Is it safe for your cat to eat fish?

There are many myths surrounding the field of cat nutrition, such as: your cat can receive balanced nutrition only from commercial cat foods, meat-by products are evil, and cats love to drink milk and eat fish.

Two cats in a fishing boat on the river

We will talk about milk sometime soon (now you can read about milk), but, in this article, you are going to learn why raw fish is not safe for your cat, if cats should eat tuna in oil, and finally, whether or not fish is a safe food for cats at all.

Can cats eat fish? The short answer is, yes! But there are several precautions to be made:

  • Fish should form only a fraction of your cat’s diet. Fish is not nutritionally appropriate for a cat. Fish are not a part of cat’s natural diet. With the rare exceptions of some wild cat species, cats do not eat fish in the wild, nor did their evolutionary ancestors eat them. Therefore, their development as a species did not depend on fish as a food source. Fish is deficient in certain minerals, such as calcium, sodium, and iron. It also contains excessive amounts of phosphorus. Of course, that is not a problem if fish is only an occasional treat to your cat, amounting to no more than 10% of total food intake.
  • Fish bones must be removed, as they may damage or obstruct your cat’s throat or gastrointestinal tract. If you say us that your cat gulps whole fish and is okay, we believe you. Many cats do that. Actually, most cats that are seen in our practice with fish bone obstructions are said to do it for years with no problems. Unfortunately, even if you remove the fish bone, keep in mind that smaller bones still can cause problems. They are hard to remove; cooks use tweezers. Would you do that for your cat?
  • Fish should be cooked. Yes, we are fans of feeding raw foods to cats. However, when it comes to fish, it is better to stay on the safe side. Raw fish contain an enzyme that breaks down Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Signs of thiamine deficiency include anorexia, loss of coordination, vestibular disorders, aggression, and seizures. Almost all cats who are diagnosed with thiamine deficiency are reported to consume significant amounts of raw fish, such as carp, herring, pike, cod, mullet, and others. Besides thiamine deficiency, raw fish are also a common reason why cats get parasites. Did you know there are several ways that even indoor cat can get worms?
  • Avoid tuna and other fish in oil. Oiled products, such as tuna and other fish in oil, are not regular, commercial cat foods, but many cats receive them as frequent treats. They contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fats. They promote a relatively common medical condition, pansteatitis, which is also known as yellow fat disease. Signs of pansteatitis include anorexia, depression, poor coat quality, hypersensitivity, abdominal pain, and death. Cat owners often first complain about their cat becoming aggressive when being picked up, and only then discover that it’s because of tuna in oil. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Okay, we do not want to scare you, because you can give fish to your cat as an occasional treat. But make sure it stays what it is—a treat.

Found yourself guilty of feeding too much fish to your cat? No worries! This is just one thing that cat owners get wrong. You can learn about other common cat feeding mistakes here.