Bread is a staple. There’s always some in your fridge or in a kitchen cupboard, and you can find it anywhere you can buy food. But just because you can eat it, that doesn’t mean your cat can too. So, is bread good for cats or not?
Can cats eat bread? Bread makes a poor choice for a snack and a worse choice as part of your cat’s core diet. It doesn’t contain the right amounts of key nutrients like protein, fat and sugar. It also contains only a small variety of vitamins and minerals, unlike other snack choices. Meat-based snacks are better for cats than bread, so consider feeding these instead.
The guide below first looks at whether cats like bread, and why it makes a bad snack choice, with specific reference to details of its nutritional content. We’ll also make recommendations on safe amounts of bread to feed your cats as a snack if you’re going to do so regardless.
Can Cats Eat Bread?
You can feed your cat bread as a snack if you have absolutely no alternative. Say for example that your power’s out, you’ve run out of cat food, there’s no meat in the house, and your cat is constantly pestering you for something to eat—if all of that is true, then bread will have to do! What you shouldn’t do is feed bread if you have any other options available, and what you certainly shouldn’t do is feed your cat bread as a staple. It contains things your cat doesn’t need, and not enough of the things it does need.
Do Cats Like Bread?
Cats can like all sorts of kooky foods. Some like fruits like strawberries, others eat vegetables, and yes, some eat bread.
While cats can thrive eating the same food every day, they’re hardwired to want variety sometimes. That’s because if a cat (or any animal) eats the same food every day, there’s a good chance that it will eventually become deficient in something. There are no foods that offer a cat or a person the exact nutrients it needs, no more and no less, or at least not in nature. This could be the root cause of your cat begging for bread like a duck—or maybe your cat is weird and broken. Who knows?
The trouble is that just because a cat likes something, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for it to eat. In this context, bread is therefore like fast food: your cat might want to eat it, but it would be better for its health if it didn’t.
Why Can’t Cats Eat Bread?
Bread is nutritionally inadequate for cats. It doesn’t offer the right amounts of carbohydrates/sugar, fat or protein. It’s also nowhere near diverse enough in the vitamins and minerals it offers. It therefore shouldn’t form a part of your cat’s core diet, and would be a bad choice (although not the worst choice) for a snack.
Nutrients in Bread
If you want to make an informed decision on the snacks and foods you should feed your cat, you should look at their nutritional contents. Below is a table with data from the FDC with data on Wonder Bread, by far the best known brand of bread in the U.S. Listed alongside are the data on a regular cat’s nutritional requirements for the sake of comparison.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Cat RDA* per 100g|
|Fat||3.3g||9g dry matter|
|Protein||8.7g||26-30g dry matter|
*Recommended daily allowance. **Varies based on wet food vs. dry food.
100g is about 4 slices of bread. From the table above, it should be immediately obvious what bread has too much of and not enough of. It’s not the worst choice of snack you could feed to your cat, not by a long shot; but it’s nowhere near the best either.
All of the below applies to every kind of bread: white, brown, wholemeal and so on. The main difference between each kind of bread is its level of fiber, with white bread having little, and wholemeal bread having lots more. Cats don’t need extra fiber in their diets, so if anything, these breads are worse for cats than regular white.
Carbohydrates & Fiber in Bread
Bread is mostly carbohydrate at around 52g per 100g. That’s a lot.
Ideally, your cat shouldn’t get this much carbohydrate in its diet. That’s because cats are better at digesting protein and fat than digesting carbohydrate. The reason for this is that a cat’s food in the wild contains almost no carbohydrate, so they’ve adapted to digesting protein and fat instead. That doesn’t mean that cats can’t digest carbs at all, and they can. Cat food manufacturers use lots of carbs in their cat foods since it provides quick energy. But it doesn’t contribute to your cat’s muscle mass while protein does, so in simple terms, foods that are higher in protein than carbs are good while foods that have more carbs than protein are bad (for cats).
