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Home > Cats > Can Cats Eat Raw Fish? Vet Approved Facts & Safety Guide

Can Cats Eat Raw Fish? Vet Approved Facts & Safety Guide

Can Cats Eat Raw Fish

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Karyn Kanowski

Veterinarian, BVSc MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Fish is a popular food for cats, and you can often find depictions of cats with fish or fish bones. However, not all kinds of fish are safe for cats to eat, and some experts discourage feeding cats any raw fish, even if it’s sushi-grade. This is because there are health risks involved, and cats don’t require raw fish in their diet. It’s much safer to feed your cat fully cooked fish. So, even if it’s difficult to resist your cat’s begging, refrain from feeding your cat raw fish and offer a piece of cooked fish instead.


The 3 Reasons Not to Feed Your Cat Raw Fish

While raw food diets are becoming more and more popular in the pet food world, raw fish can be a risky food to feed your cat. While your cat may not get sick if they manage to sneak a small piece of raw fish, there is still a low risk of food poisoning. Prolonged feeding of raw fish can also lead to other health issues, like nutrient deficiencies and mercury poisoning.

1. Food Poisoning

First, your cat is at risk of getting food poisoning from bacteria like scombroid. Fish can get contaminated with scombroid when it’s not refrigerated properly. Common types of fish that can get contaminated with scombroid include tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and herring.

Cats with weaker immune systems are at higher risk of getting a foodborne illness. So, if your cat has a chronic condition, like cancer or diabetes, be careful to keep them away from raw fish altogether.

sick cat covered in blanket lies on the window in winter
Image by: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

2. Thiamine Deficiency

Along with bacteria, raw fish contains higher levels of an enzyme that destroys thiamine (vitamin B1). It’s an essential vitamin for cats, and thiamine deficiencies can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss. Severe thiamine deficiencies can cause neurological signs like altered posture, incoordination, altered behavior, and seizures.

3. High Mercury Levels

Some raw fish can have high mercury levels. Common types of sushi that can contain higher levels of mercury include yellowfin tuna, horse mackerel, yellowtail, swordfish, and albacore tuna.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recommends that humans eat these types of fish in moderation and avoid them entirely if they’re pregnant or planning to have a family. As cats are much smaller than humans, they’re even more susceptible to mercury poisoning from these kinds of fish. Mercury poisoning can be scary and very harmful to cats; causing hind leg rigidity, incoordination, and tremors, and some neurological signs can be irreversible.


Safe Ways to Feed Your Cat Fish

Due to the number of health risks associated with raw fish, it’s best to refrain from feeding raw fish to your cat. However, your cat can still enjoy fully cooked fish and fish-based treats. If you’d like to feed your cat some fish, make sure to start by making the right purchases. The FDA recommends only purchasing fish displayed in refrigerators or on a thick bed of ice. Look for signs of freshness, like clear and shiny eyes, firm flesh, and no discoloration. Fresh fish also won’t carry a strong odor.

If you purchase frozen fish, make sure that the fish is frozen completely and not bendable. The packaging should be intact without any torn or crushed edges, and it shouldn’t have any ice crystal formations because ice crystals can be a sign that the fish was stored for too long or was thawed and refrozen. When thawing frozen fish, put it in your refrigerator overnight rather than letting it sit out at room temperature.

One of the easiest ways to cook fish for your cat is to use a non-seasoned skillet or pan. You can just cook it plain, as oils, salt, and seasonings are unnecessary and don’t add very many benefits to your cat’s diet. Properly cooked fish will have an internal temperature of 145°F. Cooked fish can be left out at room temperature for up to 2 hours. If the temperature is over 90°F, it must be eaten within an hour to avoid food contamination.

Canned fish is cooked during the packaging process, so is also safe to feed your cat, provided it is in spring water, not oil or brine.

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While cats may not get sick from eating small pieces of raw fish, it’s still not recommended for raw fish to be added to their regular diets, as there are several significant risks to feeding cats raw fish. Since raw fish isn’t a necessary part of their diet, it’s better to avoid feeding it to them altogether. Cats can still enjoy eating safely prepared fish, so, if you want to offer your feline friend some fresh fish, just make sure to take a few minutes to cook it thoroughly and serve it as an occasional snack.

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