Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Quinoa?

Quinoa has been cultivated for over 5,000 years and is a nutritional powerhouse. Discover how your cat can enjoy this ancient superfood.

MJ Shaffer writer with Dog

Last Updated: August 14, 2023 | 4 min read

Woman in jeans holding a fresh healthy green salad with quinoa in a bowl sitting on the carpet with her legs crossed

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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Cats are notoriously picky eaters. Entire advertising campaigns have been created around the fact that cats may or may not eat what is placed in front of them. Most cat owners would say that the converse is also true. Sometimes, cats like to eat things we wouldn’t expect. Although they are carnivores, they seem to enjoy eating something a little different from time to time.

We know cats like to eat grass, and we know they eat houseplants, too (be sure to keep only safe plants in your home for this reason). Cats in the wild eat vegetative matter to help their digestive system function optimally. Grass is a natural source of fiber that helps move things through the digestive system and can aid in eliminating hairballs. Some research suggests that eating plant matter may provide some trace elements missing in a processed diet.

As pet owners, we want optimal nutrition for our best friends. We also want to provide enriching experiences that keep our pets thriving and content in a world often much removed from any natural environment. Adding quinoa in different forms can help us with both, and if your cat surprises you by stealing your quinoa off your plate, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s safe for cats to eat.

Can Cats Eat Quinoa?

Cats may not want quinoa as a full meal, but some cat food formulations include quinoa. Quinoa is considered a good source of nutrition. Often referred to as a gluten-free grain, quinoa is technically not a grain but instead a seed related to spinach. It has been cultivated in South America for over 5,000 years.

In the 1980’s, quinoa started to appear in products marketed as having superfood properties for people. This protein-rich food has been a staple in some countries for millennia but became trendy with the affluent, health-conscious set only in recent decades. At this point, the beneficial properties of quinoa have made it into pet foods. Although quinoa is a source of protein, it is typically utilized in pet food for its other properties.

Is Quinoa Good For Cats?

Quinoa has been utilized more in food for dogs, but now some cat food brands are capitalizing on what quinoa can offer. Cats need fiber in their diets for healthy digestive function. The fiber in the feline diet can assist with both constipation and diarrhea by regulating the water in the gut and helping stabilize the consistency of the cat’s stool. Quinoa is a good source of fiber and is gluten-free and low-calorie. It has about 22% soluble fiber and 78% insoluble fiber. When soluble fibers dissolve in the stomach, they can turn into a gel that makes stools easier to pass. Insoluble fibers regulate food transport through the system and may help with stool consistency.

Prebiotics in dietary fiber help the beneficial bacteria in the gut flourish. In humans, research shows considerable benefits to the microbiome from the prebiotics in quinoa. Feeding beneficial fiber to promote a healthy microbiome can help restore the balance of bacteria after some illnesses. Overweight cats may feel fuller after a high-fiber meal which may help them be satisfied with fewer calories. When the sugars from starches are absorbed more slowly, it helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

Can Cats Eat Raw or Cooked Quinoa?

Humans may suffer intestinal discomfort if they eat raw quinoa, so we should also consider the possibility of cats suffering similar symptoms. Quinoa is more safely ingested after it has been cooked. Commercially prepared foods would contain quinoa cooked directly into the recipe, which would enhance its digestibility. Another alternative to raw quinoa seeds is sprouted quinoa. Because cats can eat most grasses, they can eat non-toxic sprouts. Your cat may enjoy eating sprouted quinoa as a snack.

How And Why To Let Your Cat Try Quinoa

If you decide to offer sprouted quinoa to your cat, try growing the sprouts in your home and allowing your cat to help himself at will. Just as he would eat grass or chew on a houseplant, he’ll eat sprouts when he’s naturally interested. If you choose to grow sprouts, use only organic quinoa seeds. Sprout them in water or soil. Rinse the seeds multiple times per day to prevent mold. When they sprout, rinse and dry them to remove excess moisture before refrigerating them. Offer the sprouts free choice or over food, and discard within a week or earlier if necessary.

Quinoa is a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid. It contains antioxidants like flavonoids, quercetin, and kaempferol. This ancient food has more protein and a better balance of essential amino acids than most grains used in commercial cat foods, and its nutritional profile resembles that of milk protein. Compared to cereal grains like wheat, corn, and barley, it has more dietary fiber, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, and E. Quinoa may help decrease the risk of chronic inflammation by promoting the growth of healthy microbes in the gut, and also contains anti-inflammatory nutrients including gamma-tocopherol, cell wall polysaccharides, and phenolic acids.

Final Thoughts

Although cats are obligate carnivores, their natural diet is not purely muscle meat. When they consume their prey, they ingest bone, hair, and all other non-meat parts of what they caught. As housepets, cats’ diets are limited to what we offer. Commercial diets cannot replicate all of the natural microorganisms and sources of nutrients and fiber that cats get catching and eating wild prey. Pet food companies are finding that plant sources like quinoa add nutritional value and nutrients that help keep your house cat healthy.

We all love a little variety in our diets, and our cats are no exception. Instead of just growing cat grass, sprout some quinoa for your feline companion. Your cat can chew to his heart’s content from the container where you grow his quinoa, or you can harvest the sprouts and sprinkle them over his regular food. If you’d like quinoa to be a staple in your cat’s diet, commercially prepared cat foods are available for purchase online that meet the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) standards for nutrition.

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