble he did not like. My vet suggested a small amount of shredded cheese or meat like boiled chicken be mixed in so he would be more likely to eat it. This tactic worked but was only done on a temporary basis and not at every meal.Danielle DeGroot, LYC writer and longtime cat owner
My cat, Bammy, absolutely loves cheese (and deli turkey, popcorn, marshmallows, etc.)! If I leave a sandwich out, she’ll jump up on the counter and try to steal the cheese and turkey. The first time she ate cheese, I was worried it would upset her tummy because many cats don’t handle cheese well. But she seemed fine. So now, I occasionally give her a small piece as a treat. She likes it more than her commercial kitty treats!Sally Jones, LYC writer and cat owner
Are Certain Cheeses Safer For Cats?
If you want to feed your feline cheese, skip the soft cheeses in favor of harder varieties. Soft cheeses contain higher levels of lactose, so they’re more likely to cause digestive upset.
Avoid feeding your furbaby cheeses made with raw milk. Raw milk is any animal milk that has not been pasteurized or heat-treated to prevent foodborne illnesses. Popular raw milk cheeses include asiago, brie, camembert, gruyère, and Parmigiano-Riggiano.
Blue cheese contains mold, which is toxic to kitties. Felines should not eat blue cheese or other moldy varieties.
Can Cats Eat Cheddar Cheese?
Opt for hard cheese like cheddar if you want to feed your feline friend cheese. Cheddar is lower in lactose than other varieties, so it’s a better option for your feline friend.
Can Cats Eat Swiss Cheese?
Swiss cheese is another hard cheese that is safe for cats. Hard cheeses are less likely to cause problems, but moderation is still essential.
Can Cats Eat Mozzarella Cheese?
Sorry, your kitty shouldn’t eat mozzarella. This soft is higher in lactose and may give your feline tummy troubles.
Can Cats Eat Parmesan Cheese?
Not to be confused with Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Parmesan cheese you find in the supermarket has less rigid standards for production. It can be made anywhere, using any milk, and aged for any duration. Additionally, while making Parmigiano-Reggiano allows only three ingredients (milk, salt, and rennet), Parmesan may include additives and artificial colors. Learn more about the difference via this Good Housekeeping article.
Unlike authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parmesam is made from pasteurized milk. Still, skip this one when it comes to your furry friend. Parmesan—along with blue, feta, Romano, and Roquefort—is a higher-sodium cheese. Too much sodium is dangerous for our feline friends.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Cats Eat Cottage Cheese?
While some felines can’t tolerate cottage cheese, others can enjoy a teaspoon or two. Read more about the nutritional benefits of cottage cheese and see our recommendations for cottage cheese for cats.
Can Cats Eat Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese contains a higher amount of lactose. Sure, your feline may be able to enjoy a tiny quantity, but it’s better not to risk it. Too much lactose can lead to runny stools and a messy litter box. If you know your cat isn’t sensitive to lactose, cream cheese should still be fed in moderation due to its high-fat content.
Can Cats Eat Mac And Cheese?
There’s a difference between can and should. Sure, your cat can eat mac and cheese, so long as it doesn’t contain harmful-to-cat spices like garlic and onion. Like any dairy product, you risk upsetting your cat’s GI tract if they’re fed too much.
As with all human foods, remember that felines should only eat cheese in moderation. If you want additional ideas for fun treats for your kitty, read our article on cat-safe human foods.