Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Mac And Cheese?

If you were to poll Americans for their favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese would likely be among the top contenders. Do you love mac and cheese and want to share a bite with your beloved feline? Can cats eat mac and cheese? Should they? We have the answers to these questions and more.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: September 27, 2023 | 5 min read

cat eating mac and cheese in a bowl

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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Pizza, chocolate, ice cream, mac and cheese, chips. What do these foods have in common? According to a 2016 study conducted by Harris Poll, they are America’s favorite comfort foods. While we know some of our favorite comfort foods are toxic to cats—specifically chocolate and pizza—others are safe in moderation. This begs the question: Can cats eat mac and cheese?

At its core, macaroni and cheese is a combination of pasta and cheese. We love mac and cheese as an easy, inexpensive meal that reminds us of childhood but that can also be elevated to gourmet status by using premium ingredients. From boxed mac and cheese prepared in minutes to lobster mac and cheese from the local seafood restaurant, this pasta dish finds itself in our hearts, homes, and—most importantly—our stomachs.

If you’ve found this article, you’re likely wondering if feeding your feline mac and cheese is safe. Maybe your kitty is begging for a bite. Or maybe your cat got into your bowl while you were away. Either way, you’re now wondering if macaroni and cheese is safe for cats. There are many varieties of mac and cheese on the market, and while a cat’s diet shouldn’t feature pasta regularly, some are safer than others.

Can Cats Have Mac And Cheese?

Mac and cheese includes pasta noodles, cheddar cheese, butter, and milk. Sometimes people add salt, pepper, and other seasonings to give their dish more flavor. Can cats eat mac and cheese? It is not toxic to cats if the mac and cheese contains only basic noodles, dairy, salt, and pepper.

Cats can have macaroni and cheese, but that doesn’t mean they should. Felines are obligate carnivores and receive no nutritional value from this comfort-food dish.

Is Mac And Cheese Safe For Cats?

At its most basic, macaroni and cheese is not toxic to cats. However, this dish could be dangerous if it contains additional spices. For example, onion and garlic are both harmful to cats. Your cat may also be sensitive to one of the ingredients in macaroni and cheese, such as dairy, wheat, or eggs. Whenever introducing new food to your cat, start with a small amount and monitor your cat’s response.

Is Mac And Cheese Bad For Cats?

Learning the basics of cat nutrition is the best way to keep the vet bill down while keeping your cat happy and healthy. While some human foods offer nutritional value to felines, mac, and cheese is, at minimum unhealthy for cats. At its worst, macaroni and cheese could cause serious health problems for your furry friend.

Cat Nutritional Needs

While very different from their wild ancestors, domestic cats are still obligate carnivores that require a meat-based diet. Cats can get all of their essential amino acids from animal-based proteins. These amino acids are the building blocks of tissues and organs, including the heart, muscles, tendons, cartilage, hair, and skin. Cats use the protein in meat for overall body function, energy, and growth. As carnivores, cats are more efficient at digesting animal-based meats and fats vs. plant sources. 

After animal-based protein, cats require significant amounts of fat for energy and vitamin absorption. Quality fats for felines are also found in animal sources. Fats are made of fatty acids that support your cat’s brain, eyes, joints, skin, and coat. Fats help regulate body temperature and help absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Unlike humans, cats require minimal carbohydrates. Felines use carbohydrates for energy and fiber. Fiber helps scrub the GI tract, encourages bowel regularity, and helps break down hairballs.

Finally, there are a variety of micronutrients essential to cat health. Common essential nutrients include: 

  • Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin supports the immune system and healthy vision. It is also beneficial for skin, reproduction, and bone support.
  • Vitamin D: Another fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D aids in bone, nerve, muscle, and immune function.
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): B1 is a water-soluble vitamin needed to metabolize carbohydrates. All B vitamins work synergistically to regulate the nervous system.
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Cats require higher amounts of vitamin B3 to support the nervous system, gastrointestinal functions, and skin.
  • Calcium: Calcium is crucial for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth.
  • Iron: Iron is used to transport oxygen throughout the body.
  • Magnesium: This mineral is used for various enzyme functions and helps metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.

As long as your cat is eating quality food from various sources, they should be getting all the nutrients they need via their food. Ensure your cat is also drinking enough water, especially if fed dry food. Water helps metabolize and distribute nutrients, eliminate toxins, and maintain body temperature.

Mac And Cheese Nutritional Breakdown

Healthline states macaroni and cheese can contain anywhere from 300 to over 500 calories per cup. Mac and cheese contains high amounts of fat and refined carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity in both humans and cats. Additionally, this pasta dish has a high sodium count, which could cause cardiovascular problems.

Dairy Intolerance In Cats

Despite the persistent myth that felines love nothing more than a warm bowl of milk, most cats can’t digest dairy. In general, adult cats are lactose intolerant. Felines lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down lactose. When consumed, this undigested sugar stays in the gut instead of passing through the bloodstream, causing upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and more. Because lactose is found in dairy products like cheese and milk, eating mac and cheese could cause your cat to experience various adverse effects. 

Signs of lactose intolerance include: 

  • Abdominal Pain: If your cat limits their movement after consuming dairy, it could indicate abdominal pain. Abdominal pain could result from excess gas stretching out the gastrointestinal tract and abdomen.
  • Bloating: Lactose-intolerant cats cannot break down lactose, causing gas and fluid retention after consuming dairy.
  • Constipation: Constipation occurs when the GI tract struggles to move food and liquids through the intestines.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration results from diarrhea and vomiting associated with lactose intolerance.
  • Diarrhea: On the other end of the spectrum, you might notice your cat has runny or watery stools. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which is especially dangerous to cats.
  • Gas: Excessive gas is a common symptom of an upset stomach.
  • Increased Thirst: You may notice your cat drinks more water than usual after ingesting dairy. This is again caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Vomiting: If your cat begins vomiting after eating dairy products, it’s a sure sign that they’re lactose intolerant. The vomiting could last several hours, depending on how much dairy your cat consumes.

Food Allergies In Cats

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, typical food allergies in cats include chicken, beef, fish, and dairy. Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts after eating a particular food. An allergy can develop at any time and can include food that a cat has already consumed without problems in the past. Signs of food allergies include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Itching
  • Infections
  • Hair loss
  • Skin wounds
  • Vomiting

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Okay For Cats To Eat Cheese?

Because cats are carnivores, cheese is not a natural diet component. While your cat may be able to eat cheese in moderation, we don’t recommend regularly feeding your cat cheese.

Can Cats Eat Kraft Mac And Cheese?

Because Kraft mac and cheese contains wheat, milk, and a significant amount of sodium, we do not recommend letting your cat eat it.

What Human Food Can Cats Eat?

To be the best cat parent you can be, educate yourself on human foods that are safe for cats. We cover toxic and non-toxic human foods for cats in this article.

Final Thoughts

Can cats eat mac and cheese? We wouldn’t recommend it. While your cat may be able to stomach a few bites, it offers little nutritional benefit. Unhealthy food can negatively affect your cat’s health. To give your cat the most prolonged and healthiest life possible, avoid feeding your cat mac and cheese.

Calico cat looking up at camera sitting next to a bowl of Cheez its

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