Can Cats Have Mushrooms?
Mushrooms have always been beloved ingredients in our pizzas, omelets, kabobs, pastas, and sautés, but in recent years, their popularity has only grown. Many a vegetarian has fallen in love with Portobello burgers and mushroom-based mock meats, and countless self-declared ‘health nuts’ have discovered the irresistible combination of kale and mushrooms. We readily feed these to our kids and our dinner guests, but when it comes to our cats, we’re not so sure.
We understand that, in general, our cats are most suited to eating meat, and many of our favorite plant foods are either unhelpful or downright toxic. This is made easier by the fact that most of the time, our cats seem completely uninterested in the fruits and vegetables that fill our plates (after all, when was the last time your cat gorged himself on celery?). But many cat owners notice something strange about these unique, meaty fungi: cats go nuts for them. If your cat is begging for mushrooms, should you share? What about the mushrooms that grow in your back yard?
Can you give your cat mushrooms?
Like most plant foods, mushrooms are not recommended for your cat. Though small amounts of the Portobello or button mushrooms you cook with may not hurt Fluffy, many varieties are extremely poisonous to cats. The best thing you can do for your cat’s health is keep them far, far away from wild-grown mushrooms. Your cat may love mushrooms, but this is one craving you should not indulge!
Cats & Mushrooms?
Many cat owners are baffled to discover that their cat seems to have a strong craving for mushrooms. Most cases of mushroom poisoning are the result of cats making a beeline for wild-growing fungi found in backyards—which, foolish though it may be, is a very common occurrence. Cats ADORE mushrooms.
Why, though, would your carnivorous, meat-munching cat crave an ugly little fungus that grows out of the ground? It has to do with the way that their taste buds evolved. While us humans are often known for our (at times self-destructive) sweet tooth, cats don’t have that problem because they literally can’t taste sweetness. A study in 2005 proved that cats do not have the type of taste receptors required for detecting sweet tastes.
Cats do, however, have taste receptors for that other decadent, crave-worthy flavor: umami, which we associate with our favorite savory foods. The umami flavor is triggered by an amino acid called glutamate, which is abundant in mushrooms… and in the cat’s chosen food: meat (especially fish, which comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever given a cat tuna). In fact, this ‘umami’ flavor is probably why many people believe that their cat enjoys desserts such as cake and ice cream—though we assume that the cats like the sugary sweetness, they actually enjoy the umami taste due to the high fat content. Your cat has an umami tooth, not a sweet tooth!
Things to Keep in Mind
If you absolutely must feed your cat mushrooms, stick with very small amounts of shiitake, button, or Portobello mushrooms, and make sure that they are cooked thoroughly. Some believe that supplementing your cat’s diet with small amounts of mushrooms may boost liver and kidney function, aid in weight loss, boost immunity, and prevent cancer due to high antioxidant concentrations. They also contain a small amount of protein, though not enough to rival your cat’s primary protein sources. However, there is no evidence behind these health benefit claims, and most of them have been extrapolated from human studies. If your cat is very young, ill, or has other special circumstances, make sure you consult a veterinarian before giving your cat any amount of mushrooms.
Mushrooms may cause upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea for many cats. They may also experience excessive gas. If you suspect that your cat has eaten mushrooms, and they experience symptoms such as slow or irregular heartbeat, drooling, constricted pupils, bleeding, low energy, and unsteadiness on their feet, take them to the vet’s office immediately. If you see your cat eating mushrooms out of the backyard, bring them inside and contact your veterinarian—they will give you further instructions. Often, mushroom toxicity can be prevented by inducing vomiting and/or giving your cat activated charcoal to prevent their body from absorbing the toxins.
When it comes to mushrooms, the safest policy is to avoid them completely. While some holistic veterinarians use these fungi medicinally, most mainstream veterinarians agree that all mushrooms should be off limits to your cat. In particular, your cat should NEVER eat mushrooms that grow wild, as consuming these can often result in life-threatening poisoning. If you must feed your cat a piece of mushroom off your plate, make sure that it is cooked thoroughly and monitor them to watch for any adverse reaction. Your cat’s mushroom cravings can be met much more safely through foods like fish.