The homey fragrance of freshly baked bread teases most human appetites (no wonder restaurants pile it on!), but do cats crave a slice of sourdough too? We asked several vets who specialize in nutrition for their views on where bread stands as part of a feline diet.
Can Cats Eat Bread?
“Feeding bread (or any other mostly-carbohydrate type food) should be very limited because cats have fairly high requirements for protein and fat,” says Dr. Amy Farcas, a board-certified nutritionist at San Francisco’s Veterinary Nutrition Care. “If too many calories are consumed as carbohydrate, there isn’t room in the diet to meet the cat’s requirements for protein and fat.”
Dr. Julie A. Churchill, an associate professor of nutrition in the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says a small piece of bread is fine for your cat, as long as he’s at his ideal healthy, lean body weight and condition. “The trouble usually arises with portion control,” she says. “Most cats eat commercial cat food, which is complete and balanced. These foods should make up the majority of their intake, with treats or snacks not exceeding 5-10 percent of the daily calories.”
For an average cat that needs about 200-250 calories per day, bread (or any other food), should make up no more than about 20 calories. “That would be a small cube of bread the size of your pinky fingernail,” says Churchill. “More than this could upset the balance of the cat’s nutrition.”
If your cat is one of those felines that craves bread, Dr. Farcas says there’s no worry about an occasional bit because “cats can digest, absorb, and metabolize dietary carbohydrates, and bread is no exception to that.”
When to Feed Cats Bread
Some foods that veterinarians often recommend that cats avoid—such as cheese—can be useful for giving cats pills. Bread may fit in the same category for cats that enjoy its taste. Dr. Churchill says bread is fine to use for giving cats medication as long as the cat doesn’t have a heath condition that may be affected by bread consumption. “For example,” she says, “bread can have a high salt content, which may be harmful for cats with heart or kidney disease.”
Some Breads Are Bad for Cats
While small amounts of white or wheat bread won’t harm cats, Churchill adds that some types of bread should always be avoided. Savory breads, including those flavored with toxic ingredients such as garlic or onion, should never be given to cats—even in moderation.
Cats and Bread: The Bottom Line
The bottom line on cats and bread: While feeding small amounts to a healthy cat is not harmful, it’s also not recommended. Given the high carbohydrate-based calories, it’s better to feed cats treats of lean protein rather than bread that has no benefit to their overall nutritional health.
Kathy Blumenstock is owned by cats, loved by dogs, writes about both, and still longs for a horse.