Peanut butter is well known for being nutrient dense, and containing lots of protein. If you know anything about cat nutrition, you probably know that cats need lots of protein. So, does that make peanut butter good for cats? And if not, why not?
Can cats eat peanut butter? Cats can technically eat peanut butter, but it’s not a good choice for several reasons. While it’s not poisonous, its tacky consistency is difficult for cats to swallow, so could cause a blockage in the throat. It’s also too high in fat, too high in sugar, and too high in calories for cats. While it does contain a reasonable amount of protein, it doesn’t contain complete protein, while meat snacks do. You should feed your cat snacks made of meat instead, as unprocessed as possible.
The guide below first looks at why peanut butter is bad even if it isn’t poisonous. It will also detail the exact nutritional content of peanuts so that you can see why it’s nutritionally unsuitable. And for anybody who wants to feed their cat peanut butter anyway, we’ll also make recommendations on safe amounts to feed.
Can Cats Eat Peanut Butter?
Technically yes, but it’s a bad choice of snack. Peanut butter isn’t poisonous and your cat can digest it, but almost any snack made from meat would be better for your pet.
Do Cats Like Peanut Butter?
Cats most definitely can like peanut butter—and in fact, some go absolutely wild for the stuff. That’s because it’s so high in fat, and cats love high-fat foods. It’s the same reason why cats love cream and cheese despite being lactose intolerant.
This behavior stems from your cat’s wild ancestors. When a wild animal finds a high-fat, high-calorie food source, it makes the most of it and gorges itself silly. The idea is that high-calorie food sources don’t come along all that often, and that by eating as much as possible now, the animal can better survive when food is scarce later on in the year. That’s why eating lots of high-calorie foods makes your fat layer thicker: it’s like putting calories in the bank and saving them for later.
But just as fast food isn’t the best choice for us, neither is peanut butter a good choice for cats. Given that so many cats are already overweight, feeding them peanut butter on top of that would only add fuel to the fire, so to speak. As a responsible cat owner it’s your job to make responsible food choices for your cat, and peanut butter is not a responsible snack choice.
Is Peanut Butter Poisonous to Cats?
Peanut butter isn’t poisonous to cats. It doesn’t contain anything your cat would have an allergic reaction to, nor does it cause organ damage like certain other foods such as raisins.
That doesn’t mean it’s safe for your cat to eat, though. Its unusual texture could prove a choking hazard for a cat, particularly one that hasn’t eaten peanut butter before. The large chunks of peanut in chunky peanut butter could also be a choking hazard in their own right.
Why Shouldn’t Cats Eat Peanut Butter?
Aside from the fact that it’s a choking hazard, peanut butter is nutritionally unsuitable for cats. Let’s find out why.
Nutrients in Peanut Butter
Below is a table that details the precise nutritional content of the average peanut butter. Different brands may have more sugar, fewer calories, or less fat, but normal store-bought peanut butter is broadly as shown below. The data come from NutritionValue.org, a site dedicated to listing the nutritional contents of various generic and brand-name foods. Listed alongside the data on peanut butter are the cat’s nutritional requirements for comparison’s sake.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Cat RDA* per 100g|
|Carbohydrate||22g (10g sugar)||Variable**|
|Protein||22g||26-30g dry matter|
|Fat||51g||9g dry matter|
It should be immediately obvious why peanut butter is unsuitable for cats. But as we’ll find out, even beyond its nutritional content, there are reasons to avoid feeding cats peanut butter.
Carbohydrates & Fiber in Peanut Butter
There are a few misconceptions about cats and carbohydrates that it’s important to fully understand. Other guides on peanut butter for cats state that it contains ‘no nutritional value‘ and similar sentiments, expressly because ‘cats are carnivorous’.
