Have you noticed that your cat comes running whenever you open a can of olives? Maybe you've even offered an olive to your cat, only to see them react with unbridled excitement. But should cats consume olives? What about olive oil? Although it can be a lot of fun to share these salty snacks with your cat, you'll want to consider a few things before you do.
Why Do Cats Love Olives?
There are no scientific studies that delve into the mysterious reasons as to why cats go crazy for olives, but there are some theories. Some cats may just love the taste or enjoy the interaction with you during treat time. Others may like the way they feel after eating olives. That's because olives, particularly green olives, contain an active chemical compound that's very similar in structure to a compound found in catnip called nepetalactone, according to Wired. Nepetalactone is the active chemical that is thought to be responsible for the silly behaviour that cats exhibit after consuming the leaves, stems and flowers of catnip.
Any unfamiliar and interesting scent, as could be Nepetalactone, cats use their vomeronasal organ to analyse it. As noted by Mental Floss, the vomeronasal organ is basically a sensing, smelling nose-brain located at the top of the back of the throat in cats and other mammals. The cat uses its mouth to suck in air which is filtered into the vomeronasal organ. The vomeronasal organ can also detect pheromones, which are chemical “messengers” that cats release from special glands around cats’ bodies to “communicate” among them. Specifically to Nepetalactone contained in catnip, cats use predominantly their accessory olfactory system that activates part of the brain involved in sexual behaviour. In general, Nepetalactone stimulates behaviours such as sniffing, chewing, rolling, rubbing and predatory behaviour. After consuming nepetalactone, your cat may roll around, act sillier and more playful than usual and have dilated eyes. Thereby, it is hypothesised that cats like olives because it leads to similar catnips’s effects.
Not all cats act silly after eating catnip or olives, though. Your cat may enjoy eating olives and experience no changes in their behaviour whatsoever after snacking on them.
Can Cats Eat Olives Safely?
In general, olives are not a dangerous food for cats; they're considered safe for them to consume in very small quantities. Eating a tiny olive snack, meaning less than a whole olive, a couple of times a week should be fine for your cat if they've eaten olives in the past without any negative side effects.
But can cats eat olives and olive oil? They're regarded as healthy snacks for humans, but olives should be considered purely empty-calorie treats for cats. And olive oil may not be a welcome addition in your cat's diet — more to come on that later. Though they may taste delicious and have an amusing effect on your cat's behaviour, olives are known to be high in sodium, and therefore, should make up no more than 10 percent of your cat's daily calories, as with any treat.
Can Cats Have Olive Oil?
Olive oil is considered a healthy part of human nutrition, but can cats eat olive oil? Yes, although it may not be a good idea.
Although olive oil isn't considered poisonous to cats, consuming too much of any fat, including olive oil, may cause your cat to experience diarrhoea and vomiting. If you use olive oil for cooking, a tiny piece of food cooked in it shouldn't be a cause for alarm if your cat eats some, as long as your cat doesn't exhibit any adverse health effects afterward. However, it should also be mentioned that olive oil is very high in fat content, and has its own inherent health risks, so always check with your veterinarian before feeding food not specifically formulated for cats.
Safety Concerns About Olives
Generally speaking, there are few safety concerns with cats eating olives or olive oil other than the possibility of mild stomach upset or diarrhoea. Avoid giving your cat olives in the future if you notice any negative side effects after they consume this snack.
Olives are often stuffed with delicious human-friendly treats, like blue cheese, almonds, garlic, sausage or pickled jalapenos. While olives are not considered to be toxic to cats, the items they're stuffed with may be. Avoid giving your cat olives stuffed with anything other than a pimento or olives that have pits, as pits can be a choking hazard or can cause intestinal obstruction if they're swallowed.
The other main concern with olives and olive oil is sodium toxicity. According to The Guardian, olives need to be cured before consumption, and a common way to cure them is through brining in salt water. Salt-brined olives are high in sodium, and feeding these to your cat on a regular basis may expose them to harmful levels of salt.
Olives aren't a good treat if your cat has health concerns with sodium, such as heart disease or kidney disease. It's also important to note that washing olives with water doesn't reduce the amount of sodium that's present in them. However, healthy cats can typically indulge in a quarter of a large olive or half of a small olive a couple of times a week without experiencing any negative health effects. Always try to limit any snacks separate from your cat's regular food to not exceed ten percent of their daily caloric content. Also, always check with your veterinarian before feeding any food not specifically formulated for cats.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
A 2002 graduate of University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well-known international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice.
In addition to being a speaker, author, veterinarian and co-creator of the wildly popular card game Vets Against Insanity, she co-owns Elevated Eateries Restaurant group in Greeley, Colorado, USA with her husband of 21 years. Together, they are also raising three slightly feral mini-humans. When it's time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado, diving with sharks in the Caribbean, or training kenpo karate in her local dojo. To learn more, visit drsarahwooten.com.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Brana Bonder, B.S, M.S