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You’re chowing down on your ham sandwich, and your cat’s looking at you with those eyes — or maybe clawing at you with those paws. Either way, you’re taking the hint. But should you give your bestie a piece of your lunch meat? The short answer is: It depends. Ham’s not the healthiest choice for cats, but small portions won’t harm them. Find out how you can safely incorporate ham into your cat’s diet.
Can cats eat ham?
Yes — in moderation. “Cats are obligate carnivores and most actually prefer meat-based treats for this reason,” says Dr. Autumn McBride Vetter, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Ham is packed with the protein that cats crave in their diets. But ham is also high in sodium, so it shouldn’t serve as anything more than the occasional treat.
Small amounts of plain, unseasoned ham are the way to go if you want to share with your kitty. In fact, because it’s soft and moldable, ham happens to be a great tool to use to get your cat to take a pill.
“If offering it to kitties, I would recommend fully cooked, sliced ham which is not on the bone, ideally torn into small (smaller than one inch) strips for easier consumption and less of a choking risk,” Dr. Vetter says. “Try to avoid the fattier pieces altogether.”
Is ham good for cats?
Ham isn’t the healthiest snack for your cat. “Ham is a fattier meat that is also high in sodium, which can each cause their own set of health problems,” Dr. Vetter says. “Having too high fat content can affect cats’ digestive tract, especially their pancreas, and cause a great deal of stomach upset.” That means a higher risk of pancreatitis, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Cats tend to under-consume water, and salt-rich foods can make them even more dehydrated. Cats with kidney, heart, or urinary issues should especially avoid ham, as Dr. Vetter adds that “high salt content can adversely affect their kidneys and heart.”
Plus, ham is often cooked in seasoning, which can often be harmful to cats. Never let your cat eat ham that has been cooked with onion or garlic; these are toxic to cats and can cause everything from vomiting to depression.
So…should I feed my cat ham or not?
In a perfect world, a cat would avoid ham altogether; it’s not a very healthy option, and its amount of sodium carries a small risk to cats. But if your cat has consumed some ham behind your back, is begging extra hard for a treat, or needs some extra motivation to take their pill, then it’s probably okay; a small amount of ham won’t harm them. Just be sure that it’s plain, unseasoned ham, and don’t make a huge habit out of it. Everyone deserves a junk-food treat every once in a while, right?
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Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.