Can I Give My Cat Hazelnuts?
If ever there were a designated dessert nut, it would probably be the delicious, decadent hazelnut. This sweet-heart healthy nut pairs with chocolate to become one of the most brilliant power couples in the history of desserts. We also know them to be good sources of healthy fats, Vitamin E, and several key minerals. Though they are not one of the most popular nuts to eat alone or in trail mix blends, many people have them on hand for baking or cooking purposes. Some people also pair them with dried fruit for a tasty, natural snack.
Since they are a natural whole food generally recognized as being healthful, you may wonder if it is acceptable to share hazelnuts with your pets. Many of us turn over our bag of cat treats and find ourselves horrified by the plethora of impossible-to-pronounce ingredients. Sometimes the ingredients we can pronounce are even scarier!
As a result, we look to whole foods in search of healthier treat alternatives. Nuts, being one of our favorite healthy treats, are a reasonable candidate. So, can cats have hazelnuts?
The answer: technically, cats can eat hazelnuts, as long as they are not covered in chocolate. Unlike our dogs, who are extremely sensitive to certain types of nuts, there does not appear to be a high risk of nut toxicity in felines. This means that, if your cat accidentally eats a hazelnut or two, there is no need to rush them to the vet or induce vomiting. However, most agree that it is generally not a good idea to feed your cat hazelnuts—or nuts of any kind.
Are there any benefits to giving your cat hazelnuts? In the long term, not really. While nuts are often praised as a human dietary staple for their protein, minerals, and healthy fats, our cats are not likely to reap the same benefits from nuts that we do. Biologically, humans are omnivores (leaning towards the herbivorous end of the spectrum), which means that we are well equipped to pull the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids out of plant foods like hazelnuts. This is why our dieticians so often tell us to eat our fruits and leafy greens to meet our micronutrient needs. Interestingly, dogs, too, are omnivores. Omnivores can meet all of their dietary needs by eating plant sources.
Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores, who have adapted to meet all of their nutritional needs by eating whole prey, just like their wild big cat cousins. Being an obligate carnivore is not just about behavior and taste preferences—carnivores’ bodies have evolved in such a way that they no longer ‘know how’ to extract nutrition from plant sources. This means that, in nature, a cat would have to meet most of its caloric needs by eating the flesh of prey animals. While cats may be able to get energy from plant sources (especially calorically dense ones like nuts), they would have a difficult time meeting their other dietary needs, and may suffer from extreme nutritional deficiencies.
So, while not poisonous, hazelnuts are nutritionally empty for our cats. This isn’t a huge deal for low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables, but because hazelnuts pack such a caloric punch, feeding them to your cat may be problematic. If your cat eats enough other foods to meet their nutritional needs, and consumes empty calories in the form of hazelnuts on top of that, they will be at risk of becoming overweight or obese. Cats are little, and empty calories will add up quickly.
So it’s safe to say that you should not use hazelnuts as a staple in your cat’s diet—especially if your cat is already overweight. If your cat needs to gain weight for some reason, there may be some argument for giving them the occasional nutty treat, but it may be wise to talk to your veterinarian first. They may be able to recommend more cat-friendly high-calorie treats that will give your cat a micronutrient boost in addition to their caloric content.
Things to Keep in Mind
In the end, it’s probably a good idea to avoid sharing hazelnuts with your cat. While nuts may be healthy for us, they are nothing but empty calories for our feline friends, who can’t process them properly. If you must feed your cat hazelnuts, opt for unsalted, unflavored options, and absolutely do not feed them any hazelnut products that contain any amount of chocolate. Hazelnuts are not poisonous to cats, but chocolate can be life-threatening.