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Can Cats Eat Kale? Nutrition Facts & FAQ

To put it simply, yes, cats can eat kale. The popular leafy green is safe for your feline friend in both raw and cooked form. If you found this article because your kitten snatched a piece of kale while you were chopping up your lunch salad, don’t panic! Puss will be fine.

Kale is not completely safe for cats, however. Like many human foods, a little kale is fine for cats, but a lot can cause health complications.

In this article, we’re doing a deep dive to explain how much kale cats can eat, whether you should feed your cat kale on purpose, how to do that if you’ve decided to, and other things every cat owner should know.

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Human Food in Cat Diets

Image Credit: Oldiefan, Pixabay

Cats should not be eating primarily people food. Their digestive systems are fundamentally different from ours: while we’re omnivores who get our nutrients from a varied diet, cats are carnivores who fulfill their dietary needs mainly with meat.

That being said, just because cats don’t need leafy greens like we do, doesn’t mean they don’t want them. If you’ve got an outdoor cat, you might have seen them chowing down on grass from time to time.

Veterinary researchers aren’t sure exactly what it is about grass and other leafy greens that makes cats happy, but there’s definitely something in there they enjoy. Some theorize that enzymes in leafy greens make meat easier to digest, while others believe leafy plants clean out a cat’s digestive system, provide additional nutrients, or make it easier to cough up hairballs.

So while cats should live on cat food, human food definitely has a place in your purr-machine’s meals. Just remember this important figure: no more than 10 percent of any cat’s diet should be made up of people foods.

What’s Up With Kale?

Did you know that kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and collard greens all come from the same plant?

It’s true! Brassica oleracea, or wild cabbage, is native to Europe. It’s transformed into some of the world’s most nutritious veggies through centuries of selective breeding. The other cool thing about brassica oleracea is that, according to the ASPCA’s master list of toxic plants, it’s not poisonous to cats.

The ASPCA list is famous for an abundance of caution. It includes several other vegetables, including beets (beetroot, red beets, Roman kale, Swiss chard, sugar beets), and four other members of the brassicaecae family: watercress, alyssum, hoary alyssum, and yellowrocket.

If the ASPCA doesn’t think that kale is toxic to cats, it almost certainly isn’t. On the contrary, small amounts of kale can provide almost as much nutrition to cats as they can to humans. It’s extremely high in fiber, which can help your cat regulate their calorie intake, and also might get things more smoothly through their digestive system.

However, as we’ll make clear in the next section, lots of things are good in moderation and bad in large amounts.

Kale Poisoning

Grey cat and green curly kale salad_aprilannnte_shutterstock
Image Credit: aprilante, Shutterstock

The biggest risk of giving your cat too much kale is that they’ll gorge on it, and then not be hungry for food that has the special nutrients they need. Cats enjoy veggies, and eating them has some benefits, but they can’t process a lot of the nutrients in many vegetables.

There’s another, rarer health scare that can result from eating too much kale. Called Heinz body anemia, it destroys a cat’s red blood cells, leading to fever, weakness, loss of appetite, discoloration of the skin and gums, and reddish-brown urine.

According to Emma of Pet Food Sherpa, The most common cause of Heinz body anemia is consuming onions or garlic, which are far more dangerous for cats than kale (see Things Your Cat Absolutely Shouldn’t Eat below). An excessive amount of kale can also cause anemia, however.

If you observe any symptoms in your cat, take them to the vet right away. Fortunately, Heinz body anemia is completely treatable, and your cat should be able to come home soon.

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How to Feed Your Cat Kale

So, you’ve weighed the benefits and risks, and decided you want to introduce kale as 5 to 10 percent of your cat’s diet. How do you do it?

Cats will turn up their noses at a dish of prepared vegetables. The way to feed them kale is the same way your parents got you to eat your veggies: hide it in something you like.

Steam a few leaves of kale for a short time, then chop them up. Don’t add any other ingredients or seasonings, as these can be dangerous; your cat’s meat-based main dish will be all the seasoning you need. Mix the minced kale leaves into the entree, and let your cat go to town.

Alternative Leafy Greens

If you want to keep your cat from eating your houseplants, but you’re uncertain about the risks of anemia from kale, some other forms of grass might be better. Try one of these, which can be found at any natural supermarket or health food store.

  • Wheatgrass
  • Wheat/oat grass mixture
  • Lemongrass
  • Barley grass powder

Things Your Cat Absolutely Should Not Eat

While we’re here, these are a few things that you should make sure your cat never eats. The following foods are toxic to cats in almost any amount.

  • Onions, garlic, and shallots: These are more likely to cause anemia than leafy greens.
  • Grapes and raisins: Can cause kidney failure. Toxic to dogs as well.
  • Chocolate: Toxic to both cats and dogs.
  • Raw dough: Can cause painful and potentially fatal bloating.

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If you regularly catch your cat chewing on grass or the leaves of your houseplants, chances are they’re using the leafy greens to fill a dietary need. If that’s the case, you might try introducing a bit of kale into their diet. Not only will it make your kitty more comfortable in the litter box, but it might save your poor plants from further distress.

If you haven’t seen your cat chowing down on leaves, though, you needn’t worry — they’re not missing something critically important. Cats have good instincts, and they’re good at understanding what their bodies need. Let your fuzzy friend figure out what they need to eat before you try to put them on a diet.

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