Sweet potatoes have become popular for people seeking healthier alternatives to white potatoes or those who enjoy their sweet taste. Packed with nutrients, they are holiday favorites and common additions to everyday meals.
Given their popularity, it’s no surprise when curious cats try stealing bites of sweet potato from their owners’ plates. Lacking sweet taste receptors, cats likely enjoy the subtle flavors and textures instead.
Offering cooked sweet potatoes as an occasional treat is safe for cats. Some commercial cat foods contain sweet potatoes, but it should not make up too much of the overall diet.
An Overview of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes, also known as yams, are root vegetables packed with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, copper, fiber, and antioxidants. They have a naturally sweet and creamy taste thanks to their high sugar content.
What are the two main types of Potatoes?
- Orange sweet potatoes with golden skin and orange flesh. They have a sweet, almost candy-like flavor.
- White sweet potatoes with light brown skin and white flesh. They have a milder taste and a drier texture.
Both varieties are nutritious additions to the human diet. But just because food is good for us does not mean it’s okay for cats too.
Can Cats Eat Sweet Potatoes Safely?
The short answer is yes; cats can eat small amounts of sweet potatoes as an occasional treat. Sweet potatoes are not toxic to cats.
However, there are a few reasons why sweet potatoes should not make up a large part of your cat’s regular diet:
Cats have a carnivorous bias and require a high-protein, low-carb diet. Their bodies are not designed to efficiently digest plant matter.
Sweet potatoes are very high in carbohydrates, with around 20 grams of carbs in a medium-sized baked sweet potato. That’s a lot of carbs for an obligate carnivore like a cat!
Over time, too many carbohydrates can lead to obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and nutrient deficiencies in cats.
The fiber content in sweet potatoes is another concern. A medium-baked sweet potato contains around 3–4 grams of dietary fiber.
That amount of fiber can irritate some cats’ digestive systems and cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, gas, and abdominal pain.
High Glycemic Index
In addition to being high in carbs, sweet potatoes have a high glycemic index. This means they cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels.
For cats prone to diabetes or obesity, those blood sugar spikes can be problematic. Over time, they may increase the risk of developing diabetes, weight gain, and related issues.
Vitamin A Toxicity
One of the main nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes for humans is their high vitamin A content. But too much preformed vitamin A can be toxic for cats.
Just a few bites of sweet potato can provide a cat’s full daily requirement of vitamin A. Eating more may put them at risk of vitamin A toxicity.
Symptoms include bone deformities, vision problems, lethargy, vomiting, and lack of coordination.
Sweet potatoes contain tough fibers that may present a choking hazard for cats, especially if fed in large chunks. It’s safest to cook the sweet potato until very soft and mash it thoroughly before feeding.
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes for Cats
When fed occasionally and in moderation, sweet potatoes do offer some nutritional benefits for cats:
- Excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and copper
- Contains antioxidants like beta-carotene and anthocyanins
- Provides some extra fiber to support digestion
- Natural source of sweet flavor cats enjoy
The vitamin A, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals in sweet potato can help support a cat’s immune system, skin health, vision, and more.
Just be sure to only feed your cat small bite-sized pieces to limit the carbs, fiber, and vitamin A.
How to Safely Feed Your Cat Sweet Potatoes
Follow these tips for safely incorporating small amounts of sweet potato into your cat’s diet:
- Cook the sweet potato until very soft and mushy. Mash or puree until smooth.
- Limit to 1-2 teaspoon sized portions, no more than 2-3 times per week.
- Mix into their regular cat food to dilute the sweet potato flavor. Cats may refuse plain sweet potato.
- Avoid feeding raw sweet potato or pieces large enough to present a choking risk.
- Introduce slowly and discontinue if any digestive upset. Not all cats tolerate sweet potato well.
- Never replace regular cat food with sweet potato. It should be an occasional treat only.
Monitor your cat’s weight and health closely when introducing any new food. Discontinue feeding sweet potato if you observe any adverse effects.
The Verdict on Cats and Sweet Potatoes
At the end of the day, sweet potatoes fall under the “safe in moderation” category for cats. The high fiber, carbs, glycemic index, and vitamin A content mean sweet potato should not be a regular part of your cat’s diet.
But as an occasional treat in tiny portions, sweet potato can be a safe and healthy snack that provides beneficial nutrients. Just be sure to introduce it slowly and stick to no more than 2-3 times per week.
When in doubt, consult your veterinarian about the best treats and foods for your individual cat based on their health, medical conditions, age, and preferences. With the proper precautions, most cats can get a taste of sweet potato as a yummy treat!