Can I Give My Cat Ham?
As the holidays roll around and feasting season sets in, many Americans find themselves overwhelmed with decadent, festive foods. Many people, especially those who attend large family gatherings with an excess of delicious holiday treats, can live off Thanksgiving or Christmas leftovers for days. One of the foods often associated with the holidays is ham, which, along with turkey, is one of the most popular meats to eat when the weather gets cold and families come together to feast.
Of course, ham consumption is definitely not limited to the holidays—ham sandwiches are a staple lunch for many kids and busy adults. In recent years, though, people have learned to limit the amount of pork that they consume. The more research is done on the effects of meat consumption on health, the more conscious we are of trying to consume it in moderation. So, since ham is one of the foods most people are okay with eating ‘in moderation,’ does the same apply to our pets? Can cats have ham?
The short answer is yes, but the long answer is: it depends on what type of ham. The term ‘ham’ can describe a huge range of products that vary greatly in their healthy or unhealthy properties. As a general rule, look for ham that is low in salt and other additives, and do your best to avoid feeding your cat deli ham that may be heavily sweetened. Many of our favorite festive holiday hams are sweetened with large amounts of honey or brown sugar, which can be harmful to our feline friends.
When considering the effects of ham on your cat’s health, it’s best to start with the effects of pork products in general. Pork is not a popular cat food flavor—most of the commercially available cat food brands use poultry or fish because it’s cheapest—but that does not mean that it is harmful for cats. Actually, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that their bodies have evolved to efficiently pull nutrition from the flesh of prey animals. Unlike many other human foods, cats are well adapted to eating our favorite meats, including pork.
For cats, pork is not just a treat that they can tolerate; it may actually be good for them. Pork is very high in protein, including the essential (for cats) amino acid known as taurine. Taurine is one of the biggest nutritional concerns for our cats. While humans and even dogs can synthesize taurine on their own, cats have to get it from dietary sources. Taurine is found mostly in animal products. While it exists in some vegetarian foods (such as avocados, oatmeal, and wheat germ), it is not present in a form that is readily available to cats. This is the main reason why cats often struggle on vegetarian or vegan diets. If they do not get enough taurine, they can suffer from a wide range of health problems, including digestive problems and damage to vulnerable heart tissues. As part of a healthy diet, pork products may be a good way to boost your cat’s taurine intake.
Things to Keep in Mind
When it comes to your favorite holiday ham, moderation is important. We may love ham covered in a honey and brown sugar glaze, but our cats a) can’t taste sweet foods and b) have difficulty metabolizing excessive amounts of sugar. If you want to give your cat a couple pieces of Christmas ham, opt for small amounts, and try to cut away the glaze-covered exterior. The less glaze your cat consumes, the better.
Assuming you monitor your cat’s overall salt and sugar intake, ham is a perfectly safe holiday treat. Cats are obligate carnivores, so they can digest savory, meaty treats like ham far better than sugary, sweet alternatives like pies or cookies. Our feline friends may also reap some small benefit from ham’s protein content—especially its high amount of taurine. As with all people foods, remember to practice moderation.