Everyone has seen the cartoon depiction of a cunning housecat watching a Goldfish bowl. The combination of cats and fish is as inevitable as peanut butter and jelly. Felines enjoy everything about fish, from the smell to the sight. But why do cats, who originally evolved in the desert and usually dislike water, develop such a fondness for fish?
Why Do Cats Like Fish?
Cats love to eat fish because they are high in nutrients and tasty. While cooked fish is not a natural part of the domestic kitty’s diet, it can be a delightful and nutritious treat from time to time if your cat likes it. Here are some additional reasons and explanations for why felines love fish:
Cats like the smell
Cats like the smell of fish because it is one of the most powerful meat smells. Unlike humans, who are omnivores and find fish repulsive, felines are carnivores, which means the smell of meat drives them crazy.
It is nutritious
Veterinary nutritionists at VCA Animal Hospitals recommend high-meat and low-grain diets for cats. Adult cats require two to three times more meat and protein than adult dogs, partly because they require specific amino acids found only in animal protein.
A fish protein, in particular, provides DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid required for proper brain development and skin health in felines. As a result, Hill’s Pet Nutrition supplements their kitten food formulas with DHA to ensure the healthiest possible early development.
Cats are opportunistic eaters.
After living with people for a long time, cats learned that eating what is in front of them is more accessible. Cats are opportunistic feeders, so they are more likely to go through your trash, eat bugs, or sit and wait for rodents than chase birds. A kitty will usually be happy to eat fish if it is easy to get.
It enhances palatability.
Adding fish to a cat’s diet helps make mealtime more fun for them. Felines underweight or picky eaters can be encouraged to consume more food when you mix a fish topper in their everyday meal.
How Did Cats Start To Like Fish?
Some historians believe cats first appeared in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago. They also believe that humans began to domesticate cats around this time. Our cats came from African wildcats, which were carnivores that ate small mammals like mice and rabbits.
Although it is not a proven theory, some authors believe that Egyptians introduced fish to kitties 5,000 years ago. The Egyptian civilization appeared along the Nile’s riverbanks, with farming being one of their primary activities.
Following crop harvesting, the Egyptians noticed that rodents frequently attacked their produce, depriving them of their primary source of food and trade. They began feeding felines and fish caught from the Nile to combat this problem. According to the same theories, Egyptians use Nile fish to entice cats into their homes and turn them into pets.
On the other hand, despite what most people think, some cats do like water. Two breeds that stand out are the Bengal and the Maine Coon. And while most kittens like fish but do not like fishing, there are a few notable cats who are different:
The Fishing Cat, or Prionailurus viverrinus, is a wild cat from Asia that is about the same size as a Leopard. This wild cat lives close to the water and has been seen fishing along the banks of rivers and sometimes diving to catch food farther away.
In contrast to other big cats, a Fishing Cat can eat up to three-quarters of fish. Leopards and Jaguars, both of which love water, have also been seen hunting for fish.
Do All Cats Like Fish?
The answer is no for some of them. Although it is unusual to encounter a feline that does not enjoy fish, it is essential to remember that fish is an acquired taste for felines. Just like people, they have preferences.
A cat’s tongue only has a few taste buds. They are in the hundreds for cats but in the thousands for dogs and people. This is why dogs and people can become addicted to sugar but cats can’t. Most felines prefer fish and other strong-smelling foods because the aroma makes the food taste even better.
What Kinds of Fish Are Good For Cats?
Below is a breakdown of which fish are safe for felines, which should be offered sparingly, and which should be avoided entirely.
Tuna can be a treat for cats as long as it is cooked and not raw. Also, you should not make tuna a regular part of your cat’s diet because some cats get so hooked on it that they will not eat anything else.
It is okay to eat canned tuna as a rare treat once in a while, but be aware that it often has more sodium and other preservatives, as well as heavy metals. Tuna in brine has too much salt and is not suitable for your cat to eat. On the other hand, you should drain the tuna well so your kitty only gets a few calories from the oily fish and extra oil.
Salmon is suitable for cats’ health because it has many vitamins that are good for them. If you want to feed your cat salmon, ensure it is always cooked and not smoked or mixed with herbs and spices that could make your cat sick. Canned salmon is not recommended for your cat because it contains too much salt and harmful chemicals.
Sardines or pilchards are a great source of protein, vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Felines can eat these fish in moderation because they are high in fat and may cause them to gain weight. They may also contain heavy metals and toxins.
