You might enjoy dousing your meals with sriracha, but don’t let your feline friends get near it. Cats cannot and should not eat spicy food. They don’t enjoy the taste, and even worse it can be harmful to their health.
In fact, humans are only one of two known animals that will purposefully go out of their way to eat spicy foods. All other animals do not appreciate the pain that spicy foods bring, and most animals do not have the digestive system to handle what makes food spicy, capsaicin.
In some cases, humans don’t either, as seen when people need to use the bathroom after a heavily spiced meal, but humans are robust enough to handle this.
Cats, on the other hand, cannot.
Why Can’t They Eat Spicy Foods?
Cats, much like most other animals, cannot handle the component of spicy foods that gives that fiery pain that we all know and love: capsaicin.
What is Capsaicin?
This is the chemical compound that is primarily responsible for that “heat” that spicy foods have and is also the cause of burning mucus when you ingest it.
Capsaicin is a naturally occurring chemical compound that plants produce as a defense mechanism against plant-eating animals, and as such, most animals have evolved to understand this as “painful” and “unwelcome.”
These animals will almost never encounter capsaicin in their diets. They also don’t have the digestive enzymes to break it down with minimal issues, meaning that your cat can quickly and easily get sick from eating foods with just a small amount of capsaicin in them.
Capsaicin is most prominent in chili peppers and is one of the most common spices that people will use to heat their food up. Chances are that if your food has chili peppers or flakes in the ingredient list, then there’s a good chance it has capsaicin in it, meaning that it is not good for your cats.
The Dangers of Onions and Garlic
Cats also cannot eat spicy foods because more often than not, people will season their foods with onion and garlic, whether that is with the fresh vegetable or with powdered versions of it.
As good and as beloved as onion and garlic are, they are toxic to cats, even in small quantities. While these spices are not exclusive to spicy foods, they complement the taste of most spicy foods well, meaning that they are fairly commonplace.
Other Toxic Ingredients in Spicy Food
There are other spices that are commonly found in spicy foods that are toxic to cats as well, including nutmeg and cinnamon. Both of these spices can cause issues ranging from a night of vomiting and diarrhea to a slow heart rate, coughing, and wheezing, all the way to liver failure.
If your cat ingests something that is heavy in either nutmeg or cinnamon, you should either take your cat to the vet so that the cat can be monitored safely, or you should make sure to monitor the cat yourself to ensure that it did not eat a lethal dose of it.
It is often best that you never, ever feed your cat spicy foods because of all the problems your cat could have with them. This includes foods they would typically enjoy, such as spicy variants of tuna and sardines, as the spiciness of the food presents more harm to the cat than benefit from the taste.
This especially applies to foods that your cats wouldn’t typically eat on their own that are spicy, such as peppers and spicy chips, as these foods present no benefit to your cat whatsoever and can harm them in the long run.
If you are ever in doubt about what your cat can and cannot eat, you should make sure to stop your cat from eating it.
What Should You Do If a Cat Eats Spicy Food?
Even if you are careful about what your cat eats, there may come a time when you leave the room for a minute or two and you notice that your cat has taken a bite of spicy food.
While this obviously isn’t an optimal situation, you can feel relaxed knowing that most cats will stop eating spicy food after the first bite, as they register the heat of these foods as painful, which is a good deterrent.
There’s a good chance that your cat will not eat a lethal amount of hot food on its own because of this, so a cat’s curiosity will likely not kill it in this case (unless the cat has an allergy).
In a best-case scenario, your cat will spit the food out without eating it, and will be in mild discomfort but nothing more. However, some cats may be stubborn enough to try and swallow the food, which is when the bulk of the problems occur.
However, if you know your cat has eaten spicy food, you should first contact your vet and ask about what you should do. Your vet knows your cat and their health best, and you should give as many details about the situation as possible to help the vet.
Your vet will either want to see the cat in-person to ensure that the cat will be fine, or the vet will instruct you to watch the cat yourself.
You can expect that if you are watching the cat yourself, you are going to have to deal with vomiting and diarrhea, as these are common symptoms of capsaicin ingestion in cats and is the cat’s natural method of expelling something that is harmful to it.
Can Milk Help?
You may also want to consider feeding your cat some milk. Cats should not typically have much milk, as they cannot digest the lactose in it, but this would not be a typical situation.
Milk is known to “soothe” the heat that capsaicin produces, and this may come as welcome relief for your cat. If the cat is not feeling up to drinking the milk, though, you should not force it, as there’s a good chance that it will be feeling nauseated.
Caring For Your Cat After Capsaicin Intoxication
If you have been instructed to watch your cat, you will want to try and offer it care and affection when you can, but you shouldn’t be too pushy as your cat will likely be in pain. Some care and affection can help it feel more relaxed and less stressed, which is important. Keep in mind that some cats may run or become aggressive, as they will be in moderate discomfort but won’t understand why or what is happening.
Do not punish your cat for lashing out at you after it has eaten spicy food, as your cat is likely confused and in pain.
If your cat has diarrhea, you will want to try and make water as accessible for the cat as possible so that it can stay hydrated. If it is severe diarrhea or if the cat is unwilling to drink water, you may want to contact the vet again to reevaluate the situation, as the vet may want to ensure that the cat does not become severely dehydrated from both vomiting and diarrhea. Again, this will often be by your vet’s discretion.
Why Do Cats Eat Spicy Food?
If spicy food is such a threat to your cat and if it is supposed to be a deterrent for cats, why will some cats still choose to eat it?
This is often because of surrounding factors around the spicy food. More often than not, spicy food is aromatic and warm. Both of these are very interesting to cats.
The spicy food will likely smell very unique to a cat, and because cats are like toddlers in the sense that they explore the world by putting things in its mouth, this can quickly lead to your cat taking a bite of spicy food.
Additionally, because most spicy food is served warm, your cat will be even more intrigued. Warm food instinctually reminds them of freshly killed prey, and because cats are natural predators like this, they may connect the warm dish of food to being a type of prey you have killed, and they will be inclined to take a bite out of it.
The best thing you can do to prevent your cat from doing this is to keep an eye on your cat and deter it from trying to sniff your spicy foods.