Cats can most definitely digest carbohydrates. While their digestive systems are set up to efficiently digest meat and its protein/fat content, that doesn’t mean they can’t digest carbs at all. While the subject of the cat’s diet is fascinating and has always been evolving, it has been known for decades now that cats can and do digest carbohydrates. One paper in the British Journal of Nutrition from 1977, for example, states that ‘[a]dult cats efficiently (> 0.94) digested all six individual carbohydrates added to the diet with the exception of cellulose, which was indigestible.’ Another much more recent study compared diets that were 35% starch overall with each other, finding that cats absorbed 93% of each kind of starch on average (including rice, sorghum and lentils).
So, while the cat’s digestive system, enzymes, gut bacteria and so on are good at digesting meat, that most definitely does not mean that carbohydrate is of ‘no nutritional value’ to a cat. Your cat could make use of the carbohydrates found in peanut butter, or any other food, for energy.
The problem here is that peanut butter contains lots of simple carbohydrates too. In one sense, there are two kinds of carbohydrate: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates are made up of lots of simple carbohydrates strung together like a chain. They have to be broken down into their ‘simple’ constituents, then broken down further, before they can be absorbed by the body. That’s why complex carbs like fiber and starch are more difficult to digest. There are two issues with simple sugars: one is that they break down in your cat’s saliva, which gets onto your cat’s teeth and makes them rot in the same way that candy rots our teeth. The second issue is that they can cause blood sugar spikes, which are bad if your cat is prediabetic or diabetic, as many overweight cats are.
As for the fiber content of peanut butter, that’s not a major issue. Wild cats regularly get fiber in their diets in the form of bones, fur, feathers and the grass/seeds in their prey’s digestive tracts. So while fiber isn’t strictly necessary, it also isn’t bad for your cat.
Protein & Fat in Peanut Butter
When assessing any kind of diet for your cat, the two nutrients to pay the most attention to are protein and fat. Cats require protein to grow and preserve lithe muscle mass; they also need complete protein, i.e. protein that contains every amino acid they need, to avoid deficiencies like taurine deficiency which causes blindness. Cats also need a reasonable amount of fat in their diets because their guts are good at digesting it, and it provides useful energy, as well as a thin fat layer for keeping warm. Unfortunately, peanut butter doesn’t tick these boxes.
First of all, peanut butter doesn’t have enough protein. While it has lots, cats need even more: it contains around 22g per 100g, while cats need 30g per 100g. Besides that, the protein in peanut butter isn’t ‘complete’. It has particularly low amounts of methionine and cysteine, which are more common in animal proteins than plant proteins. These aren’t major problems if you’re feeding a food as a snack alongside a complete cat food, but since there are snacks that do meet these requirements, it’s logically best to feed these instead.
What would be a major problem is that peanut butter contains far too much fat. Cats require around 9g of fat per 100g of food. Peanut butter has more than five times that, and is over half fat by weight, at 51g per 100g. On the one hand, it’s a common misconception that fat content can make you fat just by virtue of it being fat content. If your cat were to eat a diet composed solely of fat—disregarding the other health issues this might cause—so long as the cat only ate ‘maintenance calories’ then it wouldn’t gain any weight. It doesn’t matter where those calories come from, be they from fat, protein or sugar.
On the other hand, foods that are high in fat are very calorie-dense. One gram of fat contains around 9 calories while one gram of carbs contains around 4. This means that fat is more than twice as ‘calorie dense’ as carbohydrate. This is a roundabout way of saying that even small amounts of peanut butter could make your cat gain weight. It’s therefore a bad idea to feed your cat even small amounts.
Water in Peanut Butter
Peanut butter hardly contains any water. This might be somewhat surprising given its tacky, goopy texture, but that texture comes from fat rather than from water.
Water is key to your cat’s health. If your cat doesn’t get enough water, it causes dehydration, with obvious negative consequences. But beyond that, slight dehydration over a long period can cause just as serious problems, specifically kidney issues. You won’t notice these issues in your cat’s health if you only feed peanut butter as a snack. But since so many cats are dehydrated from eating a diet of dry food, it makes sense to feed a snack that has lots of water rather than almost none. There are lots of snacks with high levels of water; cold cuts of meat, for example.
