Can I Give My Cat Potato Chips?
In the western world, potato chips are the quintessential junk food. They are the perfect (and deadly) ratio of salty to carb-heavy to fatty, which means that they can satisfy nearly every one of our sinful food cravings. They have a delightfully crunchy texture that is accompanied by the perfect, crisp crunching sound. They come in individual slices that are easy to grab and stuff into our mouths without a second thought, and they are sold ready to go in bags of all sizes. Potato chips require zero preparation—simply grab a family size bag of barbeque chips, flop down on the couch, and stare vacantly at the television screen while you use the aluminum-coated plastic bag like a feed bag. When we are alone with a package of chips, we all become hungry, bleary-eyed pack mules.
Potato chips are some of the most widespread snack foods in the US. Even those of us who are careful to eat balanced diets often have a bag of chips sitting around for special occasions or our weekly cheat meal. When it comes time to settle in with snacks, our cat, and a blanket to watch a movie, however, we’re faced with a problem: are cats and chips a good combination? Does sharing a bag of potato chips with Fluffy make us the best pet parent ever, or does it make us negligent? Can cats have potato chips?
Technically, yes, but there are a lot of qualifiers involved in that ‘yes.’ Many of the potato chips on store shelves are nontoxic to cats, which means that there is nothing to worry about if your precious Persian starts licking crumbs up off the coffee table—potato chips are one of those foods that, in small quantities, should not cause any immediate consequences for most cats. That doesn’t meant that feeding your cat potato chips is a good idea! This salty, fatty, carb-rich junk food can make your cat very unhealthy if they are allowed to eat it on a regular basis. If you want to keep your cat in good shape, it’s better to keep their potato chip consumption to an absolute minimum. The occasional potato chip is not going to cause serious damage to any part of your pet’s body, but eating a bunch of potato chips will damage their overall health.
It probably comes as no surprise that veterinarians do not recommend including potato chips in your cat’s daily meals. There is a reason why no dietician has ever suggested that their patients eat large quantities of potato chips—they are devoid of all of the nutrients that most animals need to thrive! Potato chips are empty calories in the human diet, and they may be even emptier for our cats.
How can potato chips be even less nutritious for our cats than they are for us? Even though we certainly did not evolve to eat fried potato slices all day long, we did evolve to be omnivores—we are creatures who can thrive on a wide range of foods, even on a diet of exclusively nonmeat foods. As animals who have evolved relying on starchy foods like root vegetables, potatoes, and nuts and seeds, we are well-adapted to processing carbohydrates. We use carbohydrates as an efficient source of energy. So, even if potato chips are totally lacking in all the micronutrients we need, they can be used as a quick source of energy in a pinch.
Cats have the ability to turn carbohydrates into energy, too, but their nutritional needs are very different from ours. While our ancestors were gathering fruits, vegetables, and other starchy foods, our cats’ ancestors were eating the bodies of the whole prey animals they managed to kill. As a result, cats are obligate carnivores—they are obligated to consume meat! Along with their taste for flesh comes a body fine-tuned for digesting meat.
What does this mean for their nutritional needs? They can only absorb certain vitamins in their pre-formed states! Even nutritionally rich, unprocessed plant foods (like whole baked potatoes) would not provide many of the nutrients cats need, like Vitamin A and taurine. Felines also have much higher protein needs than we do, and they can thrive on a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates. One source estimates that wild cats get less than 5% of their energy from carbohydrates.
All of this is to say that there are zero benefits to giving your cat potato chips. Unless you are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse and you have nothing else to feed your cat, potato chips are never going to be a good idea.
Potato chips do not have any health benefits, but they have a lot of potential health risks. Cats have far lower energy needs than humans (they are a fraction of our size, after all!), and potato chips are extremely high in calories. If you make a habit of sneaking a couple of Lays to your cat, they might start to pack on the pounds. If your pet ends up overweight or obese, they are more likely to suffer from a wide range of health problems, including arthritis, insulin resistance and diabetes, liver disease, and depression. Fat cats often have shorter lifespans than their svelte companions, too.
Things to Consider
Potato chips also contain a large amount of salt and unhealthy fat. Most people can devour a family-sized bag of potato chips without suffering serious consequences, but cats have a lower tolerance for salt, which means they are prone to salt poisoning. Symptoms of salt poisoning include fatigue, excessive thirst, vomiting, loss of appetite, tremors, stumbling, and frequent urination. Salt poisoning can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.
In the end, feeding your cat one or two potato chips probably will not hurt them, but it definitely should not become a habit. This salty, fatty snack offers nothing in the way of nutrition and will only increase their risk of obesity and other health problems.