Your cat is what we call a true carnivore. It means most of their nutrients should come from animal proteins and fats. Despite their carnivorous natures, cats really love their greens on occasion.
Lettuce is one option. It's juicy and fresh, and offers some health benefits as well, depending on the kind offered. It contains no sodium and is a good source of water. This makes it an excellent treat for overweight or diabetic cats.
But is lettuce actually safe for cats to consume? Or are there health risks involved? Let's find out.
Can Cats Eat Lettuce?
Yes, cats can eat lettuce. There are many varieties of lettuce, others having more vitamins and minerals than others. Cats can have lettuce, but you should follow our feeding guidelines as lettuce has very little nutritional value, and overfeeding may lead to nutrient deficiencies, diarrhea, and other health problems.
That said, some cats actually enjoy veggies and greens as treats, while others are content with the occasional blade of grass, we catch them eating outdoors.
Although cats are obligate carnivores and need the majority of their energy to come from animal proteins and fats, they can enjoy some greens in their diet. Balanced and nutritious cat food should make up about 90-95% of their total food intake, but lettuce can be an excellent treat for cats to get nutrients and water.
Neither lettuce nor any other leafy green can be a staple nutrient for cats.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Many owners wonder if lettuce is toxic to cats, and the answer is no – provided you select fresh greens from the grocery store or farmer's market and wash it first before serving it.
Kittens, too, are OK to eat lettuce; it won't hurt them or make them sick. But it does not provide adequate nutrients for them to grow, so don't offer it regularly.
What varieties of lettuce are ideal for cats?
It's also important to know what varieties of lettuce are ideal for cats. You can choose, for example, between green leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, butter lettuce, leaf lettuce, or romaine lettuce when you shop.
- Iceberg lettuce won't harm your cat if she eats a little, but it can cause your kitty to experience diarrhea because it is so full of water. This lettuce variety is probably the worst choice of all the types suitable for cats.
- Green leaf lettuce is more nutritious and less watery, and it contains folate, calcium, fiber, and of course, vitamins C and A.
- Romaine lettuce is low in fiber but contains minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. It also contains folate and vitamins K and C.
- Butter lettuce is another type loaded with vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamins K, C, and A, plus iron.
So, there are plenty of reasons nutritionwise to offer your cat a bit of lettuce every now and then. They contain many vitamins and minerals in a low-calorie form. That being said, risks do exist when it comes to offering your cat lettuce.
Keep reading to discover how to avoid those health risks and feed lettuce safely.
Health Benefits: Is Lettuce Good for Cats?
Lettuce, on the whole, can be good for cats when served as a small treat and as a part of a balanced diet. But the health benefits of lettuce vary based on the type you choose, so you will want to assess the risks and benefits involved.
Lettuce, on the whole, can be good for cats when served as a small treat and as a part of a balanced diet.
That being said, we will devote this section to a discussion of lettuce's overall benefits and why it's good for cats.
Packed with Vitamins and Minerals
Most of the lettuce you pick up at the store will contain the following:
Folate- Aids in the production of genetic material and DNA
Calcium- Aids in the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, helps with blood clot formation and function of nerves.
Vitamin K- Helps prevent bone fracture, aids in the clotting of blood.
Vitamin C- Although cats synthesize their own Vitamin C, a little extra may help boost their immune system and urinary tract health.
Potassium- helps reduce blood pressure.
Helps with Hydration
Lettuce leaves are no excuse to quit providing clean and fresh water to your cat, but by munching on a leaf or two, your cat gets some more water into his or her body.
Because of the natural desert habitat, they have adapted to, cats drink very little water. They get most of their hydration from the food they eat, but since domestic cats have switched mice and other live prey to dry kibble, they may need a little extra hydration in their system.
If your cat is not a keen drinker of the water you're providing him or her, and your feeding fry cat food, a little lettuce can be a good way to add some water into the diet.
Great for Overweight Cats
Got a cat who just loves to chew and snack all the time? Lettuce makes a healthy snack for cats that are overweight and need to drop a few pounds, thanks to its low-calorie and high-water content. Plus, it is high in dietary fiber and will make the cat feel satiated for long after eating it. The fiber also promotes healthy bowel movement.
Obesity is a growing problem among pet cats, and keeping that weight down is important to avoid health issues related to weight gain, such as heart problems or diabetes.
Lettuce has very few calories, so if you want to offer your cat variety and prevent boredom with an exciting snack, lettuce can be a healthy choice for that.
Satisfies the Need For Greens
If you have potted plants around your home, you have likely seen your cat chewing on the leaves. By providing your feline with some lettuce leaves, you can help satisfy her need to chew on the foliage, but also help her get some good vitamins and minerals in, too.
Indeed, the desire to eat grass is innate, according to Sciencemag.org. If you cannot cultivate cat grass indoors, or your cats are unable to go outside and chew the grass, lettuce leaves could help satisfy your cat's need for such behavior.
Health Risks: Is Lettuce Bad for Cats?
Now that we've learned about the health benefits eating lettuce can offer your cat let's find out what the risks are you need to consider.
