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Can Cats Eat Raw Fish? What You Need To Know!

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

Cat eating raw fish on a butcher's block

If you worry that your cat’s regular diet is boring or tasteless, it can be tempting to spice it up by adding treats such as human foods. Before you do that, however, you must first learn what foods are safe for your cat to eat. Because so many cat foods are made from fish, you might assume that raw fish is okay to feed your cat.

However, raw fish should never be fed to your cat because of serious health and safety concerns. Read on to learn why feeding raw fish can be dangerous to both you and your cat. You’ll also learn about some human foods that are safe to feed as treats, as well as how to make sure your cat is eating a balanced diet.

Why Eating Raw Fish Is Dangerous For Cats

Old lady giving raw fish to a white cat
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

In general, vets and other experts advise owners to avoid feeding any type of raw fish, meat, or eggs to their cats. The primary reason is that these foods often contain dangerous bacteria that can cause illness in both cats and humans. Sometimes, cats who eat raw fish may be carriers of these bacteria without being sick themselves, allowing them to pass it on to their human friends.

Eating raw fish could also result in your cat accidentally swallowing bones that could become lodged in their throat or intestines.

While all raw diets are potentially dangerous, raw fish poses a very specific threat to your cat’s health. Most raw fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase, which destroys vitamin B1, or thiamine. Thiamine plays an essential role in the function of the cat’s central nervous system (CNS).

Over time, eating raw fish can result in your cat developing a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine deficiency can result in serious CNS issues, including seizures, paralysis, and vision loss. Cats with this condition develop lesions on their brains as well.

While thiamine deficiency can generally be corrected, the treatment can be time-consuming and expensive. It’s better to avoid raw fish and its potential health problems, all together.

Safely Feeding Fish To Your Cat

We’ve learned that raw fish is dangerous for cats but what if you cook it first or open a can of tuna for your kitty? In small amounts, cooked or canned fish make a tasty treat for your cat. Fish is also healthy for your cat because it contains omega-3 fatty acids which have many nutritional benefits for cats.

If you feed your cat cooked fish, be extra careful to remove any bones first. Just like humans, cats could suffer from mercury poisoning if they consume too much of certain kinds of fish, such as tuna. And no matter how much your cat loves fish, it should never be the only thing they eat.

Why is a pure fish diet a bad idea for cats? We’ll get into that next.