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Can Cats Eat Bird Seed? Is It Healthy for Them?

If you have a cat that stays indoors, you likely won’t ever have to worry about him eating bird seed. But if your cat spends lots of time outdoors, you’ve probably noticed him eating bird seed that has fallen on the ground a time or two and you’re wondering if it is safe for him to do so.

Bird seed is not toxic to cats, meaning that they can technically eat it. However, that doesn’t mean that they should or that it’s healthy for them. With that being said, if your cat likes to munch on bird seed when he’s outside, it’s totally fine as long as he isn’t consuming huge amounts of it.

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What Is In Bird Seed?

Bird seed usually contains a variety of seeds, grains, nuts, and sometimes corn and fruit. Specific ingredients include sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts, dried raisins, etc. The exact ingredients found in a particular bird seed just depend on the manufacturer of the bird seed, but in general, none of them are toxic for cats, especially in small amounts.

two birds eating birdseed
Image Credit: YvonneHuijbens, Pixabay

Why Do Cats Like Bird Seed?

Sometimes cats eat unusual things just because they’re curious about them and tasting them is the cat’s way of exploring them. Other times, they’re attracted to some aspect of the food, such as the way that it smells, for example.

Cats may also eat bird seed and other plant materials because it provides some kind of nutrient that they lack. Although their normal cat food should provide all of the essential nutrients that your cat needs, plants can provide vitamins and minerals that their normal food may be lacking.

It’s also thought that eating plant materials may help cats soothe an upset stomach or aid in digesting their food. Plus, plants are loaded down with carbohydrates, and carbs can help your cat feel full if his stomach is feeling empty.

Sunflower Seeds

One particular ingredient of bird seed that your cat may like is sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are very nutrient-rich and contain nutrients such as B vitamins and antioxidants that can help your cat to stay healthy. They’re also high in protein, so your cat may be eating them simply because of the protein content. Although sunflower seeds aren’t toxic to cats, they still shouldn’t eat them regularly because they don’t provide all the nutrients your cat needs.

sunflower seeds
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

Is Bird Seed Healthy for Cats?

Even though the ingredients found in bird seed aren’t toxic to cats, it doesn’t mean that bird seed is healthy for them. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that 70% of their diet needs to consist of meat. Protein is the most important nutrient that cats need, and they get most of that protein from meat.

There are two kinds of protein: meat protein and plant protein. With that being said, the seeds and nuts found in bird seed are high in protein, and seeds themselves have as much as 5-9 grams of protein per ounce. Meat has a similar protein content, as most of the meats that are good for cats contain between 20-25 grams per three ounces.

Meat vs. Plant Protein

Meat protein is still better for cats due to the type of protein contained in meat. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and a cat’s body can only process specific meat-based amino acids. This is because a cat’s body doesn’t naturally produce the amino acids found in meat, so they have to acquire them through their diet.

Plants aren’t necessarily bad for cats, but they don’t provide all the nutrients they need and they can’t properly digest them either. Plant proteins are made up of different amino acids, and a cat’s body doesn’t necessarily need those amino acids so their body doesn’t know how to process them.

Meat protein is also high in vitamin A, vitamin B6 (niacin), and vitamin D. A cat’s body doesn’t naturally produce these vitamins either, so they must get them from consuming meat. Your cat also uses protein for energy and without the right type of meat-based proteins, your cat’s body will start to break down its own muscle tissues to acquire the right type of proteins to use for energy, even if there are plant proteins present since your cat’s body doesn’t know how to break down plant proteins.

maine coon cat eating
Image Credit: Lita Keire, Shutterstock

When Is Bird Seed Bad For Cats?

Although eating bird seed is generally okay for cats to eat (although not particularly healthy) there is one instance in which eating bird seed can be bad for your cat. If the bird seed is old, you should not let your cat eat it (nor should you feed it to birds either). The reason is that food such as corn, grains, and peanuts, all of which are commonly present in bird seed, can grow a type of mold called Aspergillus flavus.

This type of mold produces a toxin called aflatoxin that can be present even if you don’t see any actual mold growing on the bird seed. In high amounts, aflatoxins can cause symptoms such as vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sluggishness, jaundice, liver damage, and even death.

Although mold is common on old bird seed, it can also grow on bird seed that gets wet. That’s why it’s important to change out your bird seed regularly, but especially after it rains. This not only protects your bird seed-loving cat from illness, but also the birds that are supposed to eat the seed in the first place. If you’ve had a particular type of bird seed for a while, you should also check the expiration date on the bird seed to make sure it’s still okay to put it out for birds.

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Final Thoughts

If you see your cat eating bird seed occasionally, it’s totally okay. Although bird seed isn’t particularly healthy for your cat, it isn’t toxic and they may actually be eating it for a reason. It’s not 100% clear why cats may eat bird seed and other plants, but it may be a way for them to get nutrients that their regular food lacks. Alternatively, your curious cat may just like the taste of it. Either way, just don’t let your cat eat too much, too often and your feline will be alright.

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Featured Image Credit: _Alicja_, Pixabay

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