Left to their own devices, cats are notoriously picky eaters. So if you’ve found yourself in a stand-off with your feline friend during mealtimes, you’re not alone. Cat parents around the world are wandering the aisles of their local grocery stores, wondering: what human foods can cats eat? And just how much?

With holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, you might find one of your younger guests trying to finagle off some unwanted veggies into your cat’s bowl instead. Or you might be tempted to give your cat a bite or a taste of a meal you’re cookingoutside of their feeding schedule. Which might be no big deal if it’s something safe – or might end up with your cat in the hospital instead if it’s something toxic.

So here’s a comprehensive guide to what human foods cats can eat – and why it’s always a good idea to serve them in moderation. We also cover how you can prevent your cat from wandering off to go dumpster diving for their favorite human food treats. Let’s get to the bottom of our feline friends’ finicky food preferences.

So, what can cats eat?

Cats are obligate carnivores. Which means they primarily eat meat from animal sources, which include essential amino acids like taurine. It’s why you’ll find commercial cat food that’s primarily formulated to meet these nutritional needs. (Also making it a good choice for their main diet.)

A couple sitting at a table with their cat and a baked cake

So let’s start with some safe human food choices for your feline friend. (Including foods you can feed them off your plate.) Some of these include:

  • Cooked meats, including beef, chicken, pork, and turkey.
  • Fish, including canned or cooked fish.
  • Cooked eggs, including scrambled or boiled eggs.
  • Small grains, like millets and couscous. Corn, rice, polenta, and wholewheat grains are also fine.
  • Certain vegetables, like cucumbers, lettuce, and green beans.
  • Certain fruits, like apples, pears, bananas, watermelon, and pineapple.

⚠️ Avoid feeding your cat raw foods of any kind (especially meat, fish, and eggs.) These might contain harmful bacteria that may upset their stomach. Make sure to check out our comprehensive list of what cats can’t eat.

Why quality + quantity matters for your cat’s diet

Besides the type of food, it’s important to consider just how much you’re feeding your cat. It might be cute seeing an overweight cat shuffle around – but in the long run, excess weight can negatively affect your cat’s health. So in general, human foods should only be around 10% of their overall diet. 

An overweight cat sitting in a bowl on a table

As a result, vets recommend feeding your cat a mix of wet or canned food – as well as dry foods. Consider investing in vet-approved brands of cat food like Hills, Royal Canin, and Purina Pro Plan.

  • Just make sure not to overdo it with the dry foods, since they might dehydrate your cat over time. (Which can result in serious, but stealthy health conditions like UTIs.)
  • Meat-based wet foods like KatKin or Scrumbles are good options.
  • Canned foods also might be high in salt, sodium, and oils. So make sure you serve these to your cat in moderation.

So when it comes to considering what human foods can cats eat, it’s actually better to invest in, well, food that’s actually designed for cats.

But if manufactured cat food isn’t an option around you, you might end up consulting your fridge or local grocery stores for advice. So here are a couple of human foods that cats can eat – and how much.

What human foods can cats eat?

While you’re busy prepping your holiday meals, you might be wondering whether human foods are safe for cats. But it bears repeating that cats are obligate carnivores. Which means their digestive systems are primarily designed to break down, absorb, and digest meat.

But does that mean your cat can’t eat any human foods besides just meat? Not necessarily. Here are a couple of common foods you’ll find on your holiday cooking or party list – and how you should prepare them in case your cat is insisting on a nibble.

Can cats eat cheese?

In general, yes. Cats can eat cheese – but ideally, you should serve them small amounts.1 Why? Because most adult cats are lactose intolerant. (Meaning their bodies lack the enzyme necessary to break down lactose in dairy products.) 

So while your cat might love the taste of cheese, it doesn’t do much for them nutritionally. And watch out if you find them nibbling around a full block – it might lead to digestive problems in large amounts, including diarrhea. Cheese might be lower on the lactose side, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

A cat sniffing a tray of breakfast sandwiches on a bed

Can cats eat yogurt?

