Can I Give My Cat Cashews?
Second only to peanuts and raisins, cashews are viewed as one of the most basic of trail mix ingredients. In recent years, the humble cashew has risen to fame not only as a healthy snack and tasty, unique nut butter, but also as a staple in the world of dairy-free cooking. These days, plant-based cooks and companies are making cheese, cheesecake, and salad dressings with cashews instead of dairy. As more of us have found new tasty uses for cashews, they have moved into our pantries in droves. Many of us have real estate reserved specifically for nuts in our pantry, and cashews are a favorite resident.
However, their constant presence in our homes also puts our pets at a high risk of exposure. If a cashew hits the floor, our pets make a beeline for it. But is that safe for our furry friends? Can they handle eating the occasional fallen cashew off the floor? If so, can you take it a step further and give it to them as a dietary staple? Can cats have cashews?
As with so many people foods, the answer depends on the difference between ‘can’ and ‘should’. Your cat can eat cashews, but it is generally recognized as inadvisable to feed any sort of nuts to them. Cashews are not poisonous to cats, so there is no reason to panic if your beloved Siamese finds a stray cashew underneath the couch. But nontoxic does not mean healthy (after all, you wouldn’t feed your kid non-toxic Play-Doh), and it would be wise to avoid giving your cat cashews when possible.
But aren’t cashews a health food? Are there any pluses to giving your cat cashews?
It is true that there are a lot of health-boosting properties in cashews for omnivorous creatures like us. Cashews are high in potassium, B vitamins, ‘good’ fats, and protein—all of which can also, in theory, be beneficial to cats. However, if you feed your cat cashews, they most likely will not reap most of the health benefits that you or I would. This is because cats, unlike us and our dogs, are obligate carnivores. This means that they have evolved over millions of years to meet all of their nutritional needs via the muscle meat, organs, and bones of whole prey animals.
Being a carnivore is about more than just teeth, claws and an affinity for steak. Animals who are biologically carnivorous have evolved in such a way that their bodies only ‘know how’ to extract nutrition from prey animals. For example, while us humans can synthesize the Vitamin A we need from plant sources such as beta-carotene, cats are not biologically equipped to assemble their own Vitamin A. This means that they have to get Vitamin A by eating the flesh of prey animals. So: the rabbit eats the carrot and turns the beta-carotene into Vitamin A, and then the cat eats the rabbit to ‘steal’ its Vitamin A. If the cat relied on carrots to meet its own Vitamin A needs, they would become nutritionally deficient.
The same thing goes for some B vitamins and several essential amino acids, such as taurine, which cats cannot synthesize on their own. Since cats have all of the biological equipment required to process meat, and almost none of the biological equipment required to process plant foods, much of the nutritional potential of cashews is lost. We like to praise nuts like cashews for their protein content. For cats, however, the amino acid profile is all wrong, and relying on nut sources of protein would result in nutritional deficiencies, which can cause severe health problems.
Things to Keep in Mindbananas or carrots, this may not be as much of an issue, but for cashews, this can be dangerous. Cashews and other nuts are little calorie bombs. The calories can quickly add up, increasing your cat’s risk of becoming overweight or obese. Cats suffering from obesity are much more likely to develop serious health problems like diabetes, several types of cancer, arthritis, limited mobility, and cardiovascular problems, which can shorten your cat’s lifespan and reduce their quality of life. If your cat is overweight, you should definitely avoid feeding them cashews.
Cashews’ high fat content can also cause digestive problems. Cats who eat too many cashews in one sitting are likely to suffer from vomiting, upset stomach, and diarrhea. If your cat’s symptoms don’t improve within a day or so, you should take them to the vet’s office.
In sum, cashews are not poisonous to cats, but they are not a recommended food. Cashews are high in calories and provide little in the way of nutrition for our feline friends, who are obligate carnivores. If your cat relies on cashews as a staple, they may be at an increased risk of obesity and nutritional deficiencies. Save the cashews for your own snacks and opt for a more cat-friendly treat.