If your cat steals food at every opportunity, butter might be their kryptonite. Many cats love to get into butter because of its high cream and fat content, which can be irresistible for felines. And some owners swear by giving cats a buttery remedy for hairballs. But if your cat is a fiend for butter, you might wonder if it’s really safe for them.
Before you start stressing, don’t worry—butter’s not poisonous to cats. If your cat loves butter, a little bit every now and then won’t hurt them! Although butter has some lactose in it, it usually doesn’t have enough to cause problems for cats. The high fat in butter can be a cause for concern, but for most cats, it won’t be a problem in small amounts.
Butter and Lactose Tolerance
One reason to be careful about giving butter to your cat is the lactose found in dairy products. Like most mammals, adult cats can’t stomach lactose. However, butter is fairly low in lactose. A small pat of butter only contains about half a gram of lactose, making it fairly safe in small doses. And even if your cat goes hog wild on the butter, lactose reactions shouldn’t be life-threatening, just annoying. You can expect your cat to have an upset stomach and a stinky litter box, but not anything worse.
Fat Content of Butter
Another possible hang-up for cats is the amount of fat found in butter. Like humans, cats need a balanced diet of fat and proteins to be healthy and happy. But unlike humans, cats don’t need a significant amount of carbs. Cat food should be at least 10% fat and 25% protein by weight.
Fat and protein both contain essential nutrients and calories, but fat is much more calorie-dense—this means that a pound of fat has more calories than a teaspoon of protein. All these calories can be bad news if your cat is overweight or not active.
Butter is high in fat and low in protein, so it can throw your cat’s diet out of balance. An all-butter meal would leave cats missing out on essential nutrients and vitamins that only come from meat proteins. But if your cat is healthy and active, the amount of fat in a dollop of butter is going to be perfectly healthy.
Can Butter Treat Hairballs?
Butter is also a popular home remedy for hairballs. The theory behind this one is that a little bit of butter coating the throat will help hairballs slide out easily and stop cats from choking. So far, there’s no research one way or another on whether this actually works, but it isn’t necessary. As upsetting as hairball-spitting sounds, it’s a natural part of life for cats.
Cats are designed to self-groom, with barbed tongues that smooth out fur and brush free any loose hairs. It’s only natural that a few of those loose hairs get swallowed every now and then, and if that happens, cats need a way to deal with it. Rather than having hairs get stuck building up in their stomach, cats form hairballs to get rid of the hair safely and cleanly. The coughs sound scary, but before long, the hairball will come out cleanly.
If your cat gets lots of hairballs, instead of feeding them butter, try stopping it at the source. Regular brushing will clean up loose hairs before they get into your cat’s stomach—and everywhere else! It might not eliminate hairballs completely, but a quick brush a few times a week will certainly help.
Healthy Snacks for Cats
Aside from butter, what other healthy snacks are there for cats?
If you want to give your cat a tidbit of food here and there, you want to look for snacks that are high in healthy fats and proteins and don’t have any harmful ingredients. Most meats are a great choice for cats, whether raw or cooked. Be aware of fatty cuts of meat, as too much fat can be bad for cats. Also, be aware of higher sodium cuts of meat. Cats don’t do well with large amounts of sodium in their diet, so high-sodium meats like bacon are best as an occasional nibble and not a full meal.
Chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and lamb are all good choices for cats. Many cats especially love the cuts that humans don’t, like heart and liver meat. Dairy products that are low in lactose, like butter and hard cheeses, are also a fairly safe snack. And of course, you can always buy commercially prepared cat treats. No matter what kind of snack you share, portion size matters—excess food can cause health problems no matter how healthy it is.
Cats love treats, and butter can be a great choice as an occasional snack. It’s a fairly healthy treat in small amounts. Although its high fat content can be unhealthy for overweight cats, most cats won’t be bothered by it. And its low lactose levels make it safer than most dairy products for kitty tummies.
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