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Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Like Fish So Much? Instincts & Diet Explained

Why Do Cats Like Fish So Much? Instincts & Diet Explained

cat catching fish

If you’ve been around cats or seen how they’re portrayed on TV, you know one thing; cats love fish! Not only do cats like eating fish, but they also seem to enjoy watching them swim around in a fish tank. What is it about fish that attracts cats so much, and where did their love for all things fishy come from?

There are several answers to this fascinating question. One is that fish has a potent odor that cats thoroughly enjoy. Another is that cats instinctively know fish has nutrients that will help them survive.

Are you curious to learn more about why felines adore fish? We’ve compiled some interesting info below that will shed light on this fishy question, plus tips on how to feed fish to your cat, how much fish they should eat, and more!

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How Did Cats Come to Love Fish?

Many people find it very curious that cats like fish, especially considering that the domestic cat found in most American homes descended from wild African cats and thus came from the desert. Not only that but besides a handful of species, most cats hate going in the water, which makes catching fish rather difficult. Knowing these facts, you might be wondering how it came to be that cats like fish so much.

One of the possible answers is that, in ancient Egypt, people used fish to lure cats into their homes. Another is that, as opportunistic eaters, cats learned to eat human leftovers, and those leftovers included fish. Yet another theory is that since cats have incredibly sensitive taste receptors, they can identify foods that are healthy for them.

cat-obediently-waits-for-salmon_PakulinSergei_shutterstock
Image Credit: PakulinSergei, Shutterstock

Is Fish Healthy for Cats?

If you were to put your cat on a fish-only diet, within a few weeks, it would start showing signs of nutritional deficiency. That’s because, while packed with many nutrients, fish isn’t the perfect food for cats. However, as an occasional treat or a small part of their regular diet, fish has several health benefits for cats, including the following:

  • Fish is loaded with protein, something all cats need in abundance
  • Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines have joint-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fish has high levels of the amino acid taurine, which cats can’t make on their own
  • The oil in fish can help reduce inflammation and prevent arthritis

How Should You Serve Fish to Cats?

Cooking and serving fish to your cat should be done carefully so as not to cause them any health issues. The best way to cook fish for a cat is to broil, grill, or boil the fish with no herbs, spices, salt, or anything else.

Once the fish is cooked, be sure to remove the bones. Then you can crumble it into small chunks and place it on top of your cat’s regular kibble. There are also prepackaged fish treats you can serve your cat and other fish-based snacks.

mackerel cooking on the grill
Image Credit: amenic181, Shutterstock

Should You Feed Your Cat Canned Tuna Fish?

You can give your cat a small amount of canned tuna fish occasionally but not often, as canned tuna, unfortunately, contains mercury. The better choice is light tuna, which has been packaged with water (not oil) and has no flavorings or other ingredients. Also, opt for the tuna in packets, not cans.

Which Types of Fish Do Cats Like Most?

It would be surprising for a cat that likes one type of fish to turn down another, but some do. The strong smell of a fish might be a turn-on or turn-off for your cat. Below is a short list of the fish cats seem to like the most.

  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Halibut
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna
piece of steamed salmon filet
Image Credit: MaraZe, Shutterstock

Should Cats Eat Raw Fish?

As a rule, veterinarians recommend against giving your cats raw fish. Yes, in the wild, big cats always eat raw fish. However, there’s no evidence that raw fish is better for cats, but they take several risks when eating it. First, your cat can get a nasty case of parasites, including tapeworms. They can also get food poisoning from salmonella and E-coli bacteria found in raw fish.

Raw fish also contains an enzyme called thiaminase which breaks down thiamine, an essential B vitamin, in your cat’s body. A thiamine deficiency can lead to several cat health issues, including tremors, seizures, and depression.

Are Some Cats Allergic to Fish?

As surprising as it might sound, some cats are allergic to fish. It can be difficult to determine if fish is causing your cat’s allergic reaction and even more challenging to determine if all fish or a specific fish are causing it. One thing you can count on, however, is that your cat will have several signs of being allergic, including the following:

  • Skin inflammation
  • Itching on several parts of their body
  • Overgrooming
  • Skin wounds and hair loss caused by overgrooming
  • Ear infections
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Scooting
  • Difficulty pooping
sick cat vomiting the food
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

Can Fish Help a Finicky or Skinny Cat Gain Weight?

If you have a skinny or finicky cat refusing to eat for some reason, feeding them a little bit of fish might do the trick. An even better idea would be to pour ¼ (for finicky cats) to ½ teaspoon (for skinny cats) of high-quality fish oil on your cat’s kibble. The taste and smell of the oil will often get your skinny or finicky cat eating again.

Can Fish Be Unhealthy for Cats?

You might be surprised to learn that some veterinarians believe fish is not a good food for cats. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that, If you feed too much fish to your cat, it might become addicted to eating it and refuse other foods altogether. Below are several other reasons you should keep in mind when choosing whether to give your precious cat any fish.

  • The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in fish is unhealthy for cats.
  • Many fish these days are, unfortunately, loaded with heavy metals. That’s especially true of the fish at the top of the food chain used to make cat treats.
  • Eating fish too often can deplete your cat of essential vitamin E, which can then cause several other health issues, including steatites.
  • The EPA recently found a link between hyperthyroidism in cats and eating fish.
  • The high magnesium content in fish can cause urinary tract issues for your cat.

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Final Thoughts

Cats like fish so much due to several factors, including that its pungent odor attracts them. Cats are carnivores and, as meat eaters, it’s not surprising they like eating fish. It’s also been theorized that, during the age of ancient Egypt, people lured cats into their homes using fish and made the cats their pets.

While fish has nutritional benefits for a cat, some veterinarians believe it’s best not to rely on it as your pet’s primary food source. Therefore, if you want to serve fish to your cat, it’s best to do it in moderation. However, most cats won’t turn down fish, no matter how you serve it.


Featured Image Credit: Rsape, Pixabay

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