You may think nothing of giving your cat a little milk or tuna from time to time, but is that really okay for their health? Here's what you should know about feeding "people food" to your kitty.

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Traipse through the cat food aisle at your leading pet or grocery store, and you'll find that many of the foods we humans eat are ingredients in cat food—proteins like chicken, turkey, salmon, and tuna as well as carbohydrates such as rice, oats, peas, and potatoes. Does this mean cats can just eat human foods?

Cat Eating from Table
Credit: Sharon Dominick

Cats can and do eat many of the same foods people eat, but it's important to keep these ingredients balanced and working together to provide the right nutrient profile for your kitty's health.

"In addition, these foods [prepared cat foods] are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals based on research by veterinary nutritionists," says Dr. Matthew McCarthy, founder of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital.

Human Foods Alone Don't Make a Well-Balanced Diet

You can't just pick one or two foods, like tuna or peas, and strictly feed that to your cat as his whole food supply long term. It would create an unbalanced and nutritionally deficient diet, and your kitty would likely run into health trouble.

"For example, all adult cats are lactose intolerant, and while they may certainly love a nice bowl of milk, it will cause gastrointestinal upset," says Dr. McCarthy. Actually, giving cats milk was an old-timer's trick to alleviate constipation—something we can now treat more effectively through diet and medication.

Also, too much calcium from milk or fish can lead to urinary issues.

What Human Foods are Okay for Cats?

Cats can eat a small amount of lean meat that has been prepared with no additional fat or seasonings. This includes:

  • Boiled, skinless chicken without seasonings
  • Fish without seasonings
  • Beef without seasonings
  • Pork without seasonings

"Remember, these types of food are best offered as treats and not as a replacement to formulated cat foods," says Dr. Angelica Dimock, managing shelter veterinarian at Animal Humane Society.

How Much Human Food is Okay for Cats?

If you do want to feed some human food to your cat, Dimock says to do it sparingly. For meat, make sure the portion is less than an inch of meat and limit feeding human food to your cat to a few times a week, or at most once a day.

"That said, certainly if you let your kitty lick up a tiny bit of milk at the bottom of your bowl of cereal or have a small piece of your tuna sandwich, they should be fine as long as it's not a daily occurrence," says McCarthy.

What if Your Kitty is Finnicky?

Finally, there may be times when you do have to go all-in on human food—when presented with a kitty that turns her nose up at every cat food in the pet food aisle, for example. McCarthy says he usually resorts to warmed-up human baby foods or small chunks of chicken or tuna when faced with this issue.

In these instances, the importance of getting your cat to eat something—anything—outweighs the inherent nutritional deficiencies. However, if you find yourself up against a cat who won't eat any brand of prepared cat food, it's always best to check with your veterinary care team to rule out any medical problems. They will provide the best dietary advice on what human foods to choose to help keep a finnicky cat healthy and happy.