Toxic Food: 25 Human Foods That Are Poisonous to Cats

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 15 min read

Toxic Food: 25 Human Foods That Are Poisonous to Cats

Every day on the internet, there are pictures of cats 🐱 begging for food 🍜 at the table of their human parents👪, or climbing into their laps to get a bite of that sandwich🥪, a piece of a cold cut, a chunk of chicken from tonight's meal, or even a piece of bread.

Check out this adorable bread obsessed kitty:

While some of this is clearly adorable behavior from a hungry little predator, sometimes there may be a bit more of a sinister undertone.

Sharing a little fish or chicken, usually not a big deal. Cats are obligate carnivores, they have to eat meat to survive, and your meat is definitely tasty.

Bread, though? Can they eat that?

You can put that particular fear to rest: cats can safely eat plain bread without many issues, though they don't need the carbs, so it’s not something nutritional beneficial for them.

Like any treat, it should be held in moderation for the overall health of your furry friend.

Not all human foods are safe for feline consumption, though. Today we’re going to review some of the more common types of food we may have in our homes that should never make their way into your cat's system.

It’s worth mentioning that many of these foods have different toxicity ☠️ levels. Toxicity can mean anything from digestive upset all the way to death. In many cases a very small amount won’t be fatal but read on to learn more.

As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for reliable, unbiased, and fact-based cat care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.

Happy reading and sharing!

1: Alcohol

This one should come as no surprise. After all, alcohol is a toxin for people, too; that buzz you feel after a glass or two of wine is a side effect of being, well, poisoned.

It's just socially acceptable for people to do a little self-harm as a tasty treat in this particular instance.

A Bottle and Glass of Wine Image by Toe Beans

Cats, though, have neither the social support and cultural mores nor the body mass necessary to handle alcohol. Even a little of the stuff can lead to dangerous complications and even death.

Signs of alcohol toxicity:

These can occur as soon as 15-30 minutes after ingestion.

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of coordination
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness/Collapse
  • Decreased respiratory rate
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)

CBD oil for cats_aches and pains_ by Momma Knows Best

Many cat parents mistakenly believe that so long as they avoid directly giving alcohol to their cats, the risk of alcohol poisoning is non-existent.

The truth of the matter is that there are many ubiquitous sources of alcohol around the house that might potentially put their cats at risk:

Ethanol — Common sources of ethanol include alcoholic drinks, desserts flavored with alcohol, fermented fruits, unbaked yeast dough, some liquid medications, and mouth washes.
Methanol — The most common sources of methanol include windshield fluids, some gasoline additives, and some paint solvents.
Isopropanol — This alcohol has twice the potency of ethanol or methanol. Common sources include 70 percent rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, glass cleaners, perfumes or colognes, detergents, antifreeze, and some grooming products or flea sprays. | Animal Emergency Care

Read More Cat Wellness Guides

2: Yeast

Anything you’re making with yeast in it is a one-two punch of danger for a cat.

Raw yeast alone is unpleasant because it can grow in your cat's digestive system, releasing gasses that cause uncomfortable bloating and digestive issues.

A Bag of Yeast Image by Toe Beans

Moreover, yeasts often produce alcohol as a byproduct, and we just covered how dangerous those can be.

Note that this only means active yeasts; a baked bread, even if yeast is an ingredient, has had that yeast killed by the heat of baking and is thus safer.

Signs of yeast dough ingestion include:

  • Bloat
  • Unsuccessful attempts to vomit that result in nothing or a little white foam
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Collapse

organic cat toys by Momma Knows Best

Read More Cat Wellness Guides

If you bake bread at home, or in a facility that hosts cats, make sure to never leave dough out to rise in a place that is within a cat’s reach.

“A key part of baking bread is giving it time to rise (proof). While proofing dough may not look appetizing to people, it may to pets. It’s important not to leave dough out to rise in an area accessible by dogs and cats, including countertops.” | ASPCA Pro.org

3: Chocolate

Chocolate has a few different substances called methylxanthines, which are derived from xanthine as a base.

Several different chemicals fall into this category, including two you're more likely to be familiar with: theobromine and caffeine.

A Bowl of Melted Chocolate Image by Toe Beans

Both of these are mildly beneficial to people but can have dangerous effects on animals, including cats.

Caffeine can lead to seizures, tremors, and death if consumed by cats (and dogs), so you should keep your chocolate treats locked away. The darker the chocolate, the worse it is, too.

Story time: One Halloween a few years back, I purchased some bags of mixed chocolate bars and left them on the counter. When I got home from work, I found the bag ripped open and several of the chocolate bars had been sampled. I’m not just talking about teeth marks. Some of the chocolate was clearly eaten. The guilty party was fine, and I learned it’s not just dogs that break into candy stashes.

