Can cats eat nuts, or are we nuts to suggest it?
Cats are natural snackers, eating up to 20 times a day in the wild.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this means your cat can join you on the sofa in front of the TV and munch away at your bowl of nuts with you.
So, can cats eat nuts? Read on to find out the benefits or potential risks of allowing cats to get in touch with their inner squirrel.
What’s in a nut?
Nuts are packed with protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and are a healthy alternative to crisps or other monosodium glutamate (MSG) bombs for humans.
Nuts vary in their exact composition, but one factor is universal across all varieties—the high fat content. They contain high levels of both saturated and unsaturated fats, as follows:
Total fat per 100 grams
While fat is an excellent secondary energy source for cats, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Fat should only make up 20% or less of a cat’s diet, the remaining majority being high-quality animal protein.
“Peel me a pistachio”
Do cats eat nuts in the wild?
Wild or feral cats know what’s good for them and do not usually eat nuts in the wild
This being the case, there is no justification for using nuts as part of your domesticated cat’s diet.
Most nuts are not generally toxic to domesticated cats, but the balance of nutrients they contain is not optimal. This is the reason wild cats will not go hunting nuts—they instinctively know what good feline nutrition consists of.
Cats eat to feed their energy needs, calories being required for movement, healing, reproduction, and growth. A wild cat’s lifestyle revolves around:
- Taking on energy through eating prey
- Burning energy in short bursts of hunting activity
- Conserving energy by resting
Prey usually consists of rodents, birds, or reptiles—anything cats can get their paws on, in fact. The animals caught are often small and don’t deliver many calories. The result is that wild cats will usually hunt and catch prey up to twenty times every day, interspersing short, frenetic bursts of hunting activity with long periods of rest.
Once caught, the prey will often be eaten entirely, including:
- Raw meat from muscles
- Bones and structural elements
- Organs and stomach contents
Meat from muscles
Meat provides a wild cat with an ample source of protein, containing the amino acids, such as taurine, that felines need for:
- Muscle growth and tone
- Skin and coat health
- Organ development
Bones and structural elements
Crunching on bones gives wild cats a hefty dose of minerals necessary for chemical reactions in the body. The structural elements of a wild cat’s prey are typically rich in:
These are considered essential minerals, meaning that a cat can’t synthesise them naturally. They have to form part of the feline’s diet.
Organs and stomach contents
Liver and other organs are rich sources of the vitamins a cat needs to stay healthy.
Many animals that cats prey upon also store fat around the liver, so organs provide a rich source of slow-release energy for wild felines.
While eating stomach contents may seem fairly unsavoury, cats can get a healthy dose of fibre by doing so. Fibre can aid digestion by providing short-chain fatty acids and thus feeding the good bacteria in a cat’s gut. Good digestive health means that the cat is better able to absorb the nutrients delivered by whatever has been caught.
Another example of this phenomenon may be your domesticated cat occasionally munching on grass or plants in your garden. This could be an indication your feline senses that something is missing in their regular diet.
“If she’s snacking, I’m snacking:”
Can cats eat almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, et al.?
While nuts are not usually poisonous for cats, the big exception to this rule is the macadamia nut. It is not clear why, but macadamias cause a strong toxic reaction in cats, the typical symptoms of which are:
- Loss of temperature control and eventual hypothermia
- Tremors and occasional seizures
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult your vet immediately.
As an aid to the vet practitioner, you should check whether your cat may have had access to any macadamias lying around the house. Cats are naturally curious and are prone to taking a nibble of any food left in an accessible place.
“Nuts are healthy. More nuts, more healthy.”
Nuts and obesity in cats
Apart from the risks presented by macadamia nuts, the biggest downside to your cat snacking on nuts is the potential for weight gain.
To stay agile enough to be effective hunters, wild cats need to manage their calorie intake to ensure they don’t gain too much weight while simultaneously having enough energy to catch prey.
With domestic cats, the problem of weight gain and obesity is widespread (pun intended).
By removing the necessity to hunt, cat parents may be depriving their felines of the opportunity to burn calories. The result is that cats can easily fall into the trap of becoming sedentary, leading to steady weight gain. This is particularly true for indoor and neutered cats.
If your cat’s diet is supplemented with nuts, this problem can be exacerbated due to the high fat content found in most nuts.
