Can I Give My Cat Lemons?
Though they are not one of our favorite fruits to eat plain (most of us can hardly stomach to eat a raw slice), lemons are often praised for their health benefits. Those who are into the healing or protective powers of food swear by lemons to boost immunity and energy levels. Some insist that lemons and other citrus fruits can even protect against cancer, high blood pressure and vision problems. Whether or not you buy into a lot of today’s superfood trends, it’s hard to deny that lemons offer many health benefits thanks to their high levels of Vitamin C and other antioxidants.
But can we supplement our furry friends with lemon slices, too? Is it safe to mix a little lemon into Fluffy’s food during cold season? Can cats have lemons?
Many fruits are safe for cats, but, unfortunately, lemons are not—this human superfood is considered toxic to felines. Avoid giving lemons to your cat intentionally and do your best to make sure that they do not eat them by accident. One lemon slice probably will not cause your cat to experience life-threatening toxicity, but this food is dangerous to cats when it is consumed regularly or in large quantities. This food is not as toxic as raisins or garlic, but it is important to monitor your furry friend if you believe they have ingested lemon flesh, seeds, or oils. If your cat shows any symptoms of poisoning, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Fortunately, it should not be too difficult to keep your cat from eating lemons. The vast majority of felines loathe citrus fruits! If you add a squeeze of lemon into your cat’s usual bowl of kibble, they very well may refuse to go anywhere near it. In this case, it’s a good idea to trust that evolution knew what it was doing.
Citrus fruits, including lemons, offer little in the way of nutrition for our feline friends. We most often opt for citrus because we want to boost our Vitamin C intake, but this does little to benefit our cats’ health. Unlike humans, cats actually synthesize all of the Vitamin C they need all on their own! Any dietary Vitamin C they consume is largely useless, from a nutritional perspective. The added Vitamin C may be beneficial to cats who are very old, undergoing severe stress, or recovering from illness or injury, but there are much better (and safer) sources of Vitamin C than lemons.
Another reason why citrus fruits are pretty useless foods for felines: housecats, like leopards and lions, are obligate carnivores. They have evolved to meet all of their nutritional needs by eating exactly one type of food: the bodies of the prey animals they manage to kill. Our kitties are small and soft, but they have all of the biological machinery of nature’s most terrifying predators. They lack much of the digestive equipment necessary to extract nutrition from plant foods like fruit, and they require a very different balance of nutrients than plant-eaters.
Of course, the most compelling reason to avoid giving your cat a lemon is the risk of toxicity—lemons are dangerous to your cat not just because they are a source of empty calories, but because they contain chemicals that are poisonous to your pet. Lemons are extremely high in psoralens and essential oils that can poison both cats and dogs.
Things to Consider
If your cat is suffering from lemon poisoning, do not induce vomiting—this could cause your cat to aspirate lemon oil, which can cause even worse problems. Contact a veterinarian. They will most likely perform a gastric lavage and administer activated charcoal to reduce absorption of the toxic substance. There is no antidote to lemon poisoning, so most of the care your vet will provide is supportive in nature. Your furry friend may require intravenous fluids and medications to resolve any issues with blood glucose or electrolyte balances.
In conclusion, lemons should be completely off-limits to cats. These fruits are not only nutritionally empty, but potentially toxic to felines. If your cat has eaten a small amount of lemon, they will probably be fine. If your cat has consumed a substantial amount of lemon flesh, oils, or seeds, however, take them to the vet for emergency care.