When living with a curious comrade like a cat, it’s crucial to be aware of potential health hazards in your home. While they may not be as demanding as dogs, felines are well-known for their interest in human food. And, when living with a cat treated as royalty, it’s hard to deny them a taste of your current snack.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they depend only on meat for survival. According to National Geographic, an obligate carnivore—also called a hypercarnivore—depends on animals for at least 70 percent of the diet. All cats, including your friendly housecat, cannot digest plants properly and won’t receive adequate nutrition to survive on plants alone.
But, as we know, there are plenty of human foods that aren’t nutritious that still fulfill a case of the munchies. While cats are carnivores, it doesn’t mean they’re not allowed the occasional plant-based treat. But are peppers safe for your furry friend to consume? The answer: it depends. Read on to learn about which peppers are safe for cats to eat.
What Are Peppers?
If you want to add a punch of color to your favorite dish, throw in a pepper. With more than 50,000 types of peppers worldwide, you may be surprised by the flavor variety they introduce to a meal. Some peppers, like chipotles, have a smoky, deep aroma. Others, like the humble bell pepper, add a sweet, slightly citrus tang to a dish. Of course, there are the face-melting, sweat-inducing spicy peppers that are packed with so much capsaicin that you’ll need a chaser of milk to keep the heat down. There’s also a host of tasty peppers perfectly incorporated into salsas, stir-fries, cocktails, soups, and just about any other food or drink that needs a bright, unexpected kick.
It might surprise you that peppers are botanically classified as a fruit. According to a classification of fruits and vegetables published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, the botanical term “fruit” refers to plant foods with pulpy seeded tissues that have a sweet or tart taste. A botanical fruit has at least one seed and grows from the plant’s flower. Thus, in botanical terms, peppers are classified as fruit because they have tiny seeds inside the flesh and grow from the flower of the pepper plant.
If you ask a nutritionist or chef vs. a botanist how they classify the pepper, you’ll most likely get differing opinions. In culinary classification, you’re looking at how the plant is used and its flavor profile; thus, the pepper is considered a vegetable. In culinary speak, a vegetable has a tougher texture than fruit and tends to taste milder, requiring cooking in dishes like stews or stir-fries. With the confusion around classification, it’s no wonder we’re also unsure if our furry friend can indulge in the delicious pepper.
Health Benefits Of Peppers
Peppers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Some have a pop of heat, while others are mild and sweet. We love peppers as a nutrient-dense, low-calorie food that livens up any meal. All peppers are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. The color of the pepper will signify the amount of beta-carotene in this tasty treat. Beta-carotene is a reddish-orange pigment found in plants that our bodies convert to vitamin A, which is beneficial for vision, skin, immunity, and preventing aging. Green peppers that are harvested before they can turn yellow, orange, and then red have a lower amount of beta-carotene and vitamin C than red peppers.
Regardless, peppers are chock full of vitamins A and C. According to the article “Vitamin Variation in Capsicum Spp. Provides Opportunities to Improve Nutrition Value of Human Diets”, vitamin A content ranges from 303 to 20,840 IU per 100 grams of pepper. Vitamin C ranges from 11.9 to 195.8 mg per 100 grams. According to WebMD, you’ll get 120 mg of vitamin C from just 1 cup of chopped green pepper. That’s more than oranges, which reach about 95.8 mg per cup in all commercial varieties.
The capsaicin concentration in peppers not only brings the heat but provides other health benefits. Capsaicin can boost metabolism, suppress appetite, increase circulation, support digestion, and relieve joint pain. With their unique blend of plant power, peppers are a great addition to the diet, helping to:
- lower blood pressure
- improve digestion
- reduce the risk of diabetes
- reduce the risk of cancer
To be clear, cats do not process plants as people do, so these benefits may be lost on your cat. Still, these vitamins and minerals may contribute to your cat’s overall health and are safe to ingest.
Can Cats Eat Bell Peppers?
Cats can absolutely eat bell peppers. This is a large pepper, so always cut bell peppers into small portions before feeding them to your cat. While bell peppers aren’t toxic, we can’t promise your cat will love them either. Because bell peppers have a mild flavor and soft texture, your cat may turn up their nose at this offering. The only way you’ll know is to try. Only give your cat raw bell pepper after it’s clean and cut. Start with a small amount and discontinue feeding if your cat shows signs of digestive upset, like vomiting or diarrhea.
Can Cats Eat Green Peppers?
Did you know that all colors of bell peppers are the same? It’s true! The red, yellow, and green peppers you see at the grocery store are the same bell pepper. When the bell pepper is harvested, it will appear green when it’s least ripe. Green bell peppers will taste more bitter and less sweet than other colors of bell peppers. Like all bell peppers, green bell peppers aren’t spicy because they lack the spicy capsaicin property that other peppers include. Like other bell peppers, the green bell pepper is safe for your cat to eat in moderation.
Can Cats Eat Red Peppers?
As the ripest, red bell peppers are sweeter and pack a lot more flavor than their green and yellow siblings. If your cat likes red bell peppers, feel free to give them a bite. Remember, only feed your cat raw bell peppers, and always provide them in moderation.
Cat Cats Eat Chili Peppers?
Chili peppers are toxic to cats. Chili peppers contain a glycoalkaloid substance called solanine, which is found in capsaicin (what gives the pepper spice). Avoid giving your cat the following popular chili peppers:
- banana peppers
- cayenne peppers
- jalapeno peppers
- habanero peppers
- poblano peppers
- red Thai peppers
- serrano peppers
- shishito peppers
Remember, if the pepper is spicy, it’s a no-no for cats. Consuming capsaicin can cause pain in the lips, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and inflamed mucus membranes. Just like with humans, contact with the skin and eyes can also be painful. The leaves and stem of chili peppers also contain glycoalkaloid solanine, making them toxic to cats.
Can Cats Eat Banana Peppers?
As mentioned, banana peppers are a chili pepper type and are unsafe for cats to eat. While not as spicy as some of the other peppers on the list, consuming a banana pepper may irritate your cat’s digestive system, as well as their skin, eyes, and respiratory system. If your cat reacts negatively to a banana pepper, you’ll notice drooling, vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea. The best way to keep your cat safe is to avoid banana peppers. Since there’s no nutritional benefit to your cat eating them, there’s not an excellent reason for having your cat eat this pepper.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Cats Like Peppers?
While bell peppers are harmless to cats, that doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to eat them. Most cats won’t even try a bell pepper. They don’t have much of a scent, are mildly flavored, and aren’t sweet or crunchy; therefore, your cat will likely show little interest in this food. Still, if your cat is crazy for bell peppers, they are safe to consume.
Can Kittens Eat Peppers?
It’s best to avoid feeding kittens peppers. While some peppers are harmless to cats, they provide no nutritional value. Since your kitten is still growing, it’s best to give them foods to help them develop.
While bell peppers are safe for cats, spicy peppers contain the compound solanine, which is toxic to felines. We recommend avoiding peppers unless your cat is completely smitten with a bit of bell pepper. If you want to add some color to your cat’s diet, look at our article on human foods that are safe for cats.