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Can Cats Eat Bonito Flakes? Potential Health Problems

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Can Cats Eat bonito-flakes

If you’re reading this article, you may have heard of bonito flakes and are curious if they are okay for your cat or have no clue what they are. Either way, we’ll answer any questions you have around these fishy flakes. But before we launch into everything bonito, are they safe for your cat to eat?

For the most part, bonito flakes are quite safe as a treat for your cat if they are given in moderation.

We’ll look at what exactly bonito flakes are and what might happen if a cat eats too many. We’ll also go over how much you should give your cat in a day.

What Exactly Are Bonito Flakes?

Bonito flakes come from bonito fish, which are schooling fish of the same family of fish as mackerel and tuna. The bonito is sometimes confused with the skipjack tuna, and while they are related, they are not the same fish. Some bonito flakes are made with skipjack.

So, bonito flakes are typically made with bonito fish that have been dried and smoked and then grated into flakes.

Bonito is the fish, but the process of drying and smoking them is called katsuobushi. Once the bonito have been drying for a month or more, it’s sprayed with a kind of fungus and ferments and dries for several more weeks. Once complete, the katsuobushi is grated and becomes bonito flakes.

It’s commonly used to make a fish broth called dashi, an essential component of Japanese cooking. It’s also used as a simple flavoring by sprinkling it on vegetables and other food as a topping.

It has a smoky and savory taste that provides an umami flavor to your food. It also is known to move around on your plate, but this is from how light and airy the flakes are and not because they are alive in any way.

dried bonito and flakes
Image Credit: UV70, Shutterstock

Cats and Bonito Flakes

Cats are obligate carnivores and that most of them love eating fish, so are bonito flakes okay for cats?

While bonito flakes are commonly used in human cuisine, there are bonito flakes made especially for cats like this one.

Bonito flakes that have been made specifically for cats are made with the health and safety of cats in mind. This also means they have nutrients that are good for cats – specifically, they are high in taurine, protein, and fish oils and are low in carbohydrates and sodium.


Taurine is an essential amino acid, especially for cats, so to stay healthy and thrive, they need a fair amount of taurine in their diets. Taurine is essential for eye health, heart health, reproductive health and can help keep their digestive systems in good working order.

Taurine naturally occurs in animal and fish protein, and serious health issues do develop in cats that don’t have enough taurine in their diets.


Protein is a vital component in the cat’s diet, and like taurine, it should come from an animal source. Bonito flakes provide high protein directly from one source: the fish, of course.

Fish Oils

And, unsurprisingly, bonito flakes are very high in natural fish oil. Fish oil has all kinds of benefits for cats:

  • Improves brain and cognitive function
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Supports heart health
  • Contributes to a healthy coat and skin

We’ll go into a cat’s diet next so it can help you to better understand what your cat needs nutritionally to live a long and healthy life.

bonito flakes in basket
Image Credit: K321, Shutterstock

A Cat’s Diet

We mentioned earlier that cats are obligate carnivores, which means that a minimum of 70% of meat should make up their diet. In fact, their bodies can have a more challenging time digesting vegetation and plant matter.

Giving cats grains, fruits, and vegetables not only means they might get sick after some time, but it just doesn’t contribute to their health in any meaningful way.

Our cats rely on commercially prepared food, most of which is nutritionally balanced and should contain the proper amount of protein and taurine, among other essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s also a good idea to make a point of reading the ingredient list of your cat’s food to ensure they are getting the right nutrients. Far too many manufacturers put in fillers as a cheaper way to maintain those nutritional requirements.

This also means your cat might not be getting the right kinds of protein. The best type of food shouldn’t have fillers, such as wheat, corn, soy, or animal by-products.

Problems with Bonito Flakes

There are a few problems with giving your cat bonito flakes. First, there has been some controversy that started back in 2015 that banned bonito flakes from being imported into the EU over fears of it having a carcinogen risk. It is a natural product overall, but the process of smoking it can lead to benzopyrene forming, which is a known carcinogen.

Plus, the use of mold for the drying stage could lead to mold poisoning. However, it is believed that the risk is minimal, and many manufacturers of bonito flakes do take precautions. It is still readily available in North America.

Bonito flakes are also meant to be given to your cat as an occasional treat and in moderation. Certainly not as a main meal, no matter how much your cat loves it. Too much of anything for a cat can definitely lead to stomach upset, particularly vomiting and diarrhea.

a bowl of bonito flakes
Image Credit: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock

How Much Is Okay to Give Your Cat?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much is too much for a cat, but you should consider bonito flakes as treats for your cat. You know you shouldn’t give your cat a lot of treats, and this is true for these as well. Particularly if you don’t want to give your cat an upset stomach.

But they are natural and made solely from fish without any additives, so you can technically give your cat a little more of these than most other treats. They are also relatively small and light.

You probably shouldn’t give more than three to four treats for each cat in a day so you can avoid gastrointestinal upset. These treats can be broken down further into smaller pieces to stretch them out over the day if that helps.


So, yes, you can give your cat bonito flakes. Consider reading the ingredient list first just to be sure there aren’t any added ingredients that might not be great for your cat. Your best bet is to stick with bonito flakes specifically made for pets.

And if you’re still unsure, you should feel comfortable speaking to your vet about your cat’s diet. Particularly if your cat has any food allergies or stomach sensitivities. But otherwise, bonito flakes are a healthy and tasty snack for most cats. Your cat will probably thank you for this delicious treat.

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Featured Image Credit: Nishihama, Shutterstock

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