Can Cats Eat Raw Fish
Feeding your cat raw fish is not advisable because it contains an enzyme called thiaminase that breaks down thiamine. Thiamine is a necessary B vitamin for cats. A cat’s health could be at major risk if it does not get enough thiamine. According to the study, thiamine deficiency can cause neurological problems—and even lead to convulsions and coma.
In addition, your kitty, like humans, can get sick from eating raw fish because it is a prime environment for the growth of bacteria that causes food poisoning. Two dangerous bacteria that can infect both cats and humans are E. coli and salmonella.
It is also worth noting that fish bones, whether cooked or raw, are choking hazards and can even harm your cat’s digestive tract.
Can Cats Be Allergic to Fish?
Cats may like fish, but it should only be given to them in small amounts and as a special treat. You should not feed your feline fish more than a couple of times a week. Also, too much fish can cause your cat to develop urinary tract infections or hyperthyroidism.
Some cats can also get allergic to fish or shellfish, which can cause skin problems that hurt and look bad. And if yours is one of them, you will often see skin and stomach problems. Some of the most common signs of food allergies are the following:
- Skin inflammation
- Hair loss
- Sneezing and coughing
Food allergies are not curable, but eliminating the allergen from the animal’s diet usually resolves symptoms quickly. Repeated exposure to the allergen can cause a relapse. So be careful what treats and flavorings you give your cat, especially since fish oil and meal are often added to non-fish-based products.
How Should I Feed My Cat Fish?
A general rule of thumb is that white fish is baked, grilled, or boiled without additional salt, and seasoning is ideal for cats. Here are some more specific feeding guidelines and precautions pet owners should take when feeding their cats fish.
- Low mercury species like wild salmon, cod, sole, tilapia, and most crustaceans are excellent choices when cooked.
- Look for canned alternatives such as sardines, herrings, and anchovies that are preserved whole in water.
- Keep anything preserved in oil or with added ingredients at a safe distance. Choose premium retail cat food options that contain high-quality, natural ingredients sourced from reputable sources.
- Fish should account for no more than 15% of your cat’s diet. The best way to preserve all of the nutritional value of wild fish is to grill or boil it.
- Any cooked fish meant for humans, like smoked fish, fried fish, fish fingers, or even fish in a can, is not a good choice for cats and can be very dangerous.
- Fish has a lot of good things for your cats to eat, but it does not meet all of their needs. Minerals like iron, calcium, and sodium are often missing. Still, fatty acids and amino acids like taurine are good for your cats.
- Besides mercury, thiaminase is another poison that you can find in fish. Even though it takes a long time and a deficiency to happen, it destroys thiamine and vitamin B1, which keep the nervous system healthy.
- Too much fish in the diet can cause hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, and urinary tract disease.
- Fish meals contain the preservative ethoxyquin, that links to animal health problems. Meals that are kept fresh by natural means are better.
Why Do Cats Like Fish: FAQs
If you’re still curious about why cats like fish, check out our list of frequently asked questions. If you want to add something to your cat’s diet, your local vet can help.
The same thing that interests cats in mice also draws them to fish. Cats are natural predators, and small fish are easy prey. Watching a fish swim gracefully and effortlessly may be calming for you, but for a cat, it is a cue to get up and grab a bite to eat.
Most of a cat’s instincts and behaviors are still intact. Water is highly frightening to our cats for very good biological reasons. The desert is where they originated, so it is unlikely that this wildcat ever learned to love the water. Because of their evolutionary ancestry, most domestic cats have fur that absorbs water, making it difficult to dry and groom.
Fish is an appealing food for cats because it is one of their favorite smells. Unlike humans, who cover their noses when they smell fish, cats love the scent because they are carnivores. This makes them more attracted to meat than we are.
A cat often becomes addicted to fish. It goes on hunger strikes, refusing everything but fish because it is its favorite. A cat should not eat tuna or any other kind of fish unless it is a special occasion. You must not feed your cat with fish more than once weekly, even very sparingly.
Oily fish like tuna and sardines provide more healthy fats for your cat than white fish like flounder or hake. Smoked, fried fish fingers and canned fish are dangerous for cats. To avoid harmful ingredients, fish should be plain and unseasoned.
Generally, cats prefer to eat fish because of its smell and high protein content. However, some cats are sensitive to or even allergic to fish. Learn your cat’s eating habits and whether it has any food sensitivities, and keep in mind that moderation is the key. Before changing your cat’s diet, consult your veterinarian.