Can cats eat rhubarb?

You may have read that rhubarb leaves are poisonous to animals, but little is written about rhubarb stalks or cooked rhubarb. 

If your cat is showing a bit too much interest in your pie, or shredding your rhubarb plant in your vegetable garden, keep reading.

We’ll talk about exactly why it’s best to keep it far out of your kitty’s reach.

READ MORE: Can Cats Have Asparagus?

Can Cats Eat Rhubarb?

ginger cat looking at the rhubarb: can cats eat rhubarb safely?

No, cats should never eat rhubarb (also called the pie plant).

Firstly, cats are obligate carnivores and do not have the digestive system intended to break down plant materials.

Secondly, rhubarb is toxic to pets, causing poisoning in dogs as well as cats.

The rhubarb plant is extremely high in soluble oxalates, containing 570–1,900 mg of oxalate per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

The leaves contain the most oxalic acid, up to to 1% of their total mass.

Soluble oxalates are more dangerous than insoluble oxalates, which are commonly found in toxic household plants such as the calla lily, elephant’s ear, or sweetheart’s vine. 

Insoluble oxalates are much harder to absorb through the gut lining, so they usually cause acute aggravation to the back of the throat.

While this might need a vet visit, it usually is not deadly.

On the other hand, soluble oxalates from the oxalic acid in rhubarb are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

There, they bind with the body’s calcium causing the blood calcium levels to drop. This causes hypoglycemia, as well as soluble calcium oxalate crystals.

The soluble oxalate crystals can cause kidney damage, a kidney disease called nephrosis, and even result in total renal failure.

While rhubarb stems are lower in oxalic acid than the leaves, there is still reason to risk giving them to your cat.

While rhubarb is high in antioxidants,  vitamins C, A, K, potassium, and calcium, it is also high in fiber.

This amount of dietary fiber is great in human foods, but for cats, it can cause abdominal pain and digestive upset.

Can Cats Eat Cooked Rhubarb? 

chopped rhubarb in a white bowl

Cooked rhubarb can also be dangerous to cats, but for more reasons than just oxalic acid.

The high fiber content will likely still cause them tummy troubles.

Just as importantly, rhubarb is usually cooked with large amounts of fats and sugars to make various desserts.

This brings us to the question of if a bite of rhubarb desserts will do any harm to your feline.

Can Cats Eat Rhubarb Pie? 

freshly baked rhubarb pie: can cats eat rhubarb pie?

Cats should not be allowed to eat rhubarb pie or any other dessert containing rhubarb—or without it.

While there may not be enough oxalic acid to make your cat sick, there definitely is far too much sugar and fats in rhubarb pie to be good for a cat. 

As obligate carnivores, cats don’t have the taste receptors to allow them to taste sweetness.

This is because there is no reason for them to eat sweet plants or fruit in the wild. However, as a curious animal, a cat may nibble on anything you eat.

While sugar and fat won’t kill your cat, it is very bad for them and can lead to digestive upset, obesity, diabetes, and dental issues.

In general, it’s best to keep your cat’s diet as species-appropriate as possible. 

Can Cats Eat Rhubarb Yogurt?

yummy rhubarb yogurt: can cats eat rhubarb yogurt?

Unlike many dairy foods, a bit of yogurt is usually reasonably good for your cat.

It contains healthy probiotics, and as a fermented dairy product, most of the lactose has been broken down.

This means your cat will be able to digest it better than milk. 

However, cat lovers still need to be vigilant about flavored yogurts such as rhubarb yogurt.

It is unlikely that rhubarb yogurt has enough rhubarb to have dangerous amounts of fiber or oxalic acid.

Still, the addition of sugar is not good for your cat.

In addition, artificial flavorings may cause an allergic reaction, and if the yogurt is made with xylitol,  you may have to deal with xylitol toxicosis.

Even small amounts of the sugar replacer, xylitol, can cause a dangerous spike in insulin, followed by a sudden drop in blood sugar, also causing hypoglycemia.

So avoid flavored yogurts for your cat and be sure to always read the label.

READ MORE: Can Aloe Kill a Cat?

What Will Happen if Cat Eats Rhubarb?

Luckily, cats will rarely eat rhubarb leaves because of their bitter taste.

Nevertheless, poisoning from rhubarb does happen. Common signs of oxalic acid poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritation of the throat or mouth, which may cause pawing at the face

If the oxalic acid has caused hypoglycemia, clinical signs include:

  • Hunger
  • Confusion
  • Unfocused eyes
  • Discoordinated movement
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma and death

If the oxalic acid has formed crystals and causing kidney damage, symptoms to look out for are:

  • Bloody urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Peeing outside the litterbox (incontinence)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Apathy or lack of energy

What Do I Do if My Cat Ate Rhubarb?

How your cat responds to eating rhubarb will largely depend on how much they ate and which part of the plant they got hold of.

Although it is rare, if they did eat any of the leaves, it is best to immediately seek veterinary advice.

If they only ate a little bit of the stalk, or a bite or two cooked rhubarb, the symptoms may be mild and can be treated at home.

You may want to call your vet to make sure in any case and keep your cat under observation for any of the symptoms listed above.

If they do eat enough to cause permanent kidney damage, not only will they need immediate veterinary care, but they may need a specialized diet for urinary tract support for the rest of their lives.

Final Thoughts

The majority of human food is simply not appropriate for our feline friends, and some of it is downright dangerous. Unfortunately, this includes rhubarb.

The best we can do is keep our cats on food that is nutritionally formulated to meet their requirements, and away from all the other things that we may find yummy or even nutritious.

Too much rhubarb, in particular, can be disastrous, so even if you simply have the plant growing in the garden, be sure your pets have no access to it.

References

  • VetGirlOnTheRun. 2021. “Calcium Oxalate Plant Toxicosis | VETgirl Vet CE Podcasts.” VETgirl. 2021. https://vetgirlontherun.com/podcasts/calcium-oxalate-plant-toxicosis-in-dogs-cats-vetgirl-veterinary-ce-podcasts/.
  • Mandl, Elise. 2020. “Are Rhubarb Leaves Safe to Eat?” Healthline. Healthline Media. March 17, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rhubarb-leaves.
  • Marek. 2017. “Soluble vs Insoluble Oxalates: What’s the Difference? | Marek Doyle.” Marekdoyle.com. 2017. https://www.marekdoyle.com/soluble-vs-insoluble-oxalates-whats-the-difference/.
tiger cat liking his mouth

Can cats eat rhubarb? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic below!

Andreea Juganaru
Andreea Juganaru

Andreea is a very passionate content creator and her purpose is to provide you with the most interesting articles, while constantly discovering new facts. She’s been freelance writing for the past five years and has created numerous articles and educational materials while managing her own business.
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