Yes, in small amounts. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But turns out, Greek-style yogurts are actually pretty low in lactose because of how they’re produced. So if your cat is sniffing around your dairy products, there’s no harm in giving them a lick of plain, unflavored, whole-milk yogurt.

Can cats eat peanut butter?

Yes, but make sure it’s a (very) small amount. Much like cheese, peanut butter isn’t inherently toxic to cats. But it’s far from an ideal treat either. Most nut butters tend to be high in fat, which can lead to digestive problems or excessive weight gain over time. But if your cat is crying up a storm demanding a taste, make sure it’s a tiny lick, max..

Besides, you should also ensure it’s a plain peanut butter without xylitol. Much like chocolate, xylitol (a sugar substitute) is highly toxic to cats and can even be fatal in large doses.2 It’s why we recommend keeping your pets away from your Halloween or Christmas candy.

A cat licking food from a tube

Can cats eat popcorn?

Yes and no. On one hand, plain, air-popped popcorn itself is pretty safe for your cat to eat in small amounts. But on the other hand, popcorn kernels are small enough for your cat to choke on if they’re not careful.3

Besides, other types of store-bought popcorn might include artificial flavoring or additives that might be harmful to your cat. So we’d recommend keeping popcorn as a small, occasional treat.

Can cats eat carrots?

Yes and no. Much like popcorn, carrots are non-toxic for cats. But also like popcorn, raw carrots in small slices might create a choking hazard.4 So if you’d like to add a few veggies to your cat’s meals, go for cooked carrots instead. (Which are softer and easier to swallow.)

Don’t forget: your cat is an obligate carnivore. So while carrots are safe for them to eat, they don’t really add much value by way of nutrition.

Can cats corn? 

Yes, and your cat is likely already eating it if you’ve been serving them commercially-made cat food. Corn is a staple filler for many such brands, including many vet-approved cat food labels.5

But watch out: you’re better off serving your cat corn in small amounts. Much like carrots, corn doesn’t have such a positive impact on your cat’s health. And if you’re serving it to them with butter, oil, fat, salt, or other seasonings, you might give them a bad case of tummy upset.

A cat sitting by hanging corn cobs

Vets also recommend keeping corn away from your cat’s plate if they’re overweight. (They tend to be pretty high in calories – way more than what your cat might need in a day.) Here’s how you can figure out your cat’s body condition score.

Can cats eat potatoes?

Yes, boiled or cooked plain potatoes are safe for cats to eat. But again, much like carrots or corn, they likely do more to improve your health over your cat’s. In general, it’s fine to give them a lick or bite of potatoes off your kid’s plate – but only in moderation.

On the other hand, raw potatoes contain solanine, a chemical that’s harmful to cats.6 So make sure to cook your potatoes to get rid of it. Also, avoid serving your cat potatoes that have been buttered, salted, or seasoned. Your cat’s digestive system isn’t built to handle them.

Can cats eat lettuce?

Yes, and it might even be beneficial for them. Lettuce is a hydrating vegetable that’s both low in calories and high in micronutrients. So it can be a great option for cats who aren’t drinking enough water.

A cat sniffing a bowl of vegetables

Can cats eat shrimp?

Yes, but only cooked and in moderation. Shrimp is a great source of protein for your cat. And by cooking it, you also help get rid of any harmful bacteria that might give your cat any digestive problems.7

In general, both wild and farmed shrimp are safe for cats to eat. But try and make it an occasional treat. Farmed shrimp might contain traces of antibiotics and wild shrimp traces of mercury. Both of which can be harmful to your cat in high amounts and with repeated exposure.

Besides, make sure to remove any parts of the shrimp that might dislodge into your cat’s throat instead. (Like the head, tail, and shell.)

Can cats eat sardines?

