On a summer’s day there can be few more refreshing drinks than freshly squeezed orange juice filled with ice and maybe a slice of lemon on the side. You may see your cat sniffing and maybe licking around the used orange halves. So can cats eat oranges? Can they join you while you are quenching your thirst with a slice or two or should they be avoided?
Oranges – our favorite citrus fruit
There are many different types of oranges, but the most common are known as just that: common oranges. They are used primarily in the production of orange juice. They come in three types Valencia, Hart’s Tardiff Valencia and Hamlin. Many people who buy oranges and enjoy the fruit regularly are unaware of the many varieties of oranges, and simply pick the bunch that look the most fresh or happen to be on sale. Knowing which orange is the most in-season, or has extra vitamins than others may help you to decide which fruit is best to benefit you and your family.
Navel oranges can be identified by the growth of a second fruit at the apex. These are used for human consumption as they have thicker skins, which make them easier to peel, and are less juicy and a little more bitter. The much longer growing season of navel oranges means that they are available in our supermarket year round.
For our purposes, we will treat all oranges as the same because the differences are mostly in flavor and appearance and cats are unable to even detect sweetness on any level. Since cats do not detect sweetness, and have a preference for meat and seafood, any type of orange your feed a cat will most likely taste the same. The navel oranges available year round may be more plentiful and cost less than in-season oranges, making this type of orange a good buy if intending to offer bits to your pet.
Can cats eat oranges?
The short answer is no, cats should not eat oranges, though luckily, or maybe instinctively, very few will want to anyway. Cats do not feel the need to eat oranges for a variety of reasons. Cats are meat eaters and do not wish to hunt fruit. In the event a cat likes fruit and wishes to eat an orange, the orange in a tree, has a skin, and is tough to peel.
A cat will not be able to eat an orange on its own, thereby making the orange an unappealing food for the cat to enjoy. A cat may smell orange bits and look interested in your fruit, but eating the fruit is another story. If your cat does enjoy the taste and feel of the orange, you should not offer the orange to your cat and discourage his/her interest.
There are two reasons for not feeding oranges to your cat:
Firstly, the orange contains essential oils which require glucuronyl tranferase to metabolize. We possess this material in our bodies so we are able to metabolize the oil within an orange, but cats do not. Without the ability to properly digest and metabolize the essential oil in the orange, it can build up to toxic levels in cats. Not only that but menthol, which is primarily metabolized in humans through glucuronidationis is three to four times more toxic to a cat than to a rat in clinical trials. Cats simply do not have the ability to breakdown certain ingredients that other mammals can.
Though you may see holistic pet websites advocating that a small amount of any essential oil, and a moderate amount of most oils, will not harm your cat, you should proceed with caution and consult your vet. You really have to ask yourself whether you want to give something to your cat that has no proven health benefits, and the best they can say is that small amounts will probably do them no harm. Essential oils are great for humans, and some cat owners have reason to believe the oil benefits the cat as well, but a properly trained veterinarian will be the person to trust.
The second harmful substances that oranges contain are psoralens. These are from a family of natural compounds known as furocoumarins and can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to depression and photosensitivity.
As most people will know the main nutritional advantage to eating oranges is that they are very high in Vitamin C, but even this is not enough to warrant giving your cat oranges. Unlike us humans, cats produce Vitamin C in their liver so your kitty does not need any supplement. If your cat is sick, or the vet has recommended a Vitamin C supplement, offer the vitamin through a recommended capsule from your vet, rather than offering an orange.
Effects of oranges on cats
If curiosity does get the better of your cat or he happens to be one of the more rebellious or independent types and do eat an orange what can you expect?
Most likely the effects will be uncomfortable rather than serious, vomiting and diarrhea being the height of their discomfort. More often than not one such experience with an orange will be enough to satisfy your cat’s curiosity and put him off citrus fruits for the rest of his life.
Other Citrus fruits
All other citrus fruits such as, lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines and pomelos are bad for cats and for the same reasons.
Again like the holistic crowd, you may find people who will dismiss such warning (even if they do come from the ASPCA) and will still feed their pets citrus fruit particularly slices of lemon. This is often for a slightly cruel (in my opinion) wish to see their cat make a “funny” face.
I would suggest that these kinds of people might not have that great a sense of humor. Feel free to pour cold water down the back of their shirt to see their “funny” face. Cats as far as we know, do not have a great sense of humor and they will simply not get the joke. In fact, it may cause undue stress and when it comes down to it, why would you break the trust you have built up with your cat for a cheap giggle?
So oranges are one of the easier foods when it comes to classifying them into the ‘can they/ can’t they eat that’ categories. If anyone asks you can cats eat oranges? You can be assured in telling them no, cats should not eat oranges or any other citrus fruit for that matter. Citrus fruits are acidic, have oil that cannot be metabolized, and do have much nutritional benefit since cats produce their own Vitamin C and eat the rest with their cat food.
Orange tree leaves are also toxic to cats so make sure to keep your feline friend away from eating the leaves as well.