Can Cats Eat Pistachios? Are They Toxic?

Looking to expand your cat's palate with some good-for-you human treats? With pistachios ranking as one of the best-selling nuts in the United States, this treat may have crossed your mind as a potential option for your furry friend. Can cats eat pistachios? We cover the pros and cons to help you decide if you want your cat to crack into this savory snack.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: August 14, 2023 | 6 min read

black and white cat sitting next to a jar of pistachios nuts

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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The late 2000s saw a surge in pistachio consumption in the United States, thanks mainly to a nationwide advertising campaign by California-based Wonderful Company, encouraging Americans to pick up their pistachios and “Get Crackin’.” Once in the shadow of peanuts and almonds, the pistachio has come out of its shell and was even named the top nut of 2023 by food industry experts Baum + Whiteman and Lyons Magnus.

Pistachios are indeed having a moment, with significant companies leaning into the pistachio craze. Today, you can put on your pistachio-scented fragrance, stop by Starbucks for a pistachio latte, and even paint your wall the most-perfect shade of pistachio green. With all this interest, it may have crossed your mind that this humble nut would make a perfect treat for your favorite feline. Can cats eat pistachios? Let’s consider the good and bad of this beloved, nutrient-dense snack.

What Are Pistachios?

While considered a nut by the general population, pistachios are actually the seeds of the pistachio tree. Originating in the Middle East, archaeologists determined the pistachio became a food as early as 7,000 B.C. Pistachios arrived in the United States in the mid-19th century, with commercial production beginning in the 1970s. Today, pistachios are produced in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. The United States, Iran, and Turkey are the top pistachio-producing countries globally.

Like the peanut (which is actually a legume), distributors sell pistachios with and without shells. The hard, beige shell has a slight crack that reveals a green, egg-shaped pistachio kernel when pried open. Also called pistachio meat, this kernel tastes savory with a hint of sweetness.

You can buy pistachios shelled, unshelled, raw, roasted, seasoned, or salted. Growers have promoted pistachios for their wide range of health benefits, including:

  • Fiber, minerals, and healthy fat keep your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol in line.
  • Unsaturated fatty acids and potassium for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support.
  • Fiber and protein for digestive support and weight management.

What Happened To Red Pistachios?

At one time, bright red to pink pistachios held the number one position in the pistachio market. These vibrant pistachios were the only available options in many areas. While food historians have conflicting explanations for the appearance of the red pistachio, we know that they all start with red food dye.

The most-agreed-upon story says that pistachios were traditionally dyed red to mask stains on the shell caused by oils present when the nuts were harvested by hand. The unappetizing discoloration was terrible for business, so Middle Eastern producers and exporters began dying their products for better profit.

The 1980s saw a decline in imported pistachios in the United States, and American pistachio producers increased the domestic supply. New harvesting techniques developed, where the pistachios were harvested by machine, rendering the dying of nuts to hide imperfections unnecessary. While you can still find red pistachios today, the trend towards avoiding food dyes has made the naturally-green pistachio the preferred choice for most people.

Can Cats Eat Pistachios?

Can cats eat pistachios? While pistachios are not considered toxic to cats, you shouldn’t feed your feline this tree nut. While eating nutmeat isn’t harmful to cats, too many pistachios can cause digestive upset. Furthermore, other risks are associated with feeding your cat pistachios, including choking and aflatoxin poisoning.

Are Pistachios Bad For Cats?

Cat Nutritional Needs

As obligate carnivores, felines require a meat-based diet. Cats have adapted to absorb nutrients most effectively from animal sources. Eating animals gives your kitty the proper quantities of the nutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Cats need these “macronutrients” in large amounts. Along with providing our cats with the proper composition of macronutrients, animals also give cats micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

Cats use protein from meat for energy, growth, and supporting overall body function. Protein is composed of amino acids. Amino acids are separated into two categories: essential and nonessential. Animals must get essential amino acids from food sources, whereas nonessential amino acids can be synthesized in the body.

One of the critical essential amino acids for cats is taurine. We’ve linked taurine deficiencies with health problems as severe as blindness and heart disease. Your cat should get enough taurine through high-quality, well-balanced cat food. So long as you feed your kitty a diet comprised primarily of meat, they should get all the amino acids they need to thrive.

Also ideally from animal sources, cats use fats for energy, to absorb specific vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and to support the brain, eyes, joints, skin, and coat. Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. Some fatty acids—especially omega-3 fatty acids—are especially beneficial to your cat’s diet

Finally, your cat uses carbohydrates for energy and digestive support. Carbohydrates consist of sugars, starches, and fibers. Also called simple carbohydrates, cats have little need for sugars and cannot taste sugar. Starches, or complex carbohydrates, give cats energy. Fiber is also called a complex carbohydrate. Instead of being broken down for energy, fiber naturally clears the G.I. tract and supports the elimination of toxins from the body. For cats, fiber also helps cats break down hairballs.

