Baby food is safe for cats for a very limited time or as a treat as directed by your veterinarian. In fact, on occasions veterinarians recommend that you feed your cat baby food. For example, if your cat has diarrhoea for a short duration without excessive fluid loss it can be treated at home. You withhold food for 24 hours and provide small amounts of water. As your cat recovers you introduce food gradually and provide four small meals a day beginning with a high meat protein diet. This may include a strained meat baby food.
However, the point that needs to be made is that cats have a higher requirement than many other species for arginine. It is a key intermediate in the urea cycle. If a cat is not fed sufficient arginine they become encephalopathic within hours (Morris and Rogers 1978). Here’s the problem: “diets such as baby foods are arginine deficient for cats, as are some of the liquidation foods designed for use in dogs” (K Sturgess and KJ Hurley in Nutrition and Welfare in The Welfare of Cats Edited by Irene Rochlitz). Kittens require a minimum of 1.25% and a dog cats 1.04% of arginine in their diet on a dry matter basis (DMB) (Anderson et al. 1979).
The conclusion is that baby food is not safe for cats if it is fed as a standard diet. Cats might become attracted to it to their detriment.
An interesting little story from 2017 highlights this. A cat owner wrote in looking for advice on the internet (post-gazette.com) saying that their 19-year-old cat was in very good condition but had become almost addicted to Gerber baby food – the various meet varieties of it. She wanted to know whether there was sufficient nutrition in baby food for a cat. Well, you can see that I’ve answered her question.
I know that baby food is attractive to some domestic cats. But it must be limited to a a treat or provided under veterinary supervision for a treatment. The consequences of doing otherwise may be severe as mentioned above.
The Kitten Lady on Facebook says that a trick of hers with respect to kitten rescue is baby food. She says that meaty baby food is a kitten favourite and she keeps it on hand as an irresistible snack for kittens who have lost their appetite. Interestingly, she also uses it to help socialise feral kittens. In the photograph on this page you see one of her cats whose name is Douglas eagerly eating Geber baby food which he adores. While he is eating it, he is being held and petted which teaches him that humans are kind and safe, she says. A neat idea which I like a lot.
Note: “encephalopathic” means a condition which diseases or damages the brain. Clearly it is a very serious condition.
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