Can I Give My Cat Kale?
These days, many people measure the healthfulness of their diet by the number of leafy greens they manage to consume on a daily basis. While our grandparents choked down the occasional canned spinach and called it a day, we have figured out how to squeeze these vitamin-rich vegetables into every single meal. Today’s health nuts love a good salad as much as the next person, but they have also learned how to sneak their greens into juices and smoothies, wraps and sandwiches, pizzas and pastas, and even baked goods like cookies and cakes. One of the most popular leafy greens is kale, which has been touted as a disease-fighting food.
When we tweak our diets in the pursuit of health, we often adjust our pets’ diets, too. After all, their table scraps are coming off of our table. But is kale one of the life changes we can share with our furry friends? Can cats have kale?
The answer: yes, cats can eat (and may benefit from) kale in small amounts. Assuming the kale is fresh, washed, and contaminant-free, it is not in any way toxic to your feline friend. Though it should not become a dietary staple for felines, kale can be a healthy way to add some antioxidants and fiber to your cat’s diet.
Health Benefits of Feeding Your Cat Kale
There are a few potential benefits associated with feeding your cat leafy greens like kale, but first, it’s important to understand that these human superfoods do not provide much in the way of nutrition for felines. While we can meet many of our daily vitamin and mineral needs by eating kale, our cats really can’t. Housecats, who are obligate carnivores, have dietary needs that differ from those of herbivores and omnivores.
Biologically, our tiny housecats are very similar to their big cat cousins—while they require many of the same chemicals that we do to function properly, they are set up to get those chemicals in different ways. For example: cats produce their own Vitamin C (which we do not), but cannot produce an amino acid called taurine (which we can!). This means that the cats have to consume different foods to sustain healthy bodies.
Along with different needs come different equipment. Your cat has a much shorter digestive system and a different balance of digestive enzymes, both of which are specialized for processing meat. Some vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin A, are present in different forms depending on whether the source is a plant or the flesh of a prey animal. This means that your cat can’t access much of the nutrition available in these plant sources! While we can convert beta carotene into all of the Vitamin A our bodies need to thrive, our cats will not be able to meet their Vitamin A needs regardless of how many carrots they consume.
This does not, however, mean that leafy greens are completely worthless. Cats often supplement their diets with plant foods when they eat grass, weeds, and our houseplants. Kale is an excellent source of roughage that can help your cat regulate their digestive health. By supplementing Fluffy’s diet with a little bit of kale, you may help to prevent indigestion, constipation, gas, and even colon cancer. There have not been many studies on cats, but dietary fiber has long been associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and several cancers in many animals.
Kale, as a high-fiber food, may also help your cat achieve or maintain a healthy weight—which is a big deal in a time when over half of American cats are too fat! Fiber is high in volume, yet, because it is indigestible, it takes up space without increasing the number of calories in food. This means that your cat can fill their belly for far fewer calories than they would if they were eating a low-fiber alternative. Adding some high-fiber, low-calorie greens to your cats food can help you restrict their caloric intake without leaving them feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
Things to Consider
Though kale should never make up a large part of your cat’s diet, it can be an excellent supplementary food due to its high dietary fiber and antioxidant content. Kale is nontoxic, so it can be given to your cat either raw or cooked. If you decide to feed your cat cooked kale, forego the flavorings—strong foods like spices, garlic, and onions are often toxic to felines.