Can I Give My Cat Cheetos?
Not quite chips and not quite crackers, Cheetos are a peculiar and beloved snack food. Though they are most popular among children who are old enough to appreciate the small, delightful rebelliousness of powdery orange fingers, people of all ages have a soft spot for at least one Cheetos product. Whether you are a fan of crunchy Cheetos, Cheetos Puffs, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or any of the newer, more complex Cheetos flavors, you are painfully familiar with the guilty pleasure involved in devouring a whole bag all on your own. The idea of sharing this cheesy, crispy snack food is laughable.
Except when it comes to the one family member whose implacable pout never fails to break our vow of selfishness: the cat. We may bat away the hands of our siblings or spouses, but who can resist the pitiful, demanding meows of a housecat? No one, you think as you toss your kitty a couple cheesy morsels. But is this safe? Can cats have Cheetos?
Technically, yes, cats can eat Cheetos. This snack food does not contain anything that will in any way pose an immediate threat to your cat’s health, so there is no need to panic if you catch your calico crunching on a couple of them. However, Cheetos are extremely unhealthy, so feeding them to your cat intentionally is not at all recommended. Giving your cat unhealthy processed foods such as Cheetos can have both short-term and long-term consequences.
If you have ever read the label on a Cheetos bag, it probably comes as no surprise that this snack food has no nutritional value for your cat. After all, it’s junk food even for humans, who tend to tolerate carbohydrates better than felines!
From a biological perspective, cats have evolved to meet all of their daily nutritional requirements by eating one type of food: whole prey animals. This means that our feline friends tend to thrive on diets that are high in meat and low in pretty much everything else. While some pet owners advocate for incorporating small amounts of whole, unprocessed plant foods into the feline diet, there is no argument in favor of giving cats junk food—ever.
Cheetos are empty calories for humans, but they are even more useless for our carnivorous cats. As obligate carnivores who thrive on meat-based diets, cats have vastly different dietary needs, including an increased need for protein and a decreased need for carbohydrates.
Despite their supposed cheesiness, Cheetos are little more than carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. They contain almost no protein. To make matters worse, the little protein there is in this snack food is not present in the proper amino acid ratios to be useful to our cats. And to top it all off, Cheetos offer almost nothing in the way of micronutrients.
In sum, those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are not going to get your cat any closer to meeting the daily nutritional requirements necessary to maintain a fit, healthy body. This probably does not surprise anyone.
However, this cheesy snack is not just nutritionally useless—it may be detrimental to your cat’s health. Cheetos are loaded with calories, unhealthy low-quality vegetable fats, and salt. The high fat and calorie content put your cat at an increased risk of weight gain, which can easily make them overweight or obese. Cats who are lugging around extra weight are more likely to develop other health problems, including arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. This means that feeding your cat Cheetos regularly can shorten their lifespan and reduce their quality of life.
Things to Keep in Mind
Cheetos’ high salt content can have long term negative effects on your cat’s health. Like people, cats who consume too much salt may be more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, which can increase their risk of heart attack or stroke. But eating too much salt in one sitting can put your cat’s life at risk, too. Cats are much smaller than we are, so their little bodies can only tolerate a fraction of the salt that our bodies can.
If your cat eats too much sodium, they may suffer from symptoms of salt poisoning, or hypernatremia. Symptoms of hypernatremia include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of energy, disorientation, confusion, loss of coordination, lack of appetite, swelling, extreme thirst, tremors, and seizures. Left untreated, hypernatremia can cause irreversible kidney damage, coma, and death. Salt poisoning requires immediate veterinary care, so if you suspect your cat has consumed a toxic amount of sodium, contact the vet as soon as possible.
Though you do not need to panic and rush your feline friend to the vet if you catch them eating a few Cheetos, you probably should not give them this food intentionally. Cheetos are nutritionally empty, but rather high in calories, salt, and unhealthy fats that can damage your cat’s health in the long term. If you want to pamper your cat, opt for treats that have been formulated for felines.