Other nutrients include water, vitamins, and minerals. Water is an essential nutrient for your cat’s health. Water carries vital nutrients into the body’s cells, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, cushions the brain and spinal cord, and helps remove waste. Like humans, about two-thirds of a cat’s body is made up of water, which is required for life. While needed in smaller amounts than macronutrients, micronutrients are essential for a cat’s body to function correctly. Cats absorb vitamins and minerals more effectively from animal sources than plant sources.

Pistachio Nutritional Breakdown

You’ve likely heard people sing the praises of the pistachio, but what nutritional value do they offer? Let’s take a look at the nutritional breakdown of the pistachio. Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodData Central, 1/4 cup of unroasted pistachios contains the following:

  • Calories: 172
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 8.5 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Potassium: 315 mg

1/4 cup of pistachios contains 3.25 grams of fiber and are a good source of potassium, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and copper.

Pistachio Nutrient Concerns

Like all nuts, pistachios contain high amounts of fat. While fats are an excellent energy source for cats, too much fat can cause digestive upset such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

Excessive fat consumption can also lead to weight gain and other health problems. Overweight cats are at an increased risk for many serious illnesses, including:

  • diabetes
  • gallbladder disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high LDL cholesterol
  • obesity
  • osteoarthritis

Another risk associated with high fat intake is pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, or pancreas inflammation, can cause nausea, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Acute cases of pancreatitis can be fatal.

Alongside fat, pistachios also contain a significant amount of fiber. While moderate amounts of fiber support digestion, the fiber-packed pistachio may cause gastrointestinal distress if your cat consumes too much. Too much dietary fiber might have a laxative effect. Alternatively, if your cat isn’t getting enough water, the fiber in pistachios could cause constipation. These nutritional concerns give us pause when considering if cats should eat pistachios.

Food Allergies In Cats

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system reacts to a believed health threat. VCA Animal Hospitals says that typical food allergies in cat result from ingesting beef, chicken, fish, or dairy—but cats can be allergic to any food. Food allergies can develop in a feline at any time after three months of age and can occur even in foods your cat has eaten before.

Before introducing any new food or treat, it’s essential to monitor your cat’s reaction. Stop feeding if you notice any signs of food allergies: itching, skin wounds and hair loss (from scratching), infections, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Risks Of Feeding Pistachios To Cats

Besides the nutritional concerns associated with feeding cats pistachios, there are many other risks to sharing this snack with your feline:

  • Choking hazard: The pistachio’s size makes it a choking hazard. Along with the nutmeat, the shell of the pistachio could cause choking. If eaten, the shell may cause intestinal blockage. An obstruction in the digestive tract requires a veterinary visit, and surgical intervention costs a pretty penny.
  • Harmful Flavoring: While some pistachios are sold plain, others are mixed with ingredients that are deadly to felines. Garlic and onions are common additions to pistachios, which are toxic to cats.
  • Fungus: Pistachios are susceptible to harboring dangerous fungi. Aflatoxin poisoning in pets causes loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, sluggishness, jaundice, and seizures. Aflatoxin exposure can cause liver damage and even death if not treated.

What To Do If Your Cat Eats Pistachios

If your cat gets into your bag of pistachios, quickly remove any uneaten nutmeat or shells. Then, read the nutrition facts label. Look for any added ingredients that may be toxic for your cat. Call your vet for guidance. Your vet will likely ask how many pistachios your cat ate and advise you from there.

Following the incident, watch your cat for changes in behavior, eating, and elimination habits. Pistachios may cause blockages or tears, so monitor for signs of difficulty breathing or stomach pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Cats Eat Pistachio Shells?

The hard pistachio shell can be a choking hazard or cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed. Never let your cat eat pistachio shells.

Can Cats Eat Pistachio Ice Cream?

You may have seen the TikTok video of a cat eating pistachio ice cream and thought it would make a fun treat for your cat. While cats can technically eat pistachios, avoid feeding your cat pistachio ice cream. As we know, ice cream is also a dairy product. Cats are lactose intolerant, so the milk used in ice cream will also harm a cat’s digestive system. This food is also loaded with fat and sugar; too much will likely upset your cat’s stomach.

What Other Human Foods Should I Avoid Feeding My Cat?

It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with what human foods cats can eat. Never feed your cat chocolate, cherries, caffeine, grapes/raisins, garlic, onions, chives, and shallots. These foods are toxic to cats.

Final Thoughts

Can cats eat pistachios? While pistachios make a safe and healthy snack for humans, it’s best to avoid feeding them to your cat. While unshelled pistachios are technically safe for cats to ingest, this food will likely cause digestive problems, thanks to its fiber and fat content.

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