Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Ham?

Do you have a ham-burglar in the making? Despite their status as obligate carnivores, not all meat is safe for cats. We'll tell you everything you need to know about cats and ham.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: January 10, 2024 | 4 min read

Domestic cat trying to steal slice of ham from a table

This article should not substitute contact with a veterinarian. Contact your local vet immediately if your cat is reacting poorly after consumption.

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In the United States, ham is a popular deli meat, commonly used in its sliced form to fill sandwiches. Along with stuffing sandwiches, you can find ham-topping pizzas, mixed into salads, cooked into omelets, or wrapped around cheese. For special occasions, you may buy a spiral-sliced ham for all to enjoy.

It can be very tempting for owners to share a slice of ham with their feline friend, especially when the curious kitty hangs around the kitchen waiting for a treat. Which leads to the question: Can cats eat ham?

Cats are obligate carnivores, so it’s logical to assume that this red meat is safe for felines would be a logical assumption. Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as it seems. While ham isn’t toxic to cats, it should always be fed in moderation. We share additional reasons why ham should be treated as an occasional treat for your feline friend and answer frequently asked questions.

What Is Ham?

Ham is meat cut from the rear leg of a pig. It is possible to buy fresh ham from the butcher, but typically, ham goes through a curing process to improve flavor and texture before it’s sold.

Can Cats Eat Ham?

Cats can eat ham, but only in moderation. Your furry friend is a carnivore, meaning their diet requires nutrients found in animal products. A small piece of ham isn’t going to harm your cat. However, regular consumption of cured pork isn’t great for your cat’s health.

Deli meat like ham is typically over-processed and too high in salt to be considered healthy for your feline. If you want to feed your cat meat, the best way is through high-quality cat food.

Can Kittens Eat Ham?

A tiny bite of ham will not harm your kitten. However, kitties require a special diet for development. Sticking to a kitten-specific food is best to avoid upsetting their digestive system.

Our Personal Experience With Cats Eating Ham

I have a cat that is drawn to human food. He always comes to the kitchen when food is being prepared. He is very attracted to the smell of meat. Ham and cheese sandwiches are a top pick for lunches in our house, so the cat often comes looking for snacks. We do not feed him ham regularly, but occasionally, he will be allowed to have a couple of bite-sized bits. Because ham is salty and high in fat and triglycerides, I try not to give it to him often. However, if it were up to the cat, he would eat ham every day.

Danielle DeGroot, LYC writer, and longtime cat owner

Is Ham Good For Cats?

Ginger cat looking at a large slice of ham on a table

Ham can add bioavailable nutrients to your cat’s diet. Ham is rich in protein and is lower in saturated fat than other red meats. It is a good source of minerals, including selenium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron.

Pork products also contain B vitamins and energizing nutrients like co-enzyme Q10, carnosine, and choline.

Is Ham Bad For Cats?

While ham isn’t poisonous for cats, it’s not great for them either. Store-bought cured meats are very processed and may contain seasonings that upset your feline’s stomach.

Before feeding your cat ham, always confirm it isn’t seasoned with garlic or onion, both of which ASPCA classifies as toxic to cats.

Carcinogens In Ham

Like all processed meats—any meat that has been cured, salted, smoked, or processed to enhance flavor or improve preservation—ham contains chemicals known to be carcinogenic. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies processed ham as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer). Regardless of whether it’s conventional or “natural” processed meat, avoid feeding them ham to reduce your cat’s cancer risk of stomach and correctional cancers.

Ham contains nitrosamines that are considered to be strong carcinogens. Curing ham with chemical nitrate or nitrite is a traditional way of preventing bacteria growth and extending storage time. It also gives ham its dark red color. Nitrites are not carcinogenic, but when added to meat that naturally contains amine compounds, they transform into nitrosamines, which are dangerous to your cat’s health. Some packaged ham is marketed as “uncured” with “no nitrates or nitrites added,” except for those naturally occurring. This is a marketing ploy to make customers feel safer buying the product.

Manufacturers use celery products in meat claiming to have “no nitrates or nitrites added,” but celery is naturally high in nitrates. So, adding celery powder, celery juice, or celery salt to meat is simply another way of providing nitrates. When passing from the mouth to the stomach, those nitrates are converted to nitrite, creating carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Sodium In Ham

Another concern with feeding ham to felines is the sodium concentration. Sodium is critical to your feline’s life, ensuring proper cellular function. Salt can also encourage your cat to drink more water, which is crucial to overall wellness. Still, ham is very high in sodium because salt is used to cure and flavor the meat. To avoid sodium poisoning, the ham should be fed in moderation.

Cats who consume too much sodium may experience diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, lethargy, stomach pain, and vomiting. In severe cases, sodium poisoning can be life-threatening. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, common signs of salt poisoning include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coma
  • Excessive thirst
  • Incoordination
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

If you notice any signs of salt poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How Should I Feed Ham To My Cat?

The best way to feed your kitty ham is by buying fresh ham that is raw and unseasoned. This way, you can cook the ham and have better control over added ingredients.

Whenever you offer a new treat to your cat, start small. A tiny piece is enough. Watch for any adverse effects, and discontinue feeding if necessary.

Remember, ham should be an occasional treat—not a meal. Ham alone does not give your feline all the essential nutrients they need.

Meat Allergies

Meat allergies are common in cats. A food allergy can develop anytime, even if your cat eats the food regularly. Signs of a meat allergy include:

  • Bald spots caused by chewing the skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Skin redness or rashes
  • Vomiting

If your cat shows signs of allergies after eating pork, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. You should also consider purchasing pet insurance before health issues arise to help cover trips to the vet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Cats Eat Honey Ham?

Honey ham is cured using honey. All types of ham, regardless of the flavor, aren’t advisable for cats. They contain excess fat, salt, sugar, and preservatives that can upset a cat’s stomach and cause weight gain.

Can Cats Eat Bacon?

Bacon is another salt-cured meat taken from pork. In addition to being categorized as a Group 1 carcinogen by the WHO, bacon is also high in fat and salt. It is not recommended to feed your cat bacon. We share more information about cats and bacon, including alternative options.

What Meats Can Cats Eat?

Lean meats, including beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, and turkey, are great options for cats.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have the answer to the question, “Can cats eat ham?” it’s time to explore other human foods you can feed your cat. We also cover other meat options in detail, including crab, sausage, pepperoni, and steak.

white cat next to yogurt parfait

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1 Comment

  1. Very well written article. I have been involved with feline rescue for years and this is one of the best and balanced articles on this subject I have run across.

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