Few things have a stronger chokehold on the United States public than cheesy meals and snacks. Cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, cheesy fries, cheese pizza—the list goes on and on. America’s cheese addiction can be seen in the steadiness of one of its most-iconic snacks: the Cheez-It.
If you find the classic red-boxed Cheez-It in your cabinet, you may wonder if it’s safe for your cat to eat. Are Cheez-Its toxic to cats? Let’s consider the good and bad of the Cheez-It in this comprehensive look at one of America’s favorite cheesy snacks.
What Are Cheez-Its?
The humble Cheez-It is a one-inch by one-inch orange baked cracker flecked with pieces of salt and displaying cut marks around the edges that appear to be done by hand. The cracker is thin, crispy, and bright orange—a nod to the ever-popular cheddar cheese.
While the cracker itself does contain cheese, the color of the cheese comes from annatto extract, a natural food dye extracted from the seeds of the achiote tree. Annatto, plus paprika and paprika extract, gives the Cheez-It its iconic orange hue.
The Green & Green Company company introduced the Cheez-It in 1921 and initially marketed the cracker as “baked rarebits.” The public was familiar was rarebit—a dish consisting of hot cheese sauce over toasted bread—and Green & Green believed this was the best way to describe this new product. The Cheez-It was cost-effective and stayed fresh for long periods, important factors as America felt the effects of the Great Depression.
Sunshine Biscuits acquired the Green & Green Company in 1932. In 1996, Sunshine Biscuits was bought by Keebler, with Keebler being acquired by Kellogg in 2001. Cheez-It now offers dozens of variations of its original cheesy snack, and Cheeze-It has become one of the most-recognizable snack brands. This crispy orange cracker has become so iconic that it was featured in Smithsonian Magazine to celebrate its 100th birthday.
Fun fact: The plural of Cheez-It is, in fact, not Cheez-Its. According to a November 2015 tweet by the beloved snack brand, the plural of Cheez-It is actually Cheez-It crackers! Alas, similar to the steadiness of this brand’s presence throughout our lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever stop calling this beloved cracker “Cheez-Its.”
Cheez-It remains a staple of supermarkets and can be found in lunch boxes, college dorms, and kitchen cupboards.
Can Cats Eat Cheez-Its?
If a rogue Cheez-It makes its way onto the kitchen floor and into your cat’s mouth, don’t panic—Cheez-Its aren’t toxic to cats. But as we know, just because you can eat something doesn’t mean you should. Cheez-Its offer virtually no nutritional value to cats.
Are Cheez-Its Safe For Cats?
Cheez-Its aren’t toxic to cats; however, if your cat has a specific sensitivity to one of the ingredients, it could cause gastrointestinal upset. Don’t go overboard if you decide to give your cat a Cheez-It. Start with a small piece of cracker and pay attention to how your cat responds. If you notice signs of distress—diarrhea, vomiting, itching—eliminate Cheez-Its from your cat’s treat list.
Some ingredients used in Cheez-It crackers are concerning not only for cats but for humans as well. Keep reading on to learn more.
Are Cheez-Its Bad For Cats?
If you’re blessed with a furry angel baby, it’s critical to understand the basics of cat nutrition to keep your pal happy and healthy. While some human foods offer nutritional value to cats, others are feline junk food and will lead to health problems down the line.
Cat Nutritional Needs
All felines are obligate carnivores and thus require a meat-centric diet. Cats require protein from meat for energy, growth, and supporting overall body function. Your feline friend requires more protein than a dog, and kittens need more protein than adult cats.
Amino acids make up protein. There are two kinds of amino acids: essential and nonessential. As the names suggest, the body can synthesize nonessential amino acids, whereas animals must get essential amino acids from food sources.
The amino acid taurine is essential to cats, and deficiencies can cause health problems as severe as heart disease and blindness. So long as you’re providing your cat a diet comprised primarily of meat, they should get enough taurine; however, the rise of commercial, low-quality cat food led to an increase in taurine deficiencies among our beloved kitty cats. Thankfully, pet-food manufacturers have learned the error of their ways and often supplement additional taurine in their formulas to prevent cat health problems.
The second-most-important nutrient for cats is fat. Fats offer your cat energy, help absorb specific vitamins, and support the brain, eyes, joints, skin, and coat. Fats are composed of essential fatty acids. Some fatty acids—especially omega-3 fatty acids from animal sources—are especially beneficial to your cat’s diet.
Finally, your cat can also utilize carbohydrates for energy and fiber. There are three main types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and fiber. Cats have very little need for sugars, also called simple carbohydrates, and actually have a limited ability to taste sugar. Starches, or complex carbohydrates, are used as a source of energy. Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate, but instead of being broken down for energy, fiber naturally scrubs the GI tract and promotes the regular elimination of toxins. Fiber also helps cats break down hairballs—a significant win for cats.
Cats also need vitamins and minerals in their diet for good nutrition. Cats absorb vitamins and minerals from animal sources more effectively than plant sources. Feeding your cat a high-quality, well-balanced formula should provide enough vitamins and minerals in their food.