A sure-fire way to create an obese feline is:
- Feeding cats a low-quality diet
- Adding high-calorie snacks into the mix
Feeding cats a low-quality diet
Many cat food manufacturers see their products as primarily a source of profit. The challenge they face is to produce food that is:
- Nutritious enough to cover a cat’s minimum requirements
- Tasty enough for a cat to want to eat it
- Cheap to produce
The solutions developed by the pet food industry involve replacing high-cost, high-quality ingredients with cheaper alternatives, even though these may be nutritionally inferior.
Protein is the best example of how cat food can be made cheaper.
By replacing meat with grains or cereals, pet food manufacturers can achieve high protein levels at a massively reduced cost. The problem is that cats aren’t very good at metabolising vegetable protein sources. The efficiency with which a cat can process proteins is measured by this nutrient’s biological value (BV), and the best vegetable protein source is nowhere near as digestible as the worst animal protein, as follows:
The lower the BV of the protein in a cat’s food, the more the cat will have to eat to satisfy nutritional requirements. More food consumed quickly equates to more weight gained.
Many cheaper cat food brands also include large amounts of carbohydrates to deliver energy without the need for expensive fats. While carbs can be a good source of fast-release energy for cats—particularly useful for hunting—carbs that are not burned up are quickly converted to fat cells for storage.
Adding high-calorie snacks into the mix
If your cat is already at risk of obesity due to a low-quality diet, adding high-fat snacks, such as nuts, into the mix will only make the situation worse.
Even if you only offer the occasional nut as a treat, it is worth remembering that cats are small—two or three nuts for a cat may be the equivalent of a full bowl of nuts for us.
What other dangers do nuts present for cats?
Apart from the calories that nuts deliver, there is also an ever-present danger of choking or gastrointestinal blockage. Nuts of all types are difficult for cats to swallow and digest, and the risk of a nut getting stuck somewhere is high.
You will probably notice if your cat starts choking on a nut, but blockages lower down the gastrointestinal tract can be much harder to detect. The following symptoms could indicate that your cat is suffering from a blockage:
- Lethargy or behavioural changes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Upset stomach, diarrhoea, or constipation
Lethargy or behavioural changes
Cats are not good at telling you they feel sick.
Even though they are excellent hunters, cats in the wild can also be prey for larger predators. Their natural reaction when feeling sick is to avoid showing any signs of weakness, thereby avoiding the risk of becoming a larger animal’s lunch.
If you notice your cat is hiding away or sleeping more than usual, you may want to investigate whether everything is alright.
Nausea or vomiting
Vomiting, particularly undigested food, can be an indication of an intestinal blockage. You may have noticed your cat retching to regurgitate a hairball on occasion, but this will be different. The vomiting will be more abrupt, and the presence of undigested food is a strong indication of a stomach or gastric blockage.
Loss of appetite
It takes something fairly serious for your cat to stop eating. Self-preservation is the strongest instinct cats experience, and they will force themselves to eat under most circumstances.
Lack of appetite is a major cause for concern as it can lead to:
- Rapid weight loss
- Knock-on effects, such as liver problems and heart disease
Upset stomach, diarrhoea, or constipation
Any changes to your cat’s digestive habits deserve investigation. If a blockage is causing digestive issues, a trip to the vet should be a priority. The problem is fixable, but often only through surgery—the sooner this is done, the better. The symptoms you notice may also resemble cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What about other nut-related side effects?
Other potential issues related to your cat eating nuts could be:
Pancreatitis or diabetes
There is evidence linking weight problems with pancreatitis and diabetes in cats. Calorie-rich diets can flood cats’ bodies with sugar, forcing the pancreas to compensate by releasing large amounts of insulin. Over time, the feline pancreas can be overburdened, resulting in either acute pancreatitis or chronic diabetes, both of which require veterinary treatment.
Supplementing your cat’s diet with nuts could have long-term effects that you only notice when it is too late as weight gain, and the associated side-effects happen over a long time.
While nut allergies may be common in humans, there is only anecdotal evidence to suggest it is a problem for cats. Most feline food allergies occur when the cat’s immune system mistakes a protein for a harmful invader and mounts a retaliatory response. The symptoms are typically an outbreak of red pustules on the skin, causing your cat to shed, over-groom, and lick the area raw.
