Can I Give My Cat Chips?
Though we fantasize about becoming the type of person who eats fruit for breakfast and becomes overwhelmed with excitement at the sight of a green salad, the sad fact is that most of us have love affairs with the types of food that would make our doctors weep. Mangoes, peas, and sweet potatoes are delicious, but they are not as crave-worthy as the foods that make our pancreases panic and our arteries thicken. We all have a soft spot for sweets like cookies and cake, but one of the most beloved junk foods—and one of the hardest to stop eating once we’ve taken the first bite—is chips.
Whether you like potato chips, tortilla chips, or ‘healthy’ baked corn chips, you know that they are not contributing to your overall health. Chips are not foods that we eat in order to protect our heart health, boost our immune system, or improve our athletic performance. Still, most of us are perfectly comfortable with consuming these salty snacks in moderation. If we keep our portions sensible and make sure that the rest of our diet is healthy, we can indulge with few side effects. But should we use this approach for our pets, too? When Fluffy comes sniffing at our salty fingers, we may be tempted to share. Can cats have chips?
The answer is technically yes, cats can eat most types of chips, but it is definitely not recommended. If your cat gobbles tortilla chip crumbs up off the floor, there is no need to panic or induce vomiting—they should be perfectly fine. Eating tiny portions of chips every now and then will probably not cause any significant damage to your cat’s body. If your cat eats a substantial amount of chips, however, they are likely to become very unhealthy very quickly.
As previously mentioned, chips are not a health food. Almost everyone understands that chips are not a good source of nutrition for people, and it comes as no surprise that the same thing holds true for cats. In fact, chips are even less nutritious for our cats than they are for us! This is because cats, unlike people, are obligate carnivores; they evolved in such a way that their bodies are best suited to processing the flesh of prey animals.
Nature has issued our feline friends a set of biological equipment that functions optimally when it is fueled by meat foods. This goes far beyond a simple taste for meat. In addition to having a digestive system that is set up for low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods, cats have nutritional needs that differ dramatically from our own—they have evolved to get their vitamins in the forms that they are present in in meat foods.
Vitamin A and taurine are good examples of this. Whereas people manufacture their own taurine and can readily manufacture Vitamin A by eating beta carotene, cats have to get both of these nutrients in their premade form from their diet. The prey animals that they eat have to do the converting for them. Because cats aren’t set up to extract nutrients from plant foods, they will end up nutritionally deficient if they end up eating large amounts of them.
Things to Consider
Plant foods offer little in the way of nutrition, and refined plant foods like chips are even worse. Chips offer no nutrition for carnivores or for herbivores, so they end up being empty calories. Cats only need a few hundred calories per day in order to meet their energy needs, so, if they start eating caloric junk foods, they will gain weight. Feeding your cat chips regularly may result in them becoming overweight or obese, which can shorten their lifespan by over a year. If your cat is already pudgy or struggling with insulin resistance, avoid giving them any junk food. There are much safer, healthier treats for your cat.
Chips are also high in salt and unhealthy fats that can harm your cat’s health. Compared to humans, cats have a pretty low tolerance for salt. If your cat eats a handful of chips, they may experience mild salt poisoning, which can cause lethargy, extreme thirst, and excessive urination. Chips also do not contain any of the healthy fats that cats need to thrive.
Lastly, some types of chips contain ingredients that are toxic to cats. If your chips are made with garlic or onions, as many are, avoid giving them even a small taste. Getting a bite once by accident probably will not hurt them, but a large amount of garlic or onions—or small amounts over a long period of time—can have fatal side effects.
In conclusion, no, you should not give your cats chips for treats. In addition to being nutritionally empty, chips are loaded with salt and unhealthy fats. Some chips may even contain ingredients that are poisonous to cats.