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Can Cats Eat Feathers? Vet-Approved Facts & Potential Risks

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Can Cats Eat feather

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are inquisitive creatures and if they come across a feather, they are bound to try and eat it out of curiosity. Unfortunately, if your cat does decide to eat a bird’s feather or a feather that came loose from one of its toys, your cat may struggle with some of the risks associated with this action. Try to prevent your cat from eating feathers.

If you are wondering if feathers are safe for your cat or why your cat is deciding to eat feathers, then this article has all the answers you need!

Are Feathers Safe for Cats to Eat?

Feathers are generally not ideal for cats to consume because they cannot digest them properly and the feathers will need to pass out partly or undigested. When feathers are used in pet foods they have been through a process called hydrolysis to retrieve the amino acid protein building blocks they are made up of.

There is a high likelihood that at some point your cat will swallow a feather, whether it’s one they found outside that dropped from a bird, or a brightly colored one they detached from their toy. It is also common for cats to hunt birds and eat them, which causes them to ingest a small amount of the feathers.

Bird Feather
Image Credit: Pixabay

What About Cats That Hunt and Catch Birds?

If you have an outdoor cat, it is common for them to catch a bird at some point, and you may even notice that your cat will play with the feathers before finally killing their prey. Cats who hunt birds have a high chance of landing with a mouth full of feathers, creating a big mess. This happens quite often, and cats are naturally accustomed to dealing with prey with both feathers and fur. The vast majority of cats will remove or spit out many of the feathers but it is natural for some to be consumed if the cat eats the bird it just caught.

Another source of feathers is cat toys. Not all feathers attached to cat toys are real, and many have a brightly colored dye on them. There may be risks associated with cats who consume large amounts of these artificial feathers. They can cause gastrointestinal issues such as irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Another concerning factor when it comes to cats who consume artificial feathers is that these feathers are stiff and hard, whereas bird feathers are softer and less likely to injure the gastrointestinal tract.

If you suspect that your cat has swallowed a feather, you do not have to worry too much about any risks, unless they show signs of choking or abnormal bathroom behaviors.

cat hunting bird
Image Credit: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova, Shutterstock

What Problems Can Occur If Cats Eat Feathers?

Cats and feathers go way back, where wild and feral cats catch birds for their daily meal, but there are still risks to be aware of.

It is not ideal for your cat to swallow feathers, but if they do, there is a small risk of developing an internal obstruction or choking on the sharp quill or shaft of the feather. Cats can eat the smaller down feathers that fall from birds, and these types of feathers usually do not cause any problems.

Possible complications from feather eating could be:
  • Poor digestibility could cause your cat to become constipated and suffer from stomach aches.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea due to gastrointestinal irritation as the feathers pass through.
  • Artificial feathers may have a toxic dye covering them which could be harmful to your cat.
  • The shaft could get lodged in the cat’s throat or stomach acting as a foreign body that may need to be removed.

The larger tail and wing feathers that are not soft, but rather big and spiky put your cat at most risk. Try and avoid buying cat toys full of feathers that are artificial and brightly colored. If you have an outdoor cat that likes to hunt birds, ensure that you put measures in place to reduce your cat’s ability to hunt such as a bell collar, stop birds from entering your garden, or keep your cat indoors. Keep an eye out for any weak or young birds that will have a difficult time flying away from your cat.

Small down feathers can be more safely consumed by cats, but they will likely vomit them up before they can reach further down their digestive system.

Can Cats Digest Feathers?

Feathers are made of a protein called beta-keratin. This is the same type of keratin that forms the bird’s beak and claws and is not easily digested. It is not uncommon for cats to vomit the feathers back out, and it is a natural mechanism that wild and feral cats will do when they have ingested feathers from their kill.

Cats tend to vomit stuff up when it is not easy to digest or pass the stomach, so if your cat has recently eaten a feather, you should keep an eye out for any vomit which can reassure you that your cat has not eaten the feather which minimizes the chances of gastrointestinal problems.

Why Do Cats Eat Feathers?

Cats primarily eat feathers either while hunting and eating prey or out of curiosity. Birds have a natural reaction to feathers connected to their innate desire to hunt. Their ancestors (wild and feral cats) used to hunt and chase birds for food, so cats are naturally attracted to feathers.

This is where cats’ curiosity over feathers stems from, and even fully domesticated cat breeds have a fascination with feathers. This is also why so many cat toys have feathers on them.  The textures and fast light movements of these kinds of toys simulate hunting which is why they are so appealing for your cat.

Now that you know what you can safely feed your cat, it’s just as important to find a bowl that supports their health and well-being. With whisker-friendly bowls and a wide tray to catch any spills, our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl is our favorite option.

hungry white cat hepper nom nom bowl licking lip

Final Thoughts

Most cats will lick and play with the feather but less often eat the feather. So, if you do find that your cat eats feathers, it’s best to replace their feathered toys with new ones and clean up the garden and areas where birds frequent the property to ensure no loose bird feathers are lying around.

Featured Image Credit: A_Different_Perspective, Pixabay

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