Catnip_USDA_Organic_By Momma Knows Best

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Signs of chocolate toxicity:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)

4-5: Coffee and Tea

While you probably enjoy a nice cup of coffee or tea in the mornings to get you up and moving, that caffeine is just as dangerous to your cat as it is when it's in chocolate.

Coffee and Tea Image by Toe Beans

Black or green tea is known to cause liver and gastrointestinal organ damage in cats.

While you may read on other blogs that catechins are beneficial to your cat and that it’s ok to give your cat black or green tea so long as you cat is healthy and isn’t fasting, we highly advise you consult with your veterinarian before giving tea to your fur baby.

To be on the safe side, don't let your fur baby have a cuppa joe, no matter how much they beg and whine about it. They probably just want your attention, not your treat, anyway.

Be careful, too; even "decaf" drinks still have some natural caffeine in them. It's below the threshold where a human will feel it, but cats are much smaller than people and, thus, much more sensitive to smaller amounts of these substances.

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A lick or two of your coffee or tea usually isn’t a big deal, but after the first time, be sure to keep your beverages supervised.

I had to switch to a travel mug when I worked from home after I caught my angel Moo with his head in my cup of tea. Luckily, nothing happened but I got really scared.

Many pet parents may be unaware of dangerous sources of caffeine laying around the house. Some overlooked sources of caffeine that may put your cat in danger include:

  • Sodas
  • Energy or sports drinks
  • Diet pills
  • Over the counter pain medications
  • Over the counter energy boosting pills Your favorite candy bar may also contain caffeine.
  • Chocolate (with that fun crinkling wrapper?)
  • Coffee flavored ice creams (that bowl you left in the sink without rinsing)

6-8: Lemons, Oranges, and Grapefruits

Citrus fruits, in general, are bad for cats. Two particular substances in the citrus cause issues: citric acid and citrus oils naturally found in the peels and throughout the fruits.

Lemons Oranges and Grapefruit Image by Toe Beans

These substances can lead to upset stomachs and digestive unrest, as well as central nervous system depression, which is a lot worse than it sounds (and isn't related to mental health.)

Luckily, most cats don't like the scent of citrus and will stay away from it on their own, which is why citrus scents are often used as deterrents for cat training.

9: Coconut

Coconut oil is a common item in holistic medicine, and there's a small amount of evidence to suggest that it can help cats out with certain coat issues, largely relating to vitamin deficiencies.

Cracked Open Coconuts Image by Toe Beans

Contrary to what you may read all over the internet about the health benefits for your cat, caution should be exercised with coconut.

A quick search of coconut for cats will result in a lot of affiliate marketing sites trying to sell you on hundreds of products. Beware!

Here is what the Drake Center for Veterinary care says about credible and unsubstantiated claims on coconut benefits for your cat:

Coconut oil claims with no credible basis based on what we currently know include: Cancer prevention, dental calculus and periodontal disease prevention, weight loss, thyroid dysfunction; Claims that may have a credible basis include: Dry skin, wound healing, atopic dermatitis | The Drake Center for Veterinary Care

My best advice is that if you’re going to try supplementing with coconut oil, make sure it’s food grade and always talk with your vet first. It can cause digestive issues, so it’s always best to start with a small amount to see how your kitty responds.

Last, but not least, the flesh and milk of the coconut are high in potassium so they should always be avoided.

10: Dairy

Any of you out there who are lactose intolerant know how unpleasant it can be to have some cheese, milk, yogurt, or other dairy products in a meal.

Various Dairy Products Image by Toe Beans

Even a surprisingly small amount can lead to ongoing digestive problems, unpleasant bloating, gas, and other issues.

Well, you may have heard that humans are relatively unique in that we're one of the only species that can enjoy dairy after childhood. It should be no surprise, then, to find that most cats are lactose intolerant.

But then, why do cats like milk and dairy?

“The parts of the diary product that your cat has interest for are fat and protein. They can smell the fat and protein in dairy products and will be attracted by it. There can be a lot of both fat and protein in milk, cheese and yoghurt.” | Charlottesville Cat Care Clinic

Unfortunately, that stereotype of giving a stray cat a saucer of milk or whipped cream does a lot more harm than good.

Cat cave cat beds by Toe Beans_2

It's not good for them, and while it won't kill them, it won't be pleasant for them or whoever has to clean up after them. Not to mention that giving your cat milk can cause an unbalanced diet and lead weight gain.

A tiny bite of cheese now and then is usually well tolerated, but anything more than that is begging for trouble.

11: Grapes

Grapes (and raisins, which are just dehydrated grapes) are a somewhat confusing fruit.

