Cats need protein and fat from animal products to survive. Bread contains neither of these food groups, so it shouldn’t be a regular part of a cat’s diet.
Plain bread is not toxic to cats, but it has no nutritional value. Many cats enjoy the taste, but it’s empty calories. A piece of bread the size of your fingernail is fine as an occasional treat.
Bread is best used for hiding medication and worming pills. A cat that enjoys the taste of bread will take medication without complaint. Be aware of the health risks that come from overfeeding your cat bread, though.
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Do Cats Like Bread?
Most cats love the taste of bread. As we know, bread is made using yeast. Yeast is a component used in many brands of cat food. This means your cat associates the smell and taste of bread with its own meals.
Bread can be helpful if your cat is growing older. Senior cats often require a range of daily medications and supplements. Hiding pills in a small piece of bread makes them more palatable to a suspicious cat.
Is Bread Harmful for cats?
Cats can eat small servings of plain bread without risk. Unless the bread contains additional ingredients, such as garlic or onions, it is not toxic. Cats should never eat bread in large quantities.
If you want to give your cat bread, cut off a small piece. This should not be larger than your fingernail. Do not exceed this serving in a single day. Bread has no nutritional value for cats.
Bread must be fully baked before feeding it to a cat. Rising dough will continue to expand in a cat’s stomach. This can lead to a swollen abdomen and blocked intestine. There are other rules:
- Never offer bread topped with butter as cats are lactose intolerant
- Lightly-toasted bread is fine, but burnt toast contains a carcinogen called acrylamide
- No bread is ‘good’ for cats, but wholemeal is better than white
- Don’t offer bread to an obese or diabetic cat
- Brush your cat’s teeth or provide a dental chew after bread
If you follow these guidelines, your cat can enjoy bread on occasion. However, the more bread a cat eats, the more it will expect.
Health Risks of Bread for Cats
As bread is not toxic, it is not outright ‘bad’ for cats. It is not as dangerous as other human foods, such as chocolate, caffeine or raisins.
Bread has no nutritional value and is basically just empty calories. The biggest risks of a cat eating bread are:
- Weight gain and obesity
- Deficiency of essential nutrition
- Slow digestion
- Dental issues
- Allergic reactions (i.e. gluten intolerance)
- Gas and bloating
This means that bread could easily be described as being bad, or dangerous, for cats. A cat gains nothing from eating it except an enjoyable taste.
The most obvious danger of feeding bread to cats is obesity.
One slice of white bread will contain around 30 calories. A typical, 10 lb. cat only needs 240 calories per day. This makes bread a waste of a cat’s food allowance. Cats will rarely stop at one slice either, given a choice.
Obesity opens cats up to the risk of diabetes. This danger is enhanced if your cat eats bread regularly. The grains used in bread are refined. This means that the wheat, rye or corn has been cooked and ground.
During this process, what few nutrients were initially found in the grains are destroyed. This places bread higher in the glycemic index. Eating bread will spike your cat’s blood sugar. If this happens enough, diabetes becomes likelier, especially in senior cats that lack exercise.
Nutrition Research considers corn-based bread to be the best of a bad bunch. The journal certainly deems corn a superior carbohydrate source for overweight cats than rice.
Your cat does not need additional carbohydrates, though. The minimum standard will be met in any reputable cat food. If you are watching your cat’s weight, bread is best avoided altogether.
2/ Nutrient Deficiency
An ideal cat’s diet will replicate what a feline would eat in the wild. As cats are obligate carnivores, they need to eat quality meats high in fat and protein. This helps a cat gain vitamins and minerals that are not produced naturally within its body.
Taurine is the most important part of a cat’s diet. This amino acid is found in protein. Cats rely on taurine to keep their muscles and internal organs working. Cats also rely on fats, and fatty acids, to obtain the vitamins that keep them healthy.
Bread contains none of these critical ingredients or vitamins. A cat deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, especially taurine, will display the following symptoms:
- Poor quality, unglossy coat
- Loss of vision
- Muscular weakness and deficiency
- Tooth decay
- Heart weakness
Nutrient deficiency is especially dangerous in senior cats. Always ensure that your cat is eating the correct diet for its age and physical health.
3/ Slow Digestion
As the Journal of Animal Science explains, cats digest bread slowly. This means the cat will feel full for longer. This is due to the high carbohydrate and fiber content of bread.
This could have a range of knock-on effects for the cats. The most dangerous is that the cat fills up on bread and spoils its appetite. This means the cat will not want to eat appropriate cat food. If this continues for several days, you risk a nutrient deficiency.
This slow digestion will also leave your cat feeling full and sluggish. A lethargic cat will not exercise. As bread is high in calories, that is dangerous. Senior cats need to move to keep their joints supple.
Naturally, if your cat does move after eating bread you have a different problem. Slow digestion opens up the risk of vomiting after exercise. Your cat may purge other food at the same time, losing even more nutrients.
4/ Dental Problems
Bread can be linked to serious dental issues in cats. When a cat chews bread, saliva in the mouth reacts with the starch in the bread. This creates a sticky, gloopy paste that clings to the cat’s teeth. White bread is problematic.
Cats rarely clean their own teeth. This means the food will stay within the teeth. Over time, the sugars found in this food will attract bacteria. These bacteria will attack your cat’s teeth and gums, causing periodontal disease.
Senior cats will struggle with this most of all. As cats grow older, teeth grow weaker and less powerful. If the cat suffers from significant dental damage, it may lose teeth. Periodontal disease often reaches a point of no return.
If you feed your cat white bread, brush its teeth afterward. This will not be easy, but it is advisable to persevere. If your cat outright refuses, The Journal of Veterinary Dentistry recommends dental chews. Just ensure you note the calorie content of such treats.
5/ Gluten Intolerance
Celiac disease is a rare diagnosis in cats, but it is possible. Sensitivities or intolerances to gluten, or carbohydrates in general, are more common. Any of these issues is enough to make a cat uncomfortable.
If your cat displays these symptoms after eating bread, do not feed it again:
- Severe diarrhea
- Trouble breathing
- Sudden loss of weight
- Itchy skin, or breakouts of hives
These are all classic symptoms of an allergy in cats. There is no way of knowing for sure if the bread is to blame. Even professional tests are often inconclusive. If symptoms cease when the bread is no longer consumed, you have an answer.
6/ Gas and Bloating
As bread is high in fiber, it can cause gas in a cat. Just because you don’t hear a cat pass wind, this doesn’t mean it is not flatulent.
Gas can be upsetting for a cat, but it’s preferable to stomach bloat. This condition will leave your cat’s stomach swollen. It will be uncomfortable and can lead to difficulty in digesting food. Bloating can occur when your cat eats bread, as it takes so long to process.
If your cat passes wind, the bloat will be relieved. If the cat is constipated, it will only get worse. You may need to encourage your cat to release gas by rubbing its stomach.
If you bake bread in your home, your cat will be drawn to it. The smell and taste of bread are irresistible to many felines. While bread is cat-safe in small quantities, it can quickly become a problem food.