Can I Give My Cat Paprika?
Spices come in countless shapes, smells, and varieties and those of us who follow the Standard American Diet can only name a fraction of them. American cuisine generally does not emphasize herbs and spices, so most of us are sadly ignorant. There are, however, a handful of spices that almost everyone (from toddlerhood through our twilight years) can recognize—among them are popular choices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. Though paprika does not make it into desserts and Christmas cookies the way that nutmeg and cinnamon do, we often encounter it sprinkled atop entrees as a garnish.
Perhaps the best thing about spices is their combination of high flavor and low calories. Spices help us add flavor and color to our foods without dramatically increasing the fat and calorie content of our food, which is why we tend to fall in love with them as we grow older and rounder. But, if you have pets, their low calorie content leads to another question: can we use spices to make our furry friends’ food taste good? Can my cat have paprika?
The answer is technically yes—your cat is not likely to curl up and diet if they eat a small amount of chicken that has been lightly dusted with paprika. However, like most spices, paprika is not recommended for regular feline consumption, and it may be dangerous if it is fed in large quantities or on a regular basis. Paprika, which is made of bell peppers, does not have a strong risk of toxicity, but it’s best avoided in the long run.
If spices are so good for us, why should we keep them away from our cats? Can’t they benefit from the high concentration of vitamins and minerals, too?
Well, first off, they do not really need them (or any plant food, for that matter). All housecats, from Ragdolls and Persians all the way to the majestic Maine Coon, are obligate carnivores. Though we like to consider them tame little bundles of love who just want to chase laser pointers and chew on our houseplants, our cats are biologically designed to kill and eat other animals—not just for the main course, but for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unlike people and even dogs, cats do not require any quantity of plant foods to maintain optimal health.
People often include spices into their diets to increase the vitamin or mineral content of their food without dramatically increasing the amount of calories they have to eat, but our cats do not need most of the nutrients present in spices like paprika. Because they have evolved to eat the flesh of prey animals almost exclusively, cats have developed a need for a different balance of vitamins and minerals.
One of the most sought-after vitamins among us humans, for example, is Vitamin C, which we get from eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables. If we do not eat enough plant foods that are rich in Vitamin C, we can suffer from scurvy and other health problems. Cats, on the other hand, never have to eat oranges, cauliflower, or any other vitamin-rich plant food, because their own bodies manufacture all of the Vitamin C they need.
Things to Consider
There is one vitamin present in paprika that both cats and people must get from their diet: Vitamin A. However, the type of Vitamin A that exists in paprika is in the form of beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. Both of these carotenoids are substances that our bodies can easily convert into Vitamin A. Our cats, however, evolved differently—unable to efficiently convert carotenoids into Vitamin A, they have to get this vitamin pre-formed in the flesh of the animals that they eat.
If your cat is dealing with any sort of vitamin deficiency, plant foods almost certainly are not the answer. In terms of nutrition, paprika and most other spices are useless to your cat. To make matters worse, paprika contains capsaicin, which can cause gastrointestinal problems if consumed in substantial amounts. Because paprika is in the nightshade family, it can case more severe toxicity symptoms if eaten in large quantities. Fortunately, most cats are not particularly fond of paprika, so it is unlikely that they will eat enough to suffer any lasting damage.
In general, paprika, like most spices, is best kept out of your cat’s dinner dish. It offers little in the way of nutrition, it can cause problems if it is inhaled when they sniff their food, and it contains capsaicin, which can upset your cat’s stomach. If you wanted to use paprika to add a little bit of flavor to your cat’s food, opt for something more feline-friendly. If, however, your only concern was the trace amounts of paprika in a bit of chicken breast, don’t worry about it—this spice will not poison your pet in small quantities. As with any other food, take your cat to see a vet if they suffer any lasting adverse effects.