Even though this is not a serious issue, it is uncomfortable for your cat and may also lead to more frequent hairball production. Cutting out nut snacks can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions and consequent hairballs.
The healthy alternative—Untamed protein sources.
Image (c) Untamed
What is healthy cat nutrition based on? Learn how to recognise high-quality cat food
If nuts are less than perfect nutrition for cats, what should you be feeding your feline?
As explored above, cats need a predominantly meat-based diet to:
- Stay healthy
- Keep feeding amounts to a minimum
- Be energetic and vital
Choosing good food for your kitty doesn’t need to be a difficult exercise—all the information you need to make a wise choice is on the label.
Whatever your decision on the type of food you favour—whether it’s dry, semi-moist, wet, or a mixture of any of these—you can tailor-make a diet that is nutritionally sound and tastes good. Your cat will let you know what varieties should be served—some cats prefer dry kibbles, whereas others hate them, and the same is true of wet food. Trial and error may be necessary to keep your gourmet feline happy, but quality can be found in many formats.
To check whether your food of choice is nutritionally sound, you need to investigate the:
- Ingredients list
- Guaranteed analysis
Ingredients in all commercial cat foods are listed in descending order of volume.
Meat should always be on the top spot, but you should check that the list is not full of various types of grain and cereal. In such cases, the total amount of vegetable protein sources may make up more than the animal protein. This is a sign of a cheap and less nutritious product.
The ideal ingredients list should be:
- Short and concise, listing every ingredient (no animal derivatives or obscure catch-all phrases)
- Free from complicated scientific names as these suggest that the basic ingredients are not good enough to deliver complete and balanced nutrition
- Without any artificial colourants or flavourings as these deliver no nutritional value and may even be harmful to your cat
The guaranteed analysis tells you how much of each food group is in the product. By law, manufacturers have to include the percentages for:
You may see more food groups listed, but you should look for the following values as a minimum:
Up to 20%
Combining the information from the ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis tells you how good the food is. If the percentages look good and the ingredients list is short, concise, and predominantly meat-based, you can rest assured that your feline will be getting everything needed to be healthy and happy. You may even find that snacks like nuts are given the cold shoulder.
What about Untamed?
Untamed cat food delivers everything your cat needs and more. Based on homemade recipes, Untamed takes the best ingredients and robust nutritional understanding to give your feline the best a cat can get. The added bonus? Your kitty will go wild for the taste.
Untamed follows these principles in producing the highest-quality nutrition for your cat:
Untamed uses the best ingredients that satisfy each cat’s nutritional requirements
Every Untamed recipe has been formulated with the help of vets to ensure your cat gets everything needed in every tin
High animal protein content
Untamed tins, whether you choose our meals in jelly or gravy, contain twice the amount of animal protein that you find in most commercial cat foods. We use the best chicken, prawns, mackerel, liver, tuna, salmon, and duck to tantalise kitty’s taste buds healthily
We are also committed to being an ethical manufacturer, meaning that:
- Our packaging is 100% recyclable
- Our meat and fish are sourced from cruelty-free, dolphin-friendly, and sustainable sources
- We are 100% carbon neutral
The proof of the cat food is in the devouring, though—give Untamed a try and see for yourself!
Health and happiness, and no need for snacks
Image (c) Untamed
Is Untamed easy to get?
Ordering cat food online is a breeze with Untamed. You can get your first Untamed trial pack delivered to your doorstep. Start your kitty's journey towards health and happiness in three simple steps:
- Tell us all about your kitty
- Pick an appropriate meal plan
- Order a trial pack
Once your trial pack arrives, your cat can start exploring the various taste sensations.
Clients who get our cat food on a monthly subscription have reported that their feline companions are healthier and more energetic after trying Untamed. Here’s what you might start noticing when you start feeding your cat our food:
The Untamed effect
Your feline should be more energetic and you should see less mess in the litter tray
Your kitty should start to develop a more muscular physique. Energy should be no problem—you may have trouble keeping up
You should notice your feline’s coat starting to gleam. Hairballs and shedding should gradually reduce
Your cat should manage weight naturally by balancing energetic play with the amounts eaten
With such goodness in the bowl, you may even notice that your furry friend doesn’t crave nut snacks anymore!
Check out our other guides to what cats can or cannot eat: