Can I Give My Cat Butter?There is one condiment that belongs on both savory and sweet dishes: butter. We use butter in (or on) everything, from baked desserts to steamed vegetables. While most of us understand that we need to limit the amount of this deliciously fatty food, we often eat more of it than we realize. Butter resides in our cookies and crackers, inside seasonally flavored breads, atop our baked potatoes, and inside a whole host of our favorite packaged snack foods. Since it is present in, well, everything, it is a constant concern for pet owners. The only thing more difficult than keeping food from your children is keeping food from your pets, after all.
So, can cats have butter? What are the benefits and risks associated with feeding butter to your cat? Are buttered carrots going to send Fluffy to the vet, or can they serve as a staple in her diet?
When it comes to butter and cats, the relationship (health-wise, anyway) is pretty similar to the one between butter and people: while they probably SHOULD avoid eating butter to maintain optimal health, they CAN eat butter without suffering from any immediate adverse effects. Unlike potentially deadly foods like onions or raisins, butter is not toxic to cats in any way that is life-threatening. For our cats (and for us), butter is junk food. Though you can feed your cat food containing small amounts of butter as a rare treat, the best policy is to avoid feeding your cat this fatty condiment whenever possible.
Are there any potential benefits to feeding your cat butter? Not really—your cat is an obligate carnivore, which means that their body has evolved to meet its nutritional needs primarily by eating meat foods. In addition, most adult mammals (including cats!) can’t digest milk products very well. Once they stop drinking their mother’s milk, cats often experience a big drop in the amount of lactase that they produce. Lactase is required to properly digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. This means that your adult cat may suffer from symptoms of lactose intolerance if they eat a substantial amount of butter. These symptoms include upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. Though it’s worth noting that butter contains less lactose than pure milk, some cats can’t handle any form of dairy. If your cat has shown signs of lactose sensitivity in the past, be careful giving them any butter.
So what about kittens, who are full of lactase? Unfortunately, their little bodies still aren’t properly calibrated for dairy products. From a nutritional perspective, dairy products like butter are very high in fat and don’t contain the correct balance of protein to be worthwhile. If your kitten is young enough to be drinking mother’s milk, you probably shouldn’t be feeding them anything else!
Even if your cat’s stomach can withstand the occasional helping of buttered carrots, it’s important to practice moderation. Butter is full of fat and calories, which can cause health problems in the long run. Butter’s high calorie content comes with no fiber and little in the way of micro-nutrients, so it’s easy for your cat to eat too much.
The road to feline obesity is paved in butter, and obesity increases your cat’s chances of all sorts of dangerous illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. Carrying excess weight can also hurt your cat’s joints, raise their risk of lung problems, and shorten their lifespan. If your cat already struggles to maintain a healthy weight, avoid feeding them anything containing butter.
Things to Keep in MindCats who eat too much fat are also more likely to develop pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Left untreated, this condition can result in permanent organ damage. Common symptoms include high fever, poor appetite, low energy, breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, dehydration, and behavioral changes. In severe cases, pancreatitis can be fatal. So make sure you monitor your cat’s fat intake! If your cat has another high-fat treat they enjoy often, you may want to pass on the butter.
Some people recommend feeding your cat butter as a way of treating hairballs. This is unnecessary—unlike consuming butter, coughing up hairballs are a perfectly natural part of your cat’s biology, no matter how unpleasant we find them. If you’re worried that your cat may have a problem that requires some assistance, take them to the vet’s office instead of feeding them fatty foods.
Though it isn’t toxic to your cat, there are no health benefits to feeding them butter. This rich dairy product is high in lactose, which many cats can’t digest properly. It also contains extremely high amounts of fat and calories, which can put your cat on the fast track to obesity, pancreatitis, and other weight-related health problems. If you choose to feed your cat butter as a treat, keep the servings small and infrequent.