Can cats eat raw fish?

We talk about cats and milk at length in it’s own article Is it okay to give milk to your cat?. 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.

Tan kitten next to a fishbowl with a goldfish
Can cats eat raw fish? Kind of.

Can cats eat raw fish?

The short answer is, yes. But there are several precautions to be made.

There are many myths surrounding the field about your cats diet. The most common ones are things like:

  1. Your cat can receive balanced nutrition only from commercial cat food.
  2. Meat-by products are evil. We wrote a whole article about this one.
  3. Cats love to drink milk (We wrote a whole article about this one too) and love to eat raw fish.

We’ll go into the last one in detail below.

Is fish bad for cats?

Fish should form only a fraction of your cat’s diet. The reason for this limitation is that fish is not nutritionally appropriate for a cat. The reason is that fish are not a part of cat’s natural diet. With the rare exceptions of some wild cat species, cats don’t eat raw fish in the wild.

History shows that the evolutionary ancestors of the domesticated cats we know and love today didn’t eat raw fish either. Therefore, their development as a species didn’t 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 isn’t a problem if fish is only an occasional treat to your cat, amounting to no more than 10% of total food intake.

When are fish bones okay for cats to eat?

No, never. It’s never okay to feed your cat fish bones. If you do feed your cat fresh fish, please make sure that the fish bones have been removed. The reason for this is that the bones may damage or obstruct your cat’s throat or gastrointestinal tract. If you say that your cat gulps down a whole smaller fish and things are okay, we believe you. Many cats do that.

Actually, most cats that are seen in our practice with fish bone obstructions are said to have swallowed a whole fish with no problems and they have been doing it for years with no problems.

Unfortunately, even if you remove the backbone of the raw fish, keep in mind that smaller bones still can cause problems. They are hard to remove and difficult to find in a raw fish. That’s why cooks use tweezers and yet I’m sure you’ve found at least one bone in the cooked fish you ordered at a restaurant. Can you honestly say that you could find and remove every bone in a raw salmon lets say, for your cat? Even when I serve cooked salmon at home for dinner, those darn little bones are so hard to find and remove. And we purchase salmon filets that have already had “all” the bones removed, even the salmon skin.

Do cats prefer raw fish or cooked fish?

Despite the fact that your cat may like the smell and taste of raw fish, we should be clear on this point. Fish should be cooked. Always. Yes, we are fans of feeding raw food to cats. According to the research done in the United Kingdom, back in 2016 a study showed that 4% of cat owners in the United States fed their cat a raw diet.

However, when it comes to fish, it is better to stay on the safe side. One of the major reasons for this is that raw fish contains 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, salmon, tuna, and others.

Besides thiamine deficiency, raw fish is also a common reason why cats get parasites. For more information on intestinal parasites, please refer to our article on this subject: Is it necessary to deworm an indoor cat?

Can cats eat canned tuna?

We strongly recommend to our patients to avoid tuna and other canned fish in oil. Oiled products, such as tuna and other fish in oil like canned salmon, are not a regular commercial cat food like canned cat food.

Unfortunately many cats receive them as frequent treats. The reason to avoid giving your cat canned fish is that they contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fats. They promote a relatively common medical condition called pansteatitis. This condition 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. The strange thing is that the cause turns out to be something they had done to their cat. When we examine the poor cat, analyze the cats diet we discover that it’s because of tuna in oil. Sounds crazy, right? Unfortunately it’s a more common occurrence than you’d think.

Can cats get sick from eating raw fish?

Yes. As you’ve learned raw fish can give your cat parasites, isn’t nutritionally complete, and the bones can cause problems. We don’t 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. We much prefer to give your cat kibble from your cats regular diet.

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.

We hope you now understand that the answer to your question, “Can cats eat raw fish?” is yes, but only a little and with caveats. That way you’ll be happy and your cat will be happy. And a happy pet is what we all want right?

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