Calories in Peanut Butter
As stated above, peanut butter is very fatty. Fat is calorie-dense, so if your cat eats a lot of peanut butter, it will gain weight. Cats are used to eating calorie-dense foods, because meat is reasonably calorie-dense, hence the rough nutritional requirement of around 100-400 calories per 100g of food. Peanut butter has far more than this at almost 600 calories per 100g. While some cats can self-regulate their food intake, many more can’t, particularly cats that are already overweight or obese.
This applies even if you buy a low-fat peanut butter. This is an unfortunate truth with low-fat versions of high-fat foods. When the fat is removed from peanut butter, so is most of the taste. Manufacturers replace that taste with added flavorings, but more importantly, with lots and lots of added sugar. This can mean that the product has just as many calories as it did before, only the calories now come from added sugar instead of fat. Even if your special low-fat peanut butter now has fewer calories, there are all the problems associated with simple sugars described above that your cat has to contend with.
Vitamins & Minerals in Peanut Butter
One way in which peanut butter would be good for cats is its vitamin and mineral content. Below is another table, again with data from NutritionValue.org, which lists all the micronutrients that peanut butter contains large amounts of:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
This is an impressive range of micronutrients, plus peanut butter contains lots of each one of them, far more than many other sources. This would normally be a big tick in favor of feeding a particular food to your cat, but in this case, it’s not. That’s because:
- Your cat should get all of the nutrients it needs from its cat food. There are cat foods that offer the right level of each macronutrient (fat, protein and carbs) plus every vitamin and mineral that cats need. Provided that the manufacturer did their job properly, you could feed your cat this food its entire life and it would thrive.
- If your cat is deficient in something, consider switching it to a better complete cat food. Not all manufacturers are honest about their products, and/or quality can become worse over time. However there are lots of complete cat foods available. Shop around or ask your vet for more information.
- If your cat is still deficient, talk to the vet about supplements. There are supplements you can give to your cat for things it’s deficient in. Giving it these supplements would be better than giving it peanut butter.
- If even these don’t work, you should consider other snacks that don’t make your cat gain weight before you consider peanut butter. Anything made from meat would be a good choice.
Peanut butter should therefore be all the way at the bottom of the list of snacks you consider giving your cat.
As a final note, peanut butter does contain lots of salt (Sodium in the list above). While excess salt is bad for you, it’s not bad for your cat. Wild cats get lots of sodium in their diets so they’ve adjusted to having lots of it. This therefore isn’t a problem for your pet—although everything else still is!
How Much Peanut Butter Can Cats Eat?
The ideal amount of peanut butter you should feed your cat is none at all. Peanut butter is far too high in calories, to the point where if you were to feed your cat a sensible amount, it wouldn’t even be one mouthful. It makes more sense to feed your cat a snack it can eat more of so that it feels as if it’s had a real treat. Anything made from meat would be a good start, as cats love almost all kinds of meat, plus they provide complete protein and many of the vitamins and minerals a cat needs.
If you are going to feed your cat peanut butter despite the issues touched on above, at least severely limit the portion size you’re going to give. One teaspoon of peanut butter is around 30 calories and cats need around 300 calories per day on average, although this obviously varies based on build and breed. Be careful that you’re not feeding a big, heaped teaspoon though. It’s very easy to accidentally over-measure a teaspoon sized amount.
How Often Can Cats Eat Peanut Butter?
You shouldn’t feed your cat peanut butter unless you have no alternatives whatsoever. And that doesn’t mean alternative snacks—that means if you have no cat food in your hosue and it’s impossible for you to get any more before you need to feed your cat. In short, the ideal frequency you’d feed your cat peanut butter is ‘never’!
Again, though, if you’re going to feed your cat peanut butter despite that then limit how frequently you feed it. Once per week is enough, and that applies even if your cat starts begging. Any more frequent than that and you run the risk of making your cat overweight.
Should Cats Eat Peanut Butter?
No, your cat should not eat peanut butter. There are lots of snacks you can feed to your cat that aren’t going to make it overweight, which have a proper balance of fats, proteins and carbs, and which your cat will love. Almost anything made of meat would be a good start.