Vitamin A Toxicity
Cats need Vitamin A for skin health, a strong immune system, and to maintain their night vision. Vitamin A also contains antioxidants that help prevent cancer in cats. But too much of the vitamin can be dangerous and lead to Vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A).
This is a problem that can affect cats at any age but is more likely to occur in felines aged 2-9 years. Most of the time, cats are affected when they are excessively supplemented, which can happen if a cat gets too much Vitamin A in its food. Therefore, excessive feeding of lettuce is not healthy.
Vitamin A toxicity is a condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. If you suspect your cat is suffering from it, contact a vet for advice.
Symptoms of Vitamin A toxicity you should look out for are
- Rough coat
- Appetite loss/Weight Loss
- Skin allergy
- Sitting in abnormal positions
Lack of Nutritional Value
Remember, your cat is a true carnivore. It means that it should get the energy it needs from animal sources. Veggies and fruits can be offered as treats, but they should only make up a very small part of your cat's diet because they cannot metabolize plant-based materials very well.
Lettuce is NOT meant to be a staple food for your pet. Do not feed your cat lettuce as a means of sustaining them- your cat is meant to eat meat in the form of quality cat foods that meet AAFCO standards.
Feeding too many other foods may cause your cat to fill up his or her stomach with things that have little nutritional value. This will lead to nutritional deficits and health concerns.
Even if you buy lettuce at a local market or organic shop, pesticides and chemicals still pose a risk to your pet. Be sure you wash all fresh lettuce thoroughly before serving it to your cat– or anyone for that matter.
Dehydration & Diarrhea
Lettuce is very high in water. Actually, as much as 96% of iceberg lettuce is made up of it. Because your cat's digestive system has not adapted to eating watery foods, your kitty could develop diarrhea thanks to the vegetable's high-water content. And diarrhea could then, in turn, lead to dehydration. Because of this risk, be sure to keep the lettuce to small amounts.
How Much Lettuce Can I Give My Cat?
Cats don't need a lot of lettuce to get the benefits. A single, small leaf torn into pieces and offered to your cat is perfect once a week, and even then, she probably won't eat all of it.
Don't' tear the lettuce into thin strips, as this serving form can be dangerous.
Alternatively, you can rip a leaf into dime-sized pieces and offer them to your cat. Begin with three dime-sized pieces – chances are your cat probably won't finish all of them. Discard anything that remains after your cat walks away to ensure your cat won't eat lettuce that has gone bad.
How Often Can My Cat Enjoy Lettuce?
For most cats, eating a bit of lettuce once per week is OK. This is because cats are carnivores and do not need lettuce to survive, and most cats won't have trouble getting enough water – providing you are keeping their water bowl topped up.
Cats who need to stay regular, get more water in, or require additional vitamins, can enjoy lettuce two times a week. Don't go beyond that, as you could cause your pet to experience diarrhea.
Preparing Lettuce for Cats
- Begin by shopping at your local farmer's market or grocery store for the type of lettuce you think would most benefit your cat. Look it over for any signs of spoilage. You can choose bagged or fresh. Store the lettuce in the refrigerator before serving it to your cat.
- Once it is time to serve the lettuce, wash your hands. If using a bagged kind, you can open the bag, select a leaf and offer it to your cat (bagged varieties are washed before being packed).
- If you have fresh lettuce, wash it thoroughly before tearing off a piece to serve to your cat.
- Depending on the cat, they may like their lettuce in the form of a big leaf or smaller pieces. Don't' tear the lettuce into thin strips, as this serving form can be dangerous. The thin lettuce strips can get stick to the back of the throat and pose a choking hazard. Offering the whole leaf or a piece of the leaf is a safer option.
Here are the nutrition facts for 100g of green leaf lettuce according to the USDA:
- Calories: 15
- Fat: .2 g
- Protein: 1.4g
- Carbs: 2.9g
- Sugar: .8g
- Fiber: 1.3 g
Green leaf lettuce also contains the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin A
As you can see, lettuce is very low in calories, which makes it an ideal healthy snack when served in moderation. It can be fun and offer variety and excitement for your pet, but because it's mostly water, its nutritional value is negligible.
Is lettuce harmful to cats? Absolutely not. If your cat were to pick up a leaf that dropped on the ground or chew on a piece from the garden, he or she would not be harmed.
However, lettuce is by no means a staple food for cats. Lettuce lacks the nutrients cats need- animal fat and protein- so it should only be offered occasionally.
Remember, the best thing you can do for your cat is to offer quality food that meets AAFCO standards, along with unlimited fresh water to drink. This, plus the occasional healthy treats, will keep your cat in good health.
Cats are classified as obligate carnivores, meaning the only thing they need to thrive and survive is meat. However, cats can often be seen munching on leafy greens. This is because when the cat's wild ancestor ate its prey, which was usually a herbivore, it also ate its stomach content – plants.
So, it is safe to say that eating a leafy green now and then is written deep down in the modern cat's genetic code. However, the accent is on now and then.
Lettuce can be useful as long as it is used in moderate amounts and occasionally. Neither lettuce nor any other leafy green can be a staple nutrient for cats.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your cat's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.