Can Cats Eat Cheese?

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Can cats eat cheese?

Most cats can eat a small amount of cheddar cheese as cheese starter cultures, which are primarily made up of lactic acid bacteria (Lactococcus lactis) break down most of the lactose.

A 1 ounce (28.35 gram) slice of cheddar cheese contains <0.1 grams of lactose compared to milk which contains 12-13 grams.

Cats and lactose

Most pet owners are aware that cats are lactose intolerant and should not drink milk once they have weaned. Lactose is a large sugar molecule that is made up of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and galactose. During infancy, when kittens are nursing from their mother, the small intestine produces an enzyme known as lactase which splits lactose into its two sugar components, glucose and galactose and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Once the kitten weans, the body shuts down the production of lactase, as there is no need to break down lactose in a carnivorous diet. If the cat does consume milk, the absence of lactase means the body is unable to break down lactose into glucose and galactose. Instead, bacteria ferment the undigested lactose in the colon causing gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. This is referred to as lactose deficiency, which is not strictly accurate. Yes, the body no longer produces lactase to break down lactose, but that is because mammals (including cats and humans) have no need for milk beyond infancy. Some people are lactose tolerant due to a genetic mutation where a cytosine (C) nucleotide in a person’s DNA is replaced with thymine (T) nucleotide allows them to digest milk.

Which cheeses are best?

Cheddar cheese is the most suitable type of cheese due to its low lactose content. Do not feed soft cheeses such as brie or camembert, veined cheese.

Below is a table which lists the lactose levels of different cheeses. [1]

TypeServing sizeApprox lactose content (grams)
Cheddar, Swiss1 ounce<0.1
Mozzarella1 ounce<0.1
Blue vein1 ounce<0.2
Cottage cheese1/2 cup3
Cream cheese1 ounce1

Uses

Cheese can be given as a treat, reward or as a way to hide medication. Some cats can be encouraged to eat by grating a small amount of cheese onto the food.

Safety

Always start with a small amount and watch how the cat responds. If he or she shows symptoms of bloating, flatulence or diarrhea, discontinue.

All treats should make up no more than 10% of a cat’s diet to avoid introducing excess calories and nutrition defects.

We recommend speaking to a veterinarian who is familiar with your cat’s medical history before introducing any new types of food to a cat’s diet as in some cases, certain foods can have an impact on a cat’s underlying health conditions or interact with medications.

Exceptions

  • Unweaned kittens
  • Cats on a food trial diet
  • Cats on a hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
  • Cats on a prescription diet to treat or manage a medical condition
  • Cats with known allergies to milk (note: allergies differ from intolerances, allergies are an inappropriate immune response to a harmless substance)

Can cats eat other dairy products?

Unsweetened yoghurt is also safe for cats to eat, while it contains higher levels of lactose compared to cheese, it is generally well-tolerated.

Other human foods cats can eat

Cats can enjoy a number of other human foods as an occasional treat or reward, but once again, this should not make up more than 10% of a cat’s diet.

  • Cooked chicken and turkey (no skin or bones)
  • Fruit including blueberries, banana, apple (seeds removed), pear, strawberries, melon, raspberries, avocado and mango
  • Cooked vegetables (carrot, broccoli, sweet potato, pumpkin, beans, peas, corn)
  • Cooked eggs (boiled or poached)
  • Cooked rice
  • Tinned tuna
  • Cooked chicken liver

Resources

University of Virginia




Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia