Can Cats Eat Cheese?

Last Updated on September 2, 2021 by Julia Wilson

Can cats eat cheese?

Most cats can eat a small amount of cheddar of Swiss cheese as an occasional treat. All treats should make up no more than 10% of a cat’s diet to avoid introducing excess calories and nutrition defects. Feed no more than a cube the size of a grape to avoid adding excess calories to the cat’s diet.

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.

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.

Food intolerances and allergies

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 digestive system adapts to other foods and gradually 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 lactase deficiency, which is not strictly accurate. Yes, the body no longer produces lactase to break down lactose, but that is because mammals 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.

Food allergies differ from food intolerances and have different clinical signs. Cats with food allergies have an inappropriate immune response to a harmless substance. The most common food allergy triggers include beef, fish, chicken, and dairy products. Signs of a food allergy include itching, vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss.

What type of cheese can cats have?

Cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese are semi-hard cheeses that are made with cheese starter cultures, primarily made up of lactic acid bacteria (Lactococcus lactis) that break down most of the lactose and therefore these cheeses are lower in lactose and safe for cats to consume.

Cheeses to avoid

Camembert and Brie: These soft cheeses are made with raw milk and may contain Salmonella or Listeria that can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Blue cheese: Stilton, gorgonzola, Danish blue and Roquefort has spores of Penicillium roqueforti mixed into the cheese to give the characteristic blue veins. This mould can be toxic to cats.

Soft cheeses: Mozzarella, cottage cheese and cream cheese contain higher levels of lactose which will cause food intolerances in most cats.

Lactose content of different cheeses

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

Type Serving size Approx lactose content (grams)
Cheddar, Swiss 1 ounce <0.1
Mozzarella 1 ounce <0.1
Blue vein 1 ounce <0.2
Cottage cheese 1/2 cup 3
Cream cheese 1 ounce 1

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.

Exceptions

  • Unweaned kittens
  • Cats on a food elimination trial diet
  • Cats on a hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
  • Cats on a prescription diet to treat or manage a medical condition
  • Cats on a low-sodium diet to manage heart disease
  • 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