Sweet potatoes are not close relatives of their not so sweet counterparts. Both species are members of the order Solanales, but one belongs to the family Convolvulaceae while the other belongs to the family Solanaceae. As such, sweet potatoes are more closely related to bindweeds and morning glories than to their not so sweet counterparts. For that matter, they have even less of a relationship with true yams, which belong to a different order altogether. In any case, sweet potatoes originated in either Central America or South America. However, they were grown throughout Polynesia before Europeans visited the region, which raises the question of how that happened.
Generally speaking, it is believed that there was some kind of pre-Columbian contact between South America and Polynesia, though it isn’t clear whether it was South Americans reaching Polynesia via rafts, Polynesians reaching South America via canoes, or even the plant itself managing to make its way over the ocean without human involvement. Besides that, there is a smaller number of experts who believe that the plant had reached Polynesia even before the Polynesians. Whatever the case, sweet potatoes were very popular for very good reasons. Since then, they have become even more so. For proof, look no further than the fact that sweet potatoes are now eaten by people on every single one of the six inhabited continents. Often-times, they are transformed into a remarkable variety of dishes as well as snacks. However, they are sometimes consumed as staples in both tropical and non-tropical regions. Due to this, it is very natural for cat owners to wonder whether their cats can eat sweet potatoes or not.
Can Cats Eat Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are not toxic for cats. This can be seen in how they see a fair amount of use as a cat food ingredient. However, there is a more important question than whether cats can eat sweet potatoes, which would be whether cats should eat sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, the answer to that question would be “Not in significant quantities” because of a number of reasons. For starters, there can be no doubt about the fact that sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients. The issue is whether cats can make use of those nutrients or not. We can because we are omnivores. In contrast, this is much more uncertain for cats because cats are not just carnivores but obligate carnivores, meaning that they need to eat meat in order to survive. Out in the wild, the overwhelming majority of a cat’s diet would have consisted of rodents as well as other small animals, with plant matter making up just 1 or 2 percent of their food intake. A lot of cats have managed to make a transition to being household companions. Even so, that past has left lasting marks on what they can and can’t do.
Moving on, eating too much sweet potatoes can cause gastrointestinal distress in cats. This is because they contain a lot of fiber, which can cause diarrhea as well as vomiting. This is particularly true if the fiber is raw rather than cooked. Furthermore, sweet potatoes contain a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause much the same issues when eaten in excess. Even worse, they can cause a cat to gain weight in the long run. Overweight cats have much higher chances of getting a wide range of medical problems in much the same manner as overweight humans, so this is something that cat owners need to watch out for. Otherwise, well, suffice to say that overweight cats tend to live shorter lives. Summed up, these things mean that cats shouldn’t be eating a lot of sweet potatoes. At most, it should be an occasional snack. Even then, it is hard to say whether cats will get anything out of it, seeing as how they are incapable of tasting sweetness because of a lack of the tastebuds needed to do so.
What Should Cat Owners Keep in Mind When Feeding Cats Sweet Potatoes?
If cat owners want to feed their cats sweet potatoes, there are a number of things that they should keep in mind. For starters, they should cook the sweet potatoes, which is important because the raw stuff has a higher chance of causing gastrointestinal distress than the cooked stuff. Furthermore, it is best to cook these things while using no ingredients that can be problematic for cats. To name an example, boiling sweet potatoes is fine. In contrast, frying sweet potatoes is a bad idea because of the oil that needs to be used in the process, which is concerning because oil can cause gastrointestinal distress even though it is non-toxic. Similarly, interested individuals will want to avoid anything made out of sweet potatoes. Those contain a lot more ingredients, meaning a lot more potential for something to be problematic. Sometimes, there are ingredients that are very bad for cats when consumed in excess, with excellent examples including both salt and sugar. Other times, there are ingredients that are just straight-up toxic for cats. Checking the nutrition label every single time can be a hassle, so it is easiest to just avoid feeding anything made out of sweet potatoes to cats in preference for using the sweet potatoes themselves.
Other than this, interested individuals might want to consult their veterinarian as well. One cat isn’t necessarily the same as another cat when it comes to what they can and can’t eat. As a result, it is very much possible for a cat to have issues with even a small amount of sweet potatoes even though that shouldn’t be a problem for most cats. Veterinarians should have a good idea of the medical information of the cats that have been entrusted to them, so they should have more insight into this topic even when compared with other professionals in the same field. What cats eat have a huge effect on their well-being. Due to that, it is wise to be as sure as possible before making changes to their diet. Even then, interested individuals should always start with small quantities of the new food just in case their cat has an unfavorable reaction for unknown reasons.