Can I Give My Cat Potatoes?
When we think of bland, ‘safe’, universally health-friendly foods, one of the first foods that come to mind is the potato. Everyone loves potatoes, and just about everyone can eat potatoes without any physical, nutritional, or ideological complaints—vegans will eat potatoes, gluten-free folks will eat potatoes, and even your uncle with the incredibly fragile stomach will eat potatoes. They seem like one of the safest, most innocent vegetables that we can feed ourselves, our kids, and our dogs… but what about our cats?
Many pet owners have learned the hard way that their feline friends have a much more limited diet than their canine companions. We often find potatoes of all varieties in dog food and dog treats, but we don’t really see this ingredient in high quality cat food. So, can cats have potatoes?
The answer: yes, cats can eat potatoes, but only on occasion, and only if they are ripe, fully cooked, and skinned. While potatoes of all types are considered healthy, natural sources of energy for humans, they are little more than junk food for cats. Many cats do not even like potatoes. So, while you should feel free to feed your cat a little bit of boiled or baked potato if they are begging for it, don’t be surprised if Fluffy fails to get excited over a scoop of mashed up sweet potato. While your dog will go nuts for spuds, your cat would much rather have other types of treats.
If there are any benefits whatsoever to feeding your cat potatoes, they are very limited. The healthiest variety would probably be the sweet potato, which is far higher in vitamins and minerals, slightly lower in calories, and higher in fiber. Sweet potatoes are best known for being Mother Nature’s most powerful source of Vitamin A, which comes in the form of beta carotene. Vitamin A is a key nutrient required for maintaining eye health, preventing cataracts, and slowing macular degeneration—which are the leading causes of blindness.
While your cat may get a small Vitamin A boost when they eat orange vegetables, it isn’t likely to be enough to make a difference. Unlike humans, cats cannot convert beta carotene to Vitamin A efficiently. If your cat is suffering from a deficiency, talk to your veterinarian about giving them a supplement. There are a handful of other vitamins and minerals in sweet potatoes (and all potato varieties), but they are not present in large enough quantities to make much of a difference in your cat’s health.
Potatoes are considered a healthy part of a human diet largely due to their high level of healthy complex carbohydrates. The same thing that makes them a great part of our diets makes them a pretty lousy addition to our cats’ diets—cats, unlike people, are obligate carnivores, which means that their bodies have evolved to extract nutrition from meat sources exclusively. Since meat is mostly made of protein, cats have become very good at digesting protein.
This affinity for protein digestion, however, comes at a cost: their bodies have a hard time digesting carbohydrates. This is most evident in their saliva: most mammals have saliva that contains amylase, the carbohydrate-digesting enzyme, but cats do not. This means that foods like potatoes, which are loaded with starchy carbohydrates, can be very difficult for our cats to digest properly. Eating too many starchy carbohydrates in one sitting may result in upset stomach, bloating, vomiting, or diarrhea. This means that, even though you are giving your cat a ‘treat,’ the serving size always needs to be small!
Things to Keep in Mind
In the long term, eating a diet too high in potatoes can result in obesity and nutritional deficiencies. This is because potatoes are high in calories and low in the vitamins, minerals and amino acids your cat needs to thrive. Cats who are obese are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
Overall, cooked, peeled potatoes are considered safe for cats in small amounts, but they are far from the ideal cat treat. Potatoes are high in starchy carbohydrates, which are often difficult for cats to digest. They are also low in protein, lacking in the amino acids cats need, and almost completely empty of the most important vitamins and minerals in the feline diet. To top it all off, most cats do not even like potatoes! You may be better off opting for more cat-friendly treats.