Can I Give My Cat Sugar?
Sugar is one of the great joys of being alive. Though we know our bodies would probably be better off if we kept refined sugar out of our homes, most Americans have sugar on hand at all times. We use sugar in baked goods like cookies, cakes, and brownies, in popular breakfast foods like waffles and pancakes, and even in breads, pasta sauces, and in some savory-sweet dishes like chili and curry. Even if you don’t cook, you probably use sugar atop your cereal, sprinkled onto sliced strawberries, or stirred into your coffee or tea. Without serious work, there is no way to completely remove cane or beet sugar from your diet.
Sugar is not great for us. Still, the World Health Organization tells us that we can safely consume about six teaspoons of refined sugar each day, and most of us are more than happy to include it in our diets. Sugar, to us, is a treat, and we deserve our sweet treats! But does the same logic apply to our pets? We know that sugar probably is not going to do their health any favors, but will it cause them serious harm in small quantities? Can cats have sugar?
Technically, yes, cats can eat sugar, but pet parents should avoid it whenever possible. Fortunately for us and our pets, sugar is not poisonous to cats (so you don’t have to worry about your cat gobbling up a piece of sugary cereal or a dollop of fake maple syrup!), which means that you won’t have to worry about rushing Fluffy off to the vet to treat kidney or liver failure. Still, sugar is junk food that can harm health in the long term, and added sugars should be minimized in the feline diet. When you add in the fact that cats can’t even taste sweetness, there is really no reason to give this food to your pet.
It probably comes as no surprise that sugar offers no health benefits for your cat. Table sugar is nothing but sucrose—it contains none of the vitamins, minerals, or amino acids that cats need in order to thrive, so it is a source of empty calories. While it is true that cats use small amounts of sugars in various biological processes, all of the sugar they need is present in high-end, high-protein cat food, and there is absolutely no benefit to adding table sugar to your pet’s food.
Since sugar is completely lacking in nutrition, it provides calories without actually giving your cat any of what they need to maintain health. Most adult cats only need a couple hundred calories per day, which means that empty calories such as sugar can add up very quickly. Feeding cats table sugar on a regular basis usually contributes to obesity, which in turn leads to other health problems.
Though the archetype of the fat, happy housecat is pervasive, it could not be further from the truth. Feline obesity often compromises a cat’s ability to enjoy exercise, which means that your feline friend may suddenly fall out of love with running after the laser pointer and jumping on top of your refrigerator. This can greatly reduce quality of life.
Feline obesity also increases your cat’s risk of developing ailments like osteoarthritis, insulin resistance, type two diabetes, and some cancers. Sugar puts your cat at a particularly high risk of diabetes—giving your cat pure table sugar causes blood sugar spikes that contribute to insulin resistance. Obesity can also negatively affect cardiovascular health and may lead to heart attack or stroke. Today, over half of all domesticated cats in the United States are overweight or obese, which means that more of us should probably monitor our cat’s caloric intake! If your cat is already carrying around too much excess body fat, you should not give them any junk food, including sugar.
Things to Consider
Finally, sugar can damage your cat’s oral health. Feeding your cat sugar can increase their chances of cavities, gingivitis, and other oral infections. Once your cat has an infection in their mouth, bacteria can get into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. These infections can even spread to your pet’s liver, kidneys, and heart, where they can cause serious and even life-threatening damage. Because most of us are unable or unwilling to brush our cat’s teeth on a daily basis, it is crucial that we do our best to protect their dental health in other ways. Sugar, which is the best food for bacteria, is one of the worst foods for dental health.
In conclusion, while giving your cat sugar definitely will not poison them, it can cause many long-term health problems. Sugar is a nutritionally empty food that contributes to obesity, diabetes, and dental health problems, and it should be excluded from your cat’s diet if at all possible.