Can I Give My Cat Cream Cheese?
Gone are the days when American housecats subsisted on table scraps and house mice. In a time when Americans are just coming to grips with the impact that their food has on their own health, we are becoming more and more obsessed with our pets’ dietary habits. We have learned to scrutinize the back ingredients list of our favorite brands of kibble and wet food, and many of us go out of our way to avoid letting our beloved pets get anywhere near ingredients we know to be toxic—things like grapes, chocolate, raisins, and onions. Though we are more thoughtful about our pets’ food than we ever were in the past, we often fall prey to stereotypes and myths.
One of the biggest stereotypes in the history of feline food is this: dairy is a cat’s favorite food. Because this idea is so common, many people give their cats milk-based products like cream cheese without a second thought. But is this a good idea? Can cats have cream cheese?
In a perfect world, your cat would never eat any cream cheese—it is not recommended for feline consumption. However, feeding your cat a tiny amount of cream cheese from time to time is not likely to have any lasting negative health effects. If you give your cat cream cheese, make sure the portion size is very small, and don’t let it become a habit. Most dairy products are not good for cats, and cream cheese is one of the least nutritionally valuable of them!
Health Benefits? Nope.
Cream cheese may taste good smeared on a bagel, but it offers almost nothing in the way of nutrition for you, and even less for your cat. This is because cats, unlike people, are obligate carnivores. Your cat is descended from a long line of felines who thrived on one food group: meat. Because cats have spent the last several million years adapting to meet all of their nutritional foods by eating the flesh of prey animals, they have largely lost many of the biological features necessary for extracting nutrition from nonmeat sources, including plant foods.
If plant foods are unnecessary, dairy is perhaps even more so—humans are the only animals on the planet who consume any type of milk into adulthood. All other mammals lose most of their ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) once they are weaned. Put simply, your cat is lactose intolerant. Many cats will suffer from digestive problems if they consume more than a very small amount of dairy. Feeding your cat cream cheese can result in upset stomach, a bloated abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. If your cat struggles with digestive problems after eating cream cheese, it’s a good sign that they do not have the ability to handle very much lactose. This means you’re better off avoiding giving them any dairy at all.
Even as dairy products go, cream cheese is useless from a nutritional perspective. Cream cheese is high in calories, cholesterol, and fat, yet low in the two common dairy selling points: protein and calcium. This is especially important for our cats, who have much higher protein needs than we do. The feline diet does not have a whole lot of room for ‘empty calories,’ and unfortunately, cream cheese contains none of the key nutrients necessary for health.
Things to Consider
Surprisingly, a fat cat is not necessarily a well-nourished cat. If your cat gets a significant portion of its calories from unhealthy foods like cream cheese, they may suffer from nutritional deficiencies even as their weight continues to climb. Vitamin deficiencies can contribute to other health problems that can endanger your cat’s health. Remember: every empty calorie your cat consumes could instead be spent on nutritionally dense foods!
In conclusion, while cream cheese is unlikely to cause your cat to drop dead in the middle of the kitchen, it generally isn’t recommended for feline consumption. Most cats have extreme difficulty digesting dairy products, which can result in painful digestive problems. In addition, cream cheese is nutritionally useless for cats, yet high in calories and fat. Cats who eat cream cheese regularly may be more likely to become overweight or obese, which increases their chances of developing other serious health problems like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Instead of cream cheese, opt for treats formulated specifically for cats.