Cats are carnivores so they love the smell of cooking meat on the BBQ. But should you feed your feline BBQ if they turn up at the table looking for scraps?
BBQ is potentially poisonous for cats due to its high salt content, so avoid feeding them spicy foods or marinated meats. You should also steer clear of capsicum foods like peppers and chillies, and allium foods such as onion, chives and garlic. Tiny pieces of chicken, meat and fish are fine though.
So let’s consider in greater detail if it’s sensible to allow cats to eat BBQ food, and also look at a list of foods it’s just about ok to feed your pet in very small amounts. We’ll also look at a list of harmful foods you should never feed your feline.
Is it Sensible For Cats To Eat BBQ Food?
Cats are often fascinated by a BBQ. Suddenly, their humans are outside in the yard, surrounded by the most tempting-smelling food. But is it OK to share our BBQ food with our feline friends?
It’s hard not to, right? They look at you with those big adoring eyes (the animators of Shrek’s Puss in Boots sure got that right), and it’s almost impossible to say no. Or, they lurk out of sight, then as soon as the humans get up to take plates into the house, they dive on anything remaining outdoors.
Your cat will almost certainly try to share your BBQ food with you; however, this really isn’t the best idea. Here are the reasons why BBQ food in particular is not suitable for cats:
- Food with a high salt content is potentially poisonous to cats. Let’s be honest, we use a bit more seasoning on our BBQ foods than we normally would, and this high salt level is bad for our pets.
- Small bones can be lethal, causing choking hazards to cats. A hungry cat won’t bother to check a tasty morsel for bone splinters.
- Spicy sauces can cause stomach upsets. Spicy ingredients contain capsaicin, which will make your cat vomit (gardeners actually use it in their yards as cat repellent). Spicy BBQ sauces often contain onion and garlic, which are also poisonous to cats.
- Cats can get food poisoning, yes, but from different germs and foods to humans. So, undercooked meat won’t make these little carnivores sick like it would us; however, chocolate, garlic and salt could all potentially make your foraging feline very poorly indeed.
- It can be too hot. By this, we mean “cooked temperature hot” rather than “Scoville scale hot”. If you accidentally flip a burger off the grill onto the floor, your pet might pounce on it. Hopefully your cat would be too sensible to gobble down a grill-hot snack, but you can’t rely on this.
- It’s simply not cat food. The occasional treat is fine; however cat food is formulated to give your pet everything they need to keep them fit, healthy and in top condition. Too many treats can spoil this balance and lead to obesity, stomach upsets and an increase in fussy eating habits.
BBQ Food That’s Just About OK For Cats (In Small Amounts)
There are some BBQ foods that are fine for cats in small portions. Remember, these cute little kitties are actually carnivores, and would love a taste of whatever’s on the grill.
If you are sharing your BBQ with the family cat, make sure he or she has a separate plate, and eats on the floor not at the table (we have to think about human food safety here, too). Don’t give them food straight from the grill, as we don’t want burned mouths and throats.
Small Pieces of Chicken
If you’ve roasted something like a whole bird, there’s no reason why your cat can’t tuck into some tasty chicken. Make sure it’s free from any bones and hasn’t got any sauce on it. Go for pieces from the inside to make sure there’s no marinade, seasoning or basting liquor on them.
Small Bits of Meat
If you’ve cooked your beef or pork steaks plain, again, your cat will love to chow down on a small piece. Don’t worry about giving them a lean piece: tougher cuts of meat are good for their teeth (although make sure it’s not too tough or gristly to avoid choking hazards).
Bone-Free Flakes of Fish
Most cats love seafood, so if you’re grilling a piece of plain fish, expect them to appear from out of nowhere. The problem with fish is the bones, and an enthusiastic cat won’t pause to check each bite before wolfing it down.
To make this safer for your pet, only give them fish that has large flakes and visible bones, like cod. To be sure, cut it up for them with a knife and fork, checking in between each flake for any small pin bones. Again, don’t feed them any pieces that have sauce or seasoning.
Small Portions of Cheese
Some cats love cheese, others don’t. Try your kitty with a small bit of mild cheese, and see what they think. Like milk, don’t give them too much as dairy can upset their stomachs; however a small piece can be a nice treat.
But of course, these are cats. Having begged for some tidbits, they’ll probably ignore them and stalk off indoors.
BBQ Food You Should Not Feed Your Cat
There are some BBQ foods that you should definitely not feed your cat. Felines have very different digestive systems to humans, and what’s good for us isn’t always right for them.
Spicy Foods and Alliums
We’ve already mentioned how members of the capsicum (peppers and chillies) and allium families (onion, chives and garlic) are poisonous to cats. BBQ sauce is often crammed with these (to us) tasty ingredients, so don’t let your cat eat any marinated meat.
The Fatty Bits From Meat
Tough bits of meat can be good for their teeth, but large chunks of fat (like you’d cut off your steak) are simply too much for a feline digestive system to handle. Don’t give cats your leftover fat.
To avoid the rich BBQ sauces, it’s tempting to give your cat a bit of chicken or pork before you grill it. However, cats can still suffer from bacterial food poisoning, just like us, so give them only cooked food. This seems strange, considering most outdoor cats will happily kill and eat a mouse or small bird with no ill-effects; however, it’s always best to play it safe and follow advice.
Now, it’s very unlikely that your cat will take a swig from your BBQ beer. But, alcohol is super-poisonous to pets, so make sure they can’t accidentally lap at any grown-up drinks. This is more of a problem when eating outdoors than indoors, as we tend to pop our drinks on the ground more when we’re dining al fresco. Also, be cautious with any wine or beer-based marinades or sauces.
If you’re having a tasty chocolate cake for pudding, please don’t slip any morsels to your cat. Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to cats and dogs. Luckily, cats don’t tend to seek out chocolate as they don’t have sweet taste receptors (this is why vets see more dogs with theobromine poisoning than cats).
You Could Try Alternative Treats
If you really want to give your cat a human-food snack every so often, small pieces of lean chicken, cooked plain and unseasoned, are perfect for small carnivores.
You can also give them little bits of hard-boiled egg or mild cheese, or bone-free flakes of cooked white fish. Canned tuna in water will also be appreciated (but in small quantities, as it’s super-rich).
Why not make BBQ night a treat night for your kitty, too? Buy a pouch of nutritious cat treats (they all seem to adore temptations) and give them a few of those.
While some BBQ foods are harmful and potentially poisonous for your cat, especially spicy or salty foods and marinated meats, plus foods from the capsicum and allium families – others are not so bad in small amounts.
Meats such as chicken, steak and fish are just about ok in really small amounts, but again too much of these are not a good idea.
If you’re in any doubt at all, the best thing to do is not give your cat anything off the BBQ – but choose one of the alternative suggestions above. The last thing you want to see is an unwell moggy.
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >