How to Safely Celebrate a Pet’s Birthday

Happy birthday to you! We all love a celebration, and a pet’s birthday (or adoption day) is a great excuse to spoil them rotten – as if we don’t do that every day!

Of course, there are many ways to celebrate and show our love to our pets, but certainly one of the favorites is through food. On celebratory occasions we might want to show our pets a little extra love with something special and different from their usual diet. That’s alright, but we do need to be careful with just what we offer them.

Cats have different nutrient requirements than us, and they also have different tolerances, so we want to make sure whatever we offer them isn’t just tasty, but safe, too. We do know that cats have a preference for high protein and high fat foods – though we must be careful not to overdo it. Offering rich foods to cats is safer than it is to dogs since cats don’t have as much of a risk of developing pancreatitis, though it certainly can happen. So, keep the birthday treats in moderation.


The 10% Rule

Yes, rules even apply on birthdays! The 10% rule refers to feeding 90% of daily calories from a complete and balanced food source, like Halo kibble or canned foods, and a maximum of 10% from treats, snacks or scraps. In this way we can be certain that Fluffy is meeting their nutritional requirements each and every day and that we don’t accidentally induce a dietary deficiency. Check the calorie content of treats and snacks to make sure they don’t exceed the rule. If you’re uncertain about your cat’s daily calorie requirement, an estimate (based on average cat sizes) is:

Cat weight (in pounds) Daily calorie requirement
8 180 – 250
9 200 – 275
10 215 – 300
11 235 – 330


Of course, every cat is an individual, so if you’re uncertain of your cat’s daily calorie requirement, speak with you family veterinarian.


Human Foods That are Unsafe for Cats

In addition to commercial treats, snacks and chews, there are plenty of “people foods” we can offer our feline friends. However (and just as important), there are specific foods that are unhealthy or even unsafe for cats to eat—below is a listing of some of those items.

Raw Animal Products: If your cat has access to the outdoors, they likely supplement their diet with the local wildlife and consume plenty of raw meat and even bones, so you may wonder why raw animal products aren’t recommended to be fed. Due to farming, transportation and slaughter methods, the risk of contamination of raw animal products with bacteria is very great. That’s one of the many reasons why most people who eat meat cook it first! Just like they can cause disease in humans, those bacteria can cause disease in cats too, so it is recommended to not feed these items to any pet. Symptoms of food poisoning from raw animal products can range from vomiting and diarrhea to potentially fatal sepsis.

Chocolate: Though cats lack sweet receptors and thus don’t have as much of a hankering for chocolate as humans might, they may still consume it if offered. It’s well known that chocolate is poisonous to dogs – it’s just as poisonous to cats too, and because they are so small, much lower doses are required for toxic effects. This is a potentially fatal toxicity, as it may cause cardiovascular and neurological issues.

Milk and Dairy: It was once the fashion to put out a saucer of milk for cats, but that’s been frowned upon for quite some time now. Most adult animals (including humans!) don’t naturally produce lactase, the enzyme required to digest lactose, the main sugar found in milk. Young kittens express the enzyme so they can digest the lactose in their mother’s milk, but once they are weaned their bodies stop producing it unless they are chronically exposed to dairy products. For that reason, most cats will develop digestive issues like diarrhea when given dairy products.

Grapes and Raisins: Even small doses of grapes, or even worse, raisins, can cause kidney damage in cats.

Onions and Garlic: Though cats won’t typically appreciate your offer of straight up onion or garlic, they may eat them if they are combined with other ingredients. Large doses of onion or garlic can cause damage to red bloods cells and so these foods should always be avoided.


Other Ways to Celebrate

Birthdays aren’t just about food, there are other ways we can show our feline family how much we appreciate them! Walk into any pet store and you’ll be amazed at the array of toys available for cats – there’s something for everyone! Some cats love the crinkly tinsel balls, others lose their mind for catnip stuffed soft toys, and of course there’s the interactive toys like flirt poles and wands or remote-control mice! Engaging your cat in play is a great way to interact with them as it burns calories, builds muscle and stimulates their natural drive to stalk and hunt in a safe and controlled manner.

If you’re throwing a party for your cherished cat, make sure they have a safe space where they can escape to if required. Some cats are social butterflies and thrive with guests around, while others may prefer the chance for some solitude. They aren’t ungrateful, they’re just independent creatures that need a little ‘me time’ on occasion!

Wishing you and your fur-friend a very special day!

Dr. Sarah Dodd