Unlike other foods, which have well known compounds that cause toxicity, grapes are a bit of a mystery. They also tend to be associated as just bad for dogs as most cats aren’t attracted to them.

“There are dogs who have had issues after only a few grapes and some who do not have any issues until they eat a whole bag of them. Because the mechanism of toxicity is unknown, the best answer is no grapes for either your cats or your dogs.” - Embrace Pet Insurance Director of Claims Jenna Mahan

A Bowl of Grapes Image by Toe Beans

Since science hasn't yet figured out what the compound cause problems such as sudden kidney failure, most veterinarians recommend to keep them away from both cats and dogs.

Lethargy and seizures are common symptoms seen in dogs that have consumed grapes, so head straight to the vet if your kitty sampled some grapes and exhibit these symptoms.

12: Eggs

Let me begin this section by saying well cooked eggs, without added seasonings are perfectly safe for cats. They are a good source of protein and are often seen as an ingredient in wet cat food.

A Basket of Eggs Image by Toe Beans

Raw eggs on the other hand are not safe for cats. Because chickens can carry salmonella their uncooked eggs are also a risk for spreading the bacteria.

Need another reason not to feed your cat raw eggs? If they get salmonella, they can pass it on to you!

So keep in mind, if your cat is a counter surfer, like some of mine were, make sure to never leave anything with raw eggs unattended, including the empty shells.

Cat Brushes_ by EarthCare

13-14: Onions and Garlic

I don’t know about you, but I love to cook with both onions are garlic. They bring so much delicious flavor to foods.

Those delicious smells that waft from the kitchen can also be appealing to your fur baby. The thing is both onions are garlic are toxic to cats.

Onions and garlic are both alliums, along with hundreds of other species. Other alliums include chives, shallots, leeks, and scallions (and really, anything with that oniony smell to it). There are also hundreds of inedible ornamental alliums grown as flowers.

Onions and Garlic Image by Toe Beans

Unfortunately, all of these are bad for your fur baby. In addition to digestive troubles, alliums can cause damage to red blood cells and lead to anemia.

“Allium spp can cause Heinz body formation, methemoglobinemia, agglutination, and hemoglobinuria. Cats are more sensitive to Allium toxicosis than dogs. In addition to anemia, small animals may exhibit GI signs, including anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea. The anorexia often occurs 1 day before the hemolysis.” | Malinda E. Wallis, BS, CVT | ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Some are worse than others, too; garlic is 3 to 5 times more toxic than onions for a cat.

Signs of garlic or onion toxicity:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Blood in urine

Toe Beans_pet_blog_2

15-17: Almonds, Pecans, and Walnuts

Nuts, in general, are bad for cats. Some, like macadamia nuts, cause problems similar to those caused by grapes (and are similarly not understood by veterinary science as of yet).

Almonds Pecans and Walnuts Image by Toe Beans

Others, like almonds and walnuts, are just high in natural fats and oils. These fats and oils aren't really necessary to your cat's health and can cause digestive problems, as well as pancreatitis, a very painful condition.

18: Xylitol

Everything else on this list is a food, so what is this chemical doing here? Well, xylitol is a sugar alcohol, which should already tell you a lot of what you need to know… or should it?

A "sugar alcohol" isn't really an alcohol and doesn't work in the same way. Instead, it's a lot more like sugar! Xylitol is one of the most common "healthy" sugar substitutes found in most sugar-free foods these days.

A Bowl of Xylitol Image by Toe Beans

There is firm evidence that xylitol is wildly toxic to dogs (and is a big reason why peanut butter treats for dogs need to be vetted first), but there is some debate on whether or not it’s also toxic for cats.

Here's what the FDA says about xylitol for pets in general:

Some food and drink items that you consider tasty treats may be dangerous for your pet. As tempting as it might be to share your food or drink with your four-legged friend, please resist! Some of the more hazardous edible items include:… Xylitol (a sweetener found in products such as some sugar-free chewing gum, sugar-free candy, cough syrup, mouthwash, and toothpaste)” | U.S Food and Drug Administration

What's not clear is whether the pet group includes cats as well.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine about the effects of xylitol in cats, observed no effects of toxicity in cats.

“Xylitol is commonly used as sugar substitute in households. While it has numerous beneficial effects on human health, it is highly toxic to dogs. The goal of this study was to examine whether xylitol has similar deleterious effects, such as hypo glycaemia and acute hepatic failure, on cats…Based on our results, xylitol did not induce toxic effects on cats.”

There are a number of reasons for the debate, many cats aren’t interested in consuming products that typically contain xylitol, so there isn’t much documented to show their response.

Online Pet Supplies Store by Toe Beans

Because xylitol causes drastic blood sugar level drops in dogs and even liver failure, I’ve added it to this list as a precaution. I would keep products containing xylitol away from diabetic kitties and older cats that have other health issues.

Until we know more about how cats are affected, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

19: Tomato Stems and Plants

Okay, so this one isn't quite like the rest on this list, but it's still something you might have around the house. Tomatoes, when ripe, are perfectly fine for your fur baby. The leaves, stems, and rest of the plant, as well as unripe tomatoes, are dangerous, though.

Tomato Stems and Plants Image by Toe Beans

Tomato is a kind of nightshade, which is a common toxic plant that was even used as a poison in centuries past.

“Ingestion of the greenery, flowers, and green fruit can cause clinical problems in dogs and cats…Clinical signs include gastrointestinal (GI) upset, cardiac effects, and central nervous system signs (e.g., ataxia, muscle weakness, tremors, seizures), resulting from cholinesterase inhibition.” - Malinda E. Wallis, BS, CVT | ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Fun fact: potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco are all nightshades as well!

So, if you like to grow your own fruits and veggies, but also have a kitty that likes to chew on plants, tomatoes should be kept off limits.

20: Salty Meats and Treats

Cats may need meat in their diet but feeding them bacon or salami is likely going to be a problem. It's not the meat itself that's the problem here; it's the preservative: salt. Salt is necessary in small amounts for cats, dogs, and people, but in large amounts, it can cause a lot of problems.

A Cooked Salty Meat Image by Toe Beans

Unfortunately, salt is a very effective preservative and flavor enhancer, so it's in just about everything, which is why so many people have blood pressure issues. Cats, being smaller and more sensitive, can develop hypernatremia from an excess of salt.

“Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets…As such, we encourage you to avoid feeding salt-heavy snacks like potato chips, pretzels, and salted popcorn to your pets.” - ASPCA

Symptoms of hypernatremia:

  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures

21: Canned Tuna

Tuna is alright for cats as a treat, but you should avoid making it a core element of your cat's diet. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that canned tuna isn't nutritionally complete for a cat. It doesn't have all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients necessary to keep your cat healthy. They need a more varied diet to make sure they get everything necessary to nourish their entire body.

Cans of Tuna Image by Toe Beans

The second is that there's a lot of mercury found in fish, particularly tuna, so if your cat over-eats tuna, they can end up with mercury poisoning. People can get this too, but again, you need a lot more tuna to get that big a dose.

“Commercial fish food products such as tuna have been associated with chronic poisoning in humans and cats.” – Merck Veterinary Manual

Signs of mercury poisoning:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors

22-25: Raw Chicken, Beef, Pork, and Fish

Raw meats of any kind may seem like an odd inclusion on this list. After all, wouldn't cats in the wild eat raw meat all the time? Well, sure, cats in the wild also get sick and even die from the things they eat all the time. We like to take better care of our fur babies than that, right?

Raw Chicken Beef Pork and Fish Image by Toe Beans

The problem here is microbes. Bacteria like e.coli and salmonella, as well as various parasites, can all linger on the surface of raw meats. Cross-contamination is also an issue.

Any of these diseases can prove devastating to your feline friend, so it's usually better to cook meat before giving it to them.

Similarly, if you buy a raw meat diet, make sure it's produced in a certified environment. Making it yourself, unless done with extreme care, can be dangerous.

Symptoms of Food-Caused Problems

As you’ve noted from the signs listed above, the most common issues from food are digestive. Your poor kitty's digestive system will want to get rid of whatever is causing them a problem ASAP, with predictable results.

Other symptoms can include pain, gas, coughing, confusion, breathing problems, seizures, tremors, and weakness.

If you see your cat struggling with any of these, it's probably a good idea to rush them to the vet to make sure it's not going to get worse. Often, with fluids and a bit of monitoring, they'll end up fine.

However, you need to be careful to make sure they don't consume the offending food again in the future.

Cat Having Digestive Issues Image by Toe Beans

Luckily, most food issues can be resolved within a couple of hours, and monitoring at the vet is mostly a precaution.

If you suspect your fur baby has eaten something dangerous, first call your vet. If they tell you to just keep an eye on them, you will probably be fine with some monitoring. Otherwise, you may want to rush them to the emergency vet, particularly if their symptoms indicate something worse than digestive troubles, like seizures or kidney/liver failure.

If you can't get through to your vet, you can also try:

They'll help advise you on what, if anything, you should do and what your next steps should be.

What's your favorite treat to give to your fur baby? Hopefully, it's not something on this list! I'd love to hear about your furry friends and their favorite snacks, so be sure to leave your stories in the comments section down below!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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