Can I Give My Cat Asparagus?
Though most of us are experts at feeding ourselves, when it is time to feed the creatures for whom we are responsible, we often feel lost. The Internet is full of parents lamenting how impossible it is to get their children to eat anything over than dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, peanut butter sandwiches, and canned peaches. There are entire books devoted to the question of how parents are supposed to convince their children to eat vegetables. Tiny, fragile, dependent beings who rely on us to fine-tune their diets are a major cause of stress, and the only needy little creature pickier than a Kindergartener is a cat.
Most parents would consider themselves blessed to be able to convince their children to eat such a nutrient-rich vegetable as asparagus, but should pet parents serve it up to their furry friends? Many pet parents talk about the benefits of supplementing their animal companions’ diets with healthy fruits and vegetables, but other sources claim that feeding plant foods to cats is tantamount to abuse! Is there any science behind either stance? Are vegetables valuable to your feline friend? Can cats have asparagus?
Yes, cats can eat small quantities of asparagus, but there is no reason to try to force this vegetable into your cat’s diet—while your Kindergartener would benefit from eating asparagus regularly, your cat doesn’t stand to gain a whole lot. Asparagus is nontoxic to felines, so feel free to use it as a treat if your cat has a taste for this mildly sweet vegetable. If, however, your cat doesn’t care for it, offer them vegetables that they are more eager to accept. Vegetables are rather limited in the benefits they provide for felines, and your cat can thrive without ever eating a bite of asparagus.
Though many pro-plant sources (who often use the word ‘holistic healing’) greatly exaggerate the powers of asparagus or other vegetables, feeding your cat small quantities of asparagus may actually have some small health benefits. Like other plant foods, asparagus contains moderate amounts of dietary fiber.
Cats do not need nearly as much fiber as humans do, but there is some thought that small quantities of dietary fiber may be beneficial to felines who eat diets mostly consisting of kibble or wet food. This is because, though wild cats would not eat vegetables for their indigestible fiber, they would consume a sort ‘animal fiber’ when they ate whole prey. Wild cats would eat indigestible animal parts like bones, cartilage, fur, tendons, and ligaments, which would add bulk to stool and stimulate digestion—just like plant fiber does for us.
The fiber found in asparagus can help regulate your cat’s digestion in the absence of whole prey animals. Adding fiber into your cat’s diet can help prevent problems on both end of the spectrum. Fiber combats diarrhea in two ways: by adding bulk to thin, watery stool, and by soaking up excess water in the colon.
On the flipside, fiber can ease constipation by introducing fluids into the colon and by stimulating the intestines, ensuring that waste moves through the body in a timely manner. If you give your cat high-fiber foods to rectify mild constipation, be sure to give them plenty of water, too. If their digestive problems are severe, or if they do not improve quickly, have them examined by a veterinarian. Digestive distress may be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
Asparagus is also high in several vitamins and minerals, including potassium. Potassium is important for blood pressure and cardiovascular health—if your cat gets a lot of sodium, or if they are at risk of hypernatremia, potassium is especially important.
Things to Consider
Despite its impressive micronutrient content, asparagus will not make or break your cat’s health. Cats are obligate carnivores who have evolved to extract most of their nutrition from meat, which means that they can’t absorb many of the micronutrients present in asparagus. If your cat gets a large part of their calories from asparagus or any other vegetable, they will likely wind up with serious, life-threatening nutritional imbalances. Most of your cat’s diet should consist of specially formulated cat food.
Consuming asparagus in excess comes with one other risk—this vegetable is highly alkaline, and it may mess with the pH of your cat’s urine. If your cat eats large amounts of plant foods, their urine may become alkaline This can encourage dangerous bacterial growth in the bladder, which can result in painful infections, crystals, and other unpleasant (and expensive) conditions. If your cat has a history of urinary problems, avoid feeding them asparagus.
In conclusion, asparagus is a safe, nontoxic food for most cats to consume in small quantities, but it should never make up a large part of the feline diet. Aside from the fiber content, there are not many potential health benefits—cats are obligate carnivores who, in the absence of whole prey, need carefully-formulated cat food to be healthy.