Cheez-It Nutritional Breakdown
Now you might wonder where Cheez-Its fall on the nutritional spectrum and if they add value to your cat’s diet. Let’s take a look at the Original Cheez-It. Crunchy, cheesy, and oh-so-delicious. Cheez-It boasts that its crackers have always been made with real cheese. They do, in fact, include cheese made with skim milk. Let’s look at the whole ingredient list:
Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, vitamin B1 [thiamin mononitrate], vitamin B2 [riboflavin], folic acid), vegetable oil (high oleic soybean, soybean, palm, and/or canola oil with TBHQ for freshness), cheese made with skim milk (skim milk, whey protein, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes, annatto extract color). Contains 2% or less of salt, paprika, yeast, paprika extract color, and soy lecithin.
Per 27 crackers, Original Cheez-Its have 150 calories. A serving has 8 grams of fat, 230 mg of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of protein. Cheez-Its are also a source of calcium, potassium, and iron.
Dairy Intolerance In Cats
The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine emphasizes that many adult cats are lactose intolerant. Cats lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy. When the undigested lactose stays in the intestines instead of passing into the bloodstream, it ferments and leads to gastrointestinal problems: upset stomach, abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, and more.
Despite the long-standing myth that felines love nothing more than a bowl of cream, most cats can’t digest dairy. While it’s true that your cat may love cheese, thanks to its high fat and protein content, the cheese just might not love them back. Some cats can handle a bit of cheese, while others can’t digest it.
Food Allergies In Cats
Food allergies arise when the immune system reacts after eating a particular food. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, typical cat food allergies include beef, chicken, fish, and dairy—although cats can also be allergic to other ingredients. Food allergies can develop in a feline at any time after three months of age.
Signs of food allergies include itching, skin wounds and hair loss (from scratching), infections, vomiting, and diarrhea. With the introduction of any new food or treat, it’s essential to monitor your cat’s reaction. Stop feeding if you notice any adverse reactions.
Nutrition Benefits of Cheez-Its
If your cat can stand dairy and doesn’t have an allergic reaction to Cheez-Its, does that make it an okay snack? Your cat seems to love them. In fact, she becomes absolutely crazed when that red box comes out of the cabinet.
While it’s true that Cheez-It crackers won’t hurt your cat, they offer little nutritional value to your furry friend. Your carnivorous kitty will get little benefit from these low-protein crackers, but Cheez-Its may cause weight gain thanks to their carbohydrate content.
In the wild, cats hunt and eat predominantly animal protein, moderate amounts of animal fat, and minimal carbohydrates. When this macro ratio is disturbed and cats ingest excess carbohydrates, they are more likely to develop feline obesity and diabetes.
Cheez-Its Ingredient Concerns
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, the Cheez-It contains some ingredient and processing concerns. The crackers contain TBHQ, a preservative with potential health concerns.
EWG’s top findings for Cheez-It crackers include:
- Cheez-Its are not certified organic. Products with the USDA-certified organic seal promise that the product is made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients and is made without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and without genetically engineered ingredients
- Cheez-Its include ingredients derived from animals that were possibly treated with antibiotics and/or growth promoters
- The Cheez-It cracker contains ingredients that may contribute small amounts of unhealthy artificial trans fats to the diet
A Closer Look At The Oil
Cheez-Its contain eight grams of fat per serving. Cats need more fats than humans, but not all fats are created equal. Cheez-Its use vegetable oil consisting of high oleic soybean, soybean, palm, and/or canola oil.
Many companies use palm oil because it is resistant to oxidation, giving products a longer shelf life. It’s odorless and colorless, so it doesn’t affect food’s smell or look. It also is stable at high temperatures, helping give the end product a crispy, crunchy texture.
Due to its popularity, palm oil is now notoriously a significant driver of deforestation in rainforests, destroying the habitat of wildlife and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As a result, watchdog organizations have created standards for growers to help control deforestation and ensure companies are transparent about their sourcing so they know who they are buying from and where the palm oil is being produced.
So, where does Cheez-It get its palm oil? In 2014, Cheez-Its parent company, Kellogg, announced a global commitment to fully traceable sourcing of palm oil. Kellogg requires all its suppliers to adhere to its principles for protecting rainforests, peat lands, and communities. It requires that all suppliers trace can trace their palm oil to plantations that are independently verified as compliant.
While the delicious Cheez-It has stolen many hearts, it’s important to look closely at the ingredients and see if they align with our health goals and values. If you want to boot Cheez-Its from your pantry, let’s look at tasty snack alternatives for your cat.
- Cat Treats: The best snack choice for your cat is a well-formulated cat treat. Look for freeze-dried meat treats like Orijen, grain-free crunchy bites like those from Tiki Cat, or lickable treats like Inaba’s Churu purees.
- Cheese: If your cat loves the taste of Cheez-Its and can stomach the lactose, try feeding them a small bite of cheese. Only provide your cat cheese in moderation.
- Other: Try feeding your cat other human foods for cats healthy veggies, like spinach, sweet potato, or carrots.
Can cats eat Cheez-Its? The answer is yes and no. While your cat may be able to stomach a Cheez-It cracker, it’s not the healthiest choice for your feline friend. Unhealthy snacks can affect your cat’s overall health and lifespan. Avoid feeding your cat Cheez-It crackers to give your kitty the best nutritional foundation.