Yes, and they’re excellent for your cat’s health overall.8 Sardines contain healthy omega-3 oils which are great for your cat’s eyes and heart. In fact, if you’ve got a senior cat at home, they’ll benefit from a diet high in oily fish and healthy fats. (Because it can help them with mobility-reducing conditions like arthritis.) 

Can cats eat tuna?

Yes, but only in small amounts. If you’re feeding them canned tuna that’s prepared for humans instead, watch out. You might be feeding them more unsaturated fats than their systems can handle. Which, in the long run, might make your cat gain weight and harm their overall health.

A cat eating on a rock besides the sea

Can cats eat bread?

Yes, in general cats can eat small amounts of bread on occasion. But much like potatoes, it doesn’t offer them much nutritional value. So it’s best not to replace your cat’s regular diet with bread instead.

Now that we’ve covered what human foods cats can eat – how about the “food” your cat might find in your garden or lawn?

What plants can cats eat? 

Ever found your cat nibbling on your houseplants or on the grass in your backyard? Yes, it’s true – cats can and do eat grass on rare occasions. (Usually to help them digest their meat-based meals better.) Here’s a deep dive into why cats eat grass and what steps you can take to build a cat-friendly garden.

Can cats eat grass?

Yes, in most cases, grass is actually safe for cats to eat. Just make sure it’s not been sprayed with pesticides or any other harmful chemicals. You could invest in cat grass as well – aka, certain species of grass (like oats, barley, and millet) that are safe for cats to eat.

A cat standing in a grassy patch of forest, surrounded by plants

Can cats eat catnip?

Yes, catnip is actually safe for cats to eat – not just sniff! It’s a species of fern which is part of the mint family. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which can give your cat an energy boost – making them temporarily hyperactive, rolling around or rubbing against you. Or, on the other hand, sniffing or licking catnip might even make your cat relax a bit. (Plus, it’s perfectly safe and non-toxic.)

Catnip’s (rather entertaining) effects don’t usually last longer than 10-15 minutes. In fact, it’s one of the many easy indoor plants that are safe for cats and dogs alike. Just make sure your cat isn’t over-exposed to it, since it might overstimulate them.

What fruits can cats eat?

Despite being obligate carnivores, cats can safely eat a number of fruits. But in most cases, you’re better off serving these in a puree or without seeds. Here are a couple:

  • Apples, pears, pumpkins, and watermelons. Make sure to remove the seeds of these fruits as they contain cyanide, which can be toxic to your cat.
  • Bananas, cranberries, and pineapples. But make sure to serve these fruits in moderation. They tend to be high in sugar, which can upset your cat’s tummy.
  • Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. All these fruits are high in micronutrients that are healthy for your cat. Just go easy on the raspberries, as they contain trace amounts of xylitol. (Which won’t harm your cat – but always better to be on the safe side.)
A cat lying in bed with strawberries

What vegetables can cats eat?

Cats’ systems might be built primarily for meat. But some vegetables can help them get important micronutrients in their diet too. Here are some that are safe for them to eat:

  • Cucumbers, lettuce, and celery can help keep your cat hydrated and healthy. (Which can help prevent UTIs.)
  • Green beans can help your cat get some iron, protein, and fiber all in one. Ideally, fresh green beans are a healthier option. But if you’ve found a canned brand, try and go for one that’s low in sodium.

Cats’ sense of smell for food – and how it can lead to them getting lost

You might’ve heard of dogs’ impressive sense of smell – but cats might just beat them at their own game! In fact, cats have around 200 million scent receptors in their noses. Some breeds of dogs (like Bloodhounds) have around 600 million instead. But in general, most dog breeds have fewer nasal receptors than cats – and cats can distinguish different smells a lot better than dogs.9

(Why else does your cat sniff any food you offer them before taking a nibble?)

A cat sniffing the air for food

Because primarily, cats’ sense of smell is built for sniffing out food.10 They even prefer foods that smell great, even if they taste bland in comparison. And combined with cats’ hunting instincts, your cats’ food-driven sense of smell is actually one of the reasons they might run away.

