Cats are definitely carnivores, but that doesn’t mean they have to avoid veggies altogether. Vegetables can enhance a cat’s diet by providing specific nutrients they may not get from their everyday meals - or may need more of! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we reiterate that cats are carnivores. Feline diets must consist primarily of meat-based proteins and fats (they don’t process carbs well). However, adding certain vegetables to their routine can be a great way to deliver healthy treats to your kitties—if they’ll eat them.
Cat Nutrition by Life Stage
VCA Hospitals says it’s important to consider a cat’s life stage when determining diet. Senior cats and newborn kittens have very different needs. Cats with chronic or acute health problems may also require specific nutritional adjustments based on the way their bodies process foods.
After kittens are weaned off a mama cat’s milk (typically around eight weeks), their nutrition goals are strong immune systems and steady growth into young adulthood. This means lots of protein, some healthy fats and a little bit of calcium. At this early stage, it’s not a great idea to toss vegetables into your kitty’s diet. Kitten food formulas are designed to encourage growth at an optimal rate and messing with their systems this early could backfire.
Young adult and adult cats (usually between the ages of one and ten) are much more flexible when it comes to exploring new diets. They should be drinking lots of water and getting high amounts of protein. Some fat is still good, though it might be a good idea to add fiber into their diet. VCA Hospitals says this is smart for sedentary cats because it helps them feel full and avoid overeating. Keep in mind, your cat’s breed will determine how long they remain in kittenhood. Some, like Maine Coons, aren’t considered fully grown until almost three years of age.
Senior cats (ages 11 to 14) and geriatric cats (ages 15 and higher) need very specialized diets based on their general health. Since many cats develop bladder or kidney issues later in life, you may need to start feeding them foods to support these organs. The same goes for ailments like arthritis, cancer and heart disease. Older cats also tend to become less mobile while also losing body mass, so it’s imperative you check in with your vet about how to find a healthy balance.
In fact, always check in with your vet when determining what to feed your cat and how often they should eat. We’ve found vets resoundingly recommend timed meals instead of free feeding. In other words, portioning out your cat’s food at the same meal time(s) every day rather than leaving a heaping pile for them to graze as they please.
Preparing Vegetables for Cats
Never feed your cat veggies that have been sauteed in oils, seasoned with fancy herbs or covered in sauce. Vegetables should be served raw or steamed (or baked) so they’re soft and chewable. Make sure you’ve chopped them into safe chunks, too. The last thing we want is your cat choking on a carrot!
If you get the go-ahead to add vegetables into your cat’s diet, here’s a list of the vegetables cats can eat. Consider where your kitty could use a boost, then hit up the produce aisle!
Pro tip: Start with a tiny amount of any vegetable and monitor your cat for two days to see if they experience allergic reactions. Look for itchy skin, vomiting and diarrhea.
11 Safe Vegetables for Cats
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Steamed broccoli is totally safe for cats to eat. High in antioxidants, broccoli makes a nice addition to a protein-rich diet.
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While non-toxic to cats, carrots don’t actually provide a huge nutritional boost to felines. Unfortunately, feline bodies don’t convert beta carotene—the compound responsible for a carrot’s orange color—into Vitamin A, which is what makes carrots so healthy to humans. If your cat does want to nosh on carrots, make sure they are soft and bitesized.
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Cat Person, a human-grade cat food brand, uses dried celery in their beef and duck pate recipes to complement each formula’s 50 percent protein content. Due to its high-water content, a celery snack could be hydrating for cats, as long as it’s absolutely chopped up and not a choking hazard.
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Chickpeas (and pumpkin) are essential ingredients in Open Farm’s Wild-Caught Salmon Dry Cat Food recipe. Their chickpeas offer kitties “protein, iron, copper, zinc and magnesium,” not to mention a protein boost. Open Farm is a great choice for cat parents who worry about the impact their meat-loving felines have on the planet, as they source all veggies locally and their “partner farms are audited and certified in humane animal care.”
5. Green Beans
The ASPCA says green beans are excellent snacks for cats who are overweight. Green beans crunch (like treats) and contain lots of fiber, so your kitty will feel full on very few calories.
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Peas deliver both protein and carbs to cats, plus Vitamins B1 and K. Always remove peas from their peapods or shells, as that exterior can cause tummy issues in felines. Peas also contain potassium which is rich in electrolytes and can help replenish fluids if your cat has been sick.
Dr. Laurel, a holistic veterinarian at Sunvet Animal Wellness in Asheville, North Carolina, advises feeding small amounts of steamed pumpkin to your cat if she’s having trouble pooping (either too much or not enough). Pumpkin contains a bacteria known to regulate gut health.
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The Honest Kitchen uses dehydrated spinach (and sweet potatoes and pumpkin) in several of their human-grade cat food recipes. It’s a great source of Vitamins C and E. On the other hand, if your cat has ever had bladder stones, do not give them any spinach! Healthy Paws Pet Insurance says oxalates in this leafy green prevent cats from processing calcium, which often leads to stones.
9. Sweet Potato
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As mentioned above, sweet potatoes are excellent additions to protein-rich meals. If your cat needs a fiber boost, feed them a small amount of soft (baked or steamed) sweet potato. Too much could lead to upset stomachs, so go easy.
10. Winter Squash
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Cats with constipation or diarrhea may benefit from a winter squash snack. The fermentable fiber (fibers that can be broken down easily by the intestines) in winter squash can alleviate these symptoms or help regulate your kitty’s bowels.
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Chewy says zucchini is “a popular ingredient in many commercial cat food options” because of its magnesium, potassium and manganese content. Ancient Arts Holistic Veterinary Services says a magnesium deficiency in cats could lead to urinary tract and digestive problems. If your cat is diagnosed with low magnesium levels, try a zucchini snack.