Can I Give My Cat Pork?
There are many great things about living in the twenty-first century, but food safety is definitely one of them. If you have a fridge full of food you purchased at your local supermarket, you can be sure that your next meal has been deemed relatively safe for human consumption. Whereas our ancestors constantly had to second-guess the voluptuous blue berries they found in the middle of the forest, we can lounge on the couch and stuff our mouths with a wide variety of safe foods as we research nutrition on our smartphones. If the grocery store could legally sell it to us, it probably isn’t going to cause imminent death.
Feeding our pets is trickier. While the FDA does examine pet food in an effort to keep our furry friends alive and well, it can be difficult to figure out what types of ‘human food’ make appropriate pet treats. This is a bigger problem now more than ever—with the rise of ‘natural’ and ‘Paleo’ diets, a vocal minority of pet parents have eschewed store-bought pet food in favor of raw meat purchased from their local butcher.
Pork is one of the most controversial meats, with some pet parents claiming that it will help cats achieve optimal health while others suggest that it will surely shorten the feline lifespan. So, what are the facts on pork? Can cats have pork?
The short answer is yes, cats can eat fully cooked pork in moderation. Pork is not in any way toxic to cats, so, even if they consume a large quantity in one go, they will probably not suffer from any immediately life-threatening side effects. Because cats are obligate carnivores, pork is a suitable treat. It should not, however, become a staple in any feline diet; it is nutritionally inadequate, high in fat and sodium, and extremely caloric. If you want to put together a ‘natural’ or ‘whole food’ diet for your cat, do not do so without the careful guidance of a veterinarian. Letting your cat live on pork (or beef or chicken or turkey) will almost certainly result in nutritional imbalances and other health problems.
Proponents of pork are quick to point out that cats are obligate carnivores. This is true—unlike humans and dogs, cats have evolved in such a way that their bodies are designed to thrive on a diet almost totally made up of meat. Their bodies have learned how to meet all of their dietary needs by pulling nutrients out of meat. Because of this, pork and other meats are suitable supplements.
Pork’s big selling point is its high protein content. Whereas humans can do rather well on diets high in (complex) carbohydrates, cats require large amounts of protein in order to stay lean, fit, and healthy. Like all animal products, pork contains all of the essential amino acids your furry friend needs to keep their body running properly. Cats who do not consume enough protein often suffer from unpleasant, chronic symptoms like fatigue, depression, weight gain, excessive hunger, skin problems, poor wound healing, thinning or rough fur coat, and digestive problems.
That said, cats who eat healthy diets of high-quality pet food usually do not develop protein deficiencies. Nutritional imbalances tend to happen when well-meaning pet parents either treat their cat to too many high-carbohydrate, high-fat table scraps, or when they make homemade cat food in an attempt to take their cat’s nutrition into their own hands. If your cat has skin problems, extreme fatigue, or any other symptoms, don’t just give them pork—have a veterinarian examine them. The veterinarian will be able to rule out any underlying conditions and diagnose a protein deficiency.
Things to Consider
Pork is safe in moderation, but it is not a feline health food. It is high in both fat and salt, which can contribute to health problems. Pork is also rather high in calories, which add up quickly for our tiny cats. If your furry friend is already overweight or obese, look for lower-calorie, lower-fat treat options.
Most importantly: make sure all pork you feed to your cat is fully cooked and minimally seasoned. While it is true that wild cats eat raw meat all the time, the meats that we purchase at the store are often contaminated with dangerous pathogens like E. Coli, salmonella, or Listeria. Cooking the meat will kill these pathogens and prevent your cat from getting sick.
Overall, cooked pork is fairly safe to feed to cats in small quantities, but it should not make up a large part of their daily caloric intake. If you decide to include pork in your pet’s diet, do your best to avoid salted, processed lunch meats like ham. It is also a good idea to keep bacon out of your cat’s bowl—this food is way too high in fat to be good for anyone, human or feline.