So what if you could prevent your cat from escaping your home – or wandering off somewhere dangerous, infectious, or even smelly – just to find food? Luckily, we might have a solution for you.

Track your cat in real-time – and ensure they’re eating right

Left to themselves, cats are resourceful little creatures. Which means that if they’re bored of your homemade meals or cat food options, they’re likely to explore your neighborhood (or further) to hunt down their own food. (Yes, even your docile indoor cat has their wild instincts.)

This might also mean you’ll find your cat raiding the nearby dumpster for any leftovers. (Which could be toxic or even fatal for them, especially if they mistakenly eat something they shouldn’t.)

That’s why it makes sense to stay on top of your cat’s daily wanderings – and track their favorite spots.

Live tracking Cat GPS tracker

Cats tend to haunt familiar locations around your house or neighborhood, especially if they make good hunting grounds.

Or you might find them venturing into new territory around your neighborhood. (Which might actually get them in trouble if the local cats disapprove and pick a fight with yours.)

But with a dedicated cat GPS tracker like Tractive, you can: 

How the Tractive GPS has even saved cats’ lives

A family of sick kittens rescued by the San Diego Feral Cat Coalition and the Tractive GPS

Tractive’s Location History even recently saved the lives of a litter of kittens in Los Angeles.

The San Diego Feral Cat Coalition followed Mama cat’s movements with the help of a Tractive GPS tracker to pick up where she’d dropped each kitten.

From her device’s Location History and Heat Map, they could pick up each “safe spot” she’d left them in.

Which helped them quickly rescue the kittens, get them washed, debugged – and rehomed to a new, warm, loving forever home.

So why leave your cat’s safety and wellbeing to chance? Tractive cat parents around the world are using our life-saving technology to monitor their feline friends’ location – and stay on top of their health and wellbeing.

Cattery owner and trainer, Clair Chesterman

“Tractive is the #1 cat GPS tracker in the industry. And it’s the highest quality cat tracker you can find. I was able to set the safe zone as my house area and once my cat gets outside I get an alert right away.

In fact, it probably saved my cat’s life that time she chased a bird and got lost. She was scared and I was able to find her with the help of the GPS tracker. Tractive’s chip frequently calculates your cat’s location and is updated on the map every 2-3 seconds. Furthermore, the LED will help you guard your furry friend at night.”

– Clair Chesterman, Owner of CFA and CCA-registered cattery and fostering company, FluffyMeowPaws

Know everywhere your cat goes

See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

Discover Cat GPS Trackers

So, what human foods can cats eat? And how much?

In general, cats can eat a variety of human foods – provided you’ve prepped them with care. Most of these, you’re best off serving in moderation. Here’s a quick summary wrapping up:

  • Cooked protein sources, like meat, fish, seafood, and eggs are safe for cats to eat. Just watch out for options like shrimp which contain loose pieces.
  • Some dairy sources, like cheese and yogurt are also fine for your cat in very small amounts. Higher amounts of dairy products might upset their tummies instead.
  • Certain fruits, like apples, pears, bananas, and watermelons are safe for cats to eat. (Just watch out for any seeds.)
  • Certain vegetables, like cucumbers and green beans are safe in small slices. Others, like potatoes and carrots, are best served cooked.
  • Other human foods like peanut butter and popcorn are better in very small amounts.

Remember: human foods in general should be only around 10% of your cat’s overall diet. Vets recommend a mix of wet, canned, and dry foods for your cat instead.

Finally, track your cat’s movements to stay on top of where they’re wandering. This can actually help you prevent them from wandering somewhere potentially dangerous to hunt for food. (Like your local dumpster or the local alley cat hangout – where they may end up in a turf war and get injured.) With a dedicated cat GPS tracker like Tractive, you’ll never have to worry about your cat making an escape attempt for a midnight feast again.

Want a vet’s take on human foods that might even be good for cats? Here’s Dr. Gary Richter weighing in:

And if you’ve liked this post, share it with a fellow cat parent and make their day!