Can my cat eat some Turkey?

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where-do-different-cat-breeds-come-from_514870dbbd6e1_w1500Thanksgiving is coming up in the United States, and with it a rich history of food, exploration, and kitty cats! Before we get to sharing your Thanksgiving spread with your feline friend, let’s take a quick look at cat history!

How cats (eventually) ended up in the United States

Cats have been wonderful and incredibly useful companions throughout human history. It’s assumed that cats were originally domesticated some 10,000 years ago in the middle east. Obviously people point to Egypt as a prime example of cats invading popular culture, but we’ve found even older examples of domestic house cats.

Folks quickly realized that cats were very adept at hunting rodents, birds, and snakes. This is very handy because rodents in particular have a habit of sneaking into places unnoticed and then destroying them through chewing, burrowing, and waste. This is problematic on ships especially, where food is limited and holes are generally seen as counter-productive.

That is why the Egyptians had the bright idea to have a ship’s cat – a job on a trading or exploration vessel that is exclusive to the kitty cat. Egyptians would keep cats on their trading ships to help control rodent population and even hunt birds.

This practice is single-handedly responsible for cats being domesticated around the world.

Cats are curious and love “escape” and explore. It’s no far leap to think that on a trading voyage, a cat or two may escape at a port and go sow their seed in a new land. Not to mention, other sailors and merchants would see the practice of a Ship’s Cat and trade for a few cats for themselves and their ships. And so you have cats that, through merchant ships, have spread across the world!

Fun Fact: Orange haired tabby cats were bread first by Vikings who thought the coat color was entertaining for an animal, and it was through their trading and exploration vessels that the orange tabby was spread around the world – notably North America where they are… plentiful. 

When settlers came to the United States they brought many cats on board their ships with them. The cats were very good at ferreting out rodents during the long trip, keeping the food safe, and during the long voyage would help instill a sense of companionship among the passengers. I’m sure when you’re in a drafty, cold and wet ship for three months, having a warm, purring little furball suddenly curl up with you at night is a welcome change!

The colonists who settled the U.S. made a point to keep cats with them on their farms and in their fields to serve generally the same purpose: Mousing, hunting snakes, and the like. While not commonly a pet in the early Americas, settlers did have a special affection for their cats – barn cats mostly – and would often give them fancy collars to wear, name them, and so forth. If you look at historical portraits from the Early Americas you can often spot a cat, in fact.

Cool! But can my cat share my Thanksgiving Feast?

Yeah! I mean, kind of!

If you don’t know, there are tons of things cats can eat and a tons of things that cats simply weren’t meant to eat. The biggest problem you’ll face at Thanksgiving with giving your cat food – likely the biggest problem you’ll face any time you want to give your cat food – is salt.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Cats do not process sodium very well at all. High concentrations of salt – and high means pretty much anything added that isn’t naturally occurring – can result in renal failure in felines – that is, their kidneys can shut down.  A huge problem with human food is that it is packed to the brim with salt because we can’t get enough of the stuff! I would consider things like stuffing or dressing definitely a no-go for cats.

Cranberry sauce is likely too high in sugar to be a healthy snack for your cat (or you). Deviled eggs are usually salty, but if you save some egg whites, and your cat doesn’t mind the texture, the protein is very good for them.

In general, just try to avoid anything salty or sugary. Most items are likely to be “diet neutral” to your cat – such as vegetables. Your cat might eat them if offered, and while it won’t have any benefits, it won’t hurt the cat. Remember that once prepared and cooked, most foods will become unsuitable for your cat simply because you season them and a cat’s system is more susceptible to that stuff than you would be.

What about Turkey? I mean, that’s what we’re all really here for, after all.

As long as you aren’t using some kind of flavor or butter injection on your turkey, a bit of dark meat won’t hurt your kitty. If you can – and I know this is probably a pretty big ask – get some meat off of the bird before it has been seasoned or cooked. Just as soon as you pull the bird out of the bag, go ahead and cut a bit off (raw) and keep it aside for your cat. Raw poultry isn’t a big danger to cats, as they can process and pass bacteria more efficiently than humans can. Salmonella, while still a concern, isn’t a very big one. Remember: Your animal was specifically designed to hunt, kill, and eat these birds.

If you’re honoring the age old American tradition of picking up a deep fried turkey pre-coooked from a place like Bojangles, or whatever you may have in your area, just know that it is likely a no-go. A small piece of interior meat won’t be bad, but I wouldn’t make a meal of it for your cat.

And none of this is to say that if you’re sitting at the table and the kids want to give a small piece of turkey to that cat, you shouldn’t, because you absolutely can. A small amount like that is fun for you and the cat and won’t do any real damage (except for teach your cat that it’s totally okay to beg at the table). I’m talking about making special meals for your baby.

A Good Alternative: Cornish Hen

If you’re looking for a good alternative to Turkey and want to take the time to prepare a specific Thanksgiving dinner for your cat, consider getting a smaller poultry like a Cornish hen. Toss it on a cookie sheet with no seasoning, and bake it the night before, and refrigerate. Then on Thursday you can cut the meat off to feed to your cat.

If you cook the bird, make sure you don’t give any bones to your cat, as cooked bones are brittle and will splinter in your cat and cause potentially fatal problems. If the bird is raw, the smaller bones should be okay because they’re flexible, but avoid the larger bones.

Also consider that the average domestic house cat only needs about 600 calories a day. 3 ounces of turkey will rough out to about 200 calories, and half a Cornish hen to around 350 calories. So make sure you weigh and measure the food so you don’t overfeed your cat.

That’s all! Do you have any special Thanksgiving plans or recipes that involve your cat? Let us know in the comments! And make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss any updates!

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