What’s particularly bad is the simple sugar content of bread. Sugars are carbohydrates, and broadly speaking, there are two kind of sugar: simple sugars and complex sugars. Complex sugars are made up of lots of simple sugars chained together, and are consequently more difficult to digest. While it’s a myth that simple sugars in and of themselves cause type 2 diabetes, an excess of them (in caloric terms) can cause overweight and diabetes. If your cat already has diabetes, then they can cause blood sugar spikes.
Again, brown and wholemeal breads have more fiber than white bread. But that’s not a good thing. Cats don’t mind having fiber in their diets: when they eat their prey whole, the bones, fur and feathers act as indigestible fiber. They keep your cat’s gut moving along nicely. But your cat doesn’t need the kind of fiber you can digest, like that found in bread.
Protein & Fat in Bread
The first nutrients you should look at when assessing a cat food or snack are protein and fat. These are by far the most important for your cat’s health, protein in particular.
There are a couple of reasons why protein is so important. The first is that cats are lithe athletic predators that need lots of muscle, and protein is what’s used to build muscle. Adequate protein is therefore essential for maintaining your cat’s muscle mass. Bread contains a respectable 8-9g of protein per 100g, which is a good amount for a person’s diet. But cats need somewhere closer to 30g per 100g of food, meaning that bread offers about a third as much as your cat would like. This would be a big problem if you fed your cat bread regularly.
The second reason is that proteins are made of amino acids. Amino acids are often called the ‘building blocks’ of protein, and that’s why. Cats need to get eleven amino acids from their diet, and they serve all sorts of purposes like keeping your cat’s coat healthy and its eyes working properly. Meat contains all of the amino acids cats need while plant based sources don’t; so not only does bread not have enough protein in total, but it doesn’t have all the amino acids your cat needs anyway.
You should also look at the fat content of any food you feed your cat. Cats don’t have a thick fat layer—or at least they shouldn’t—but they still need fat in their diets. The reason for this is that your cat’s gut is short, literally speaking, so it can’t digest carbohydrates as well as it can digest the proteins and fats found in meat. Fat therefore plays a crucial role in giving your cat energy. Again, bread doesn’t contain enough: just 3.3g per 100g while cats like around 9g per 100g.
Low protein and fat content aren’t a major problem if you’re feeding your cat bread as a one-off snack. They are a problem if you feed a snack regularly, or of course, make a food part of your cat’s core diet. And since there are snacks which do offer suitable fat and protein for your pet, you should feed these instead.
Water in Bread
It might surprise you to learn that bread is 35-40% water, but it is. If you’ve ever made bread, you’ll know that there’s lots of water you have to add (at least if you’re making normal white bread), but looking at the finished product such a high level might be surprising.
Either way, the water that bread contains isn’t a significant problem for your cat. Cats are used to digesting foods that have a high proportion of water in them. Meats are roughly 60% water, and if you’re talking about raw prey, then all the added bits—the fur, the feathers, the bones and the like—probably bring that overall percentage down to about 40%. Bread therefore has around the right level of water for your cat.
While it may not be good in other ways, this is one way in which bread is a better choice than many other snacks. That’s because cats prefer getting their water from food rather than by drinking it. That’s why cats very rarely drink water. This can be a major problem in cats that eat kibble, which often develop kidney failure later in life as a result of not getting enough water.
Calories in Bread
Bread has lots of calories because it’s high in carbs. Foods like apples, by contrast, have few calories because they’re almost entirely water (80-90%). At around 260 calories per 100g, plain white bread could make your cat gain weight if fed alongside a normal diet.
On the one hand, bread falls within the rough caloric range that cats require (between 100 and 400 calories per 100g of food). This means that bread isn’t more energy-dense than a cat’s normal diet of meat. On the other hand, if your cat continues to eat a normal amount of food and then you add a high calorie snack to its diet, then it can gradually gain weight. Your cat may not adjust its normal eating preferences to adjust to the snacks it’s getting. This isn’t a problem if you’re feeding a low calorie snack, because those snacks add little to the overall calories your cat is eating. But a snack like bread, which has a lot, would be.
Will Bread Swell Up in a Cat’s Stomach?
As a quick sidenote, this is a myth you see frequently about bread. The idea is that once ingested, the bread will expand as it absorbs water. This could make your cat bloated, or who knows, maybe even make it explode.
This is a myth. While bread does absorb water, it won’t balloon in size. Any water it does absorb will have been in your cat’s digestive system already, so nothing’s going to expand or grow in size overall. Besides, cats hardly drink water anyway; the majority of the water they get is in their food. So if the bread does absorb any water in your cat’s stomach or gut, it’s only absorbing that water from some other food.
As for bloating, it’s commonly thought that bread can mop up water and hold onto it in the body, somehow causing bloating. That’s absolutely bogus. Your cat’s colon absorbs water from far denser foods than bread, so it isn’t going to act as a magic sponge.
Vitamins & Minerals in Bread
Bread isn’t often praised for its micronutrient content, but it does contain some. The exact vitamins and minerals you find in your loaf might vary to the ones listed below. That’s because some breads are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals to make them better for you—plus there are lots of different brands of bread out there. The data below again relate to Wonder Bread:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
As you can see, bread doesn’t contain a great variety of vitamins and minerals—apart from sodium (salt) which it has an awful lot of. This means that it’s not as good a snack choice as a food that does contain lots of vitamins and minerals, as most meat-based snacks do.
That being said, the micronutritional content of bread is a moot point in this regard. That’s because your cat should get every vitamin and every mineral it needs from its core diet, which should be a ‘complete’ diet. A complete cat food is one that contains everything a cat needs to live: from macronutrients like fat, protein and water to micronutrients like calcium and B vitamins. There are lots of cat foods available on the market that are complete, and they aren’t even necessarily expensive, so you should definitely aim to feed a diet like this if you don’t already.
Even if you choose not to feed a complete diet, you have better options available to you than bread. One is to feed a snack that has far more vitamins and minerals than bread, and which contains a suitable amount of protein and fat. Meat-based snacks often meet these requirements, and since cats love them, they are a logical choice. Failing even that, you should talk to your vet about a) special diets for cats that are deficient in certain things, and b) dietary supplements you can feed your cat.
All of this is to say that the vitamins and minerals in bread are irrelevant; even if there were lots, which there aren’t, your cat should get its micronutrients from somewhere else.
How Much Bread Can Cats Eat?
Ideally, you shouldn’t feed your cat any bread for the reasons described above. It isn’t nutritionally suitable and contains lots of calories. At the same time, it isn’t the worst snack choice: it isn’t poisonous/toxic, it’s cheap and readily available if you have no alternative, and contains a good amount of water. Therefore on balance while you should feed other snacks, it also isn’t the end of the world if you do offer it occasionally.
If you’re going to feed your cat bread despite the alternative snack choices available, at least limit the amount that you feed each time. One tablespoon is a good size for any snack you offer to your cat. A small snack like this won’t take up too much space in your cat’s stomach and gut, meaning it won’t put it off its food, safeguarding the nutritional adequacy of its diet. It also means that your cat won’t rapidly gain weight from eating lots of calorie-dense snack food.
What you shouldn’t do is make bread a core part of your cat’s diet. It doesn’t contain the right amount of protein or fat, and has nowhere near all the vitamins and minerals that cats need. Processed human food is not a good replacement for complete cat food.
How Often Can Cats Eat Bread?
Again, it’s best that you don’t feed your cat bread too often. This stops your cat from gaining weight or experiencing nutritional deficiencies. Feeding a snack once a week means that even if a snack isn’t the best, it won’t have a big effect on your cat’s health. You should ‘stick to your guns’ and not feed a snack frequently even if your cat begs for it.
Should Cats Eat Bread?
Overall, no. There are far better snack choices out there: almost any meat snack aimed at cats would be a better choice. That’s because:
- Meat contains all the amino acids cats need
- Meat contains lots of vitamins and minerals
- Your cat’s gut is biologically adapted to absorbing energy and nutrients from meat better than from plant based sources
- Meat is nutrient dense, so won’t make your cat lose weight if it eats too many (although weight gain could still be a problem)
Nobody can stop you making a particular choice for your cat. But if you want to give your cat the happiest, healthiest life possible, then feeding it bread isn’t the way to go.