Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Vanilla Ice Cream?

As temperatures rise, keeping cool takes priority, and what better way to do that than enjoy a big bowl of ice cream? The next time you serve yourself up a scoop, you may wonder if your cat would enjoy a bite of this frozen treat. Is a lick of classic vanilla ice cream safe for cats? We cover everything you need to know about cats and vanilla ice cream.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: August 14, 2023 | 5 min read

black cat licking vanilla ice cream outside

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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At its most simple, ice cream is made of milk, heavy cream, and sugar. From there, manufacturers add stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavoring to give their recipe the perfect texture and taste. We love ice cream on a hot summer day to cool down or as a reward to end a long day at work. It’s a classic frozen treat. But what about cats? Can cats eat vanilla ice cream?

Are you considering sharing a bit of sweet vanilla ice cream with your kitty? Likely, your cat is hanging on your shoulder, begging for a lick. But not every human food is safe for cats to eat. Can cats eat vanilla ice cream? Follow our guide when considering whether to give your cat this frozen dessert.

Is Vanilla Toxic To Cats?

Vanilla is a flavoring derived from the fruit of the flat-leafed vanilla orchid. Also called the pod or bean, the vanilla fruit is typically processed into a vanilla extract for baked goods and other food recipes. People often describe vanilla as having a sweet, rich flavor. The vanilla plant is not toxic to cats; however, you should keep your cat away from vanilla essential oil or vanilla extract in an alcohol base. These processing methods make the product dangerous for cats.

Essential oils are highly concentrated and up to 50 to 100 times stronger than the oils in the plant. The vanilla extract you find at the grocery store will likely be suspended in an alcohol base, although you can also find the less-common glycerin-based vanilla extract. According to Pet Poison Helpline, alcohol poisoning can occur when cats ingest as little as a teaspoon and causes disorientation, lethargy, paralysis, tremors, seizures, and other adverse effects.

Cats & Dairy

Cat putting paw in a glass of milk

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) warns that most cats are lactose intolerant. As kittens, cats produce lactase enzymes to digest the lactose in mom’s milk. Most cats stop producing lactase after their first year. So, when cats consume dairy—and the sugar, lactase, found in dairy—it ferments in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract and causes digestive issues. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include:

  • Abdominal Pain: Fermentation in the gut leads to abdominal pain from excess gas. While it’s hard to recognize when your cat’s in pain, if your feline limits their movements after eating, they may be experiencing abdominal pain.
  • Bloating and Gas: Gas and fluid retention results from a cat’s inability to digest the lactose in dairy effectively.
  • Constipation: Constipation occurs when food stalls in the digestive tract instead of moving through the intestines. 
  • Dehydration: Cats experiencing vomiting and diarrhea may struggle with dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, fast heart rate, and muscle cramping.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea due to dairy intolerance is referred to as acute postprandial diarrhea (PD), and it occurs when undigested lactose sugars draw water from the intestines, causing diarrhea. Acute diarrhea can last for a couple of days to weeks.
  • Thirst: Increased thirst is a result of diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Vomiting: Along with nausea, your cat might experience vomiting after ingesting dairy.

In a study published in Biosciences Biotechnology Research Asia, 181 cats were given cow’s milk for three months. Scientists noted that all cats experienced skin manifestations of allergies and had increased levels of leukocytes in the blood, indicating chronic inflammation. In 34 cats of the study group, an ultrasound revealed enlarged pancreas and lymph nodes. 150 cats experienced lethargy, and 112 showed atypical behaviors, such as aggression. After three months, the cats were placed on a lactose-free diet. The result? After six weeks, all animals were healthy and showed no adverse symptoms.

Cats And Sugar

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning 70 percent of their diet should come from animal meat. The cat’s digestive system is adapted to break down and utilize nutrients from meat. Because animal materials are easier to digest, a cat’s intestinal tract is shorter than you would find in an omnivore or herbivore. This means that when cats are fed high-carbohydrate diets, they have difficulty processing and moving these foods through their digestive system.

Cats also lack the liver enzyme glucokinase, a key enzyme for metabolizing carbohydrates. Not only do cats lack the ability to break down sugars, but they also lack the ability to taste sweetness. Interestingly, cats can taste things we can’t. Such compounds include adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which can act as a signal for meat.

Refined sugar, like in ice cream, can be incredibly detrimental to humans and felines. Foods high in sugar can encourage the development of health problems, including:

  • Arthritis: Dietary sugars are pro-inflammatory and can worsen joint pain.
  • Diabetes: Excessive dietary sugar intake can cause insulin resistance, eventually leading to diabetes.
  • Obesity: Foods rich in added sugar tend to be high in calories, promoting weight gain and obesity.
  • Tooth Decay: When bacteria metabolize the sugar left over in the mouth after eating a sweet treat, they create an acid that demineralizes teeth. This eventually results in cavities.

Can Cats Eat Vanilla Bean Ice Cream?

The main issue with vanilla bean ice cream isn’t the vanilla—it’s the dairy and sugar. Yes, cats can eat vanilla bean ice cream. While a lick or two of vanilla bean ice cream is unlikely to cause problems, it’s always best to use caution when introducing new foods to your feline. If you let your cat eat vanilla bean ice cream, stick to a teaspoon or less. Pay attention to any adverse effects within the next day or two to know how sensitive your cat is to dairy.

Is Vanilla Ice Cream Bad For Cats?

While vanilla ice cream isn’t toxic to cats, it’s unhealthy. Ice cream offers no nutritional value to felines and should be treated as an occasional treat. If your cat shows signs of lactose intolerance, it’s best to skip vanilla ice cream altogether.

Ice cream contains lots of fat and sugar, which can contribute to obesity. Obese cats have a lower life expectancy than lean cats and are more susceptible to certain diseases, including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Urinary bladder stones

Other potential complications of obesity include skin and coat problems and a weakened immune system.

Tips For Feeding Cats Ice Cream

If you’re still set on feeding your cat ice cream, follow these tips to ensure you are doing so safely:

  1. Use ice cream as an occasional treat. You shouldn’t be feeding your cat ice cream daily or even weekly.
  2. Don’t let your cat eat more than a teaspoon of ice cream per feeding. Remember, moderation is key.
  3. Before feeding ice cream to your cat, check the ingredient list to ensure it’s completely safe.
  4. Consider dairy-free ice cream, such as oat milk-based ice cream, to prevent the effects of lactose. As always, check the ingredients to make sure it’s cat-safe.
  5. Try a cat-specific ice cream. There are also frozen cat treats on the market that are free of milk products.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Cats Like Vanilla?

If you spill a drop of vanilla on the floor, your cat may lick it out of curiosity, but they’ll unlikely go for it again. Ice cream, on the other hand, tends to be a cat favorite. While it depends on the cat, your cat will likely go crazy for vanilla ice cream.

Why Does My Cat Love Vanilla Ice Cream?

Does your cat already eat vanilla ice cream and goes crazy for it? Cats love ice cream thanks to its delicious fat and creamy texture. Like humans, this treat can be addictive and should be eaten in moderation.

Final Thoughts

Can cats eat vanilla ice cream? Yes, but it isn’t recommended. Ice cream isn’t a healthy food; in some cases, it can be unsafe for cats to eat. Call your veterinarian for advice if your cat gets into ice cream with toxic ingredients. While a tiny lick of non-toxic ice cream won’t damage your cat’s health, large quantities can lead to gastrointestinal issues, chronic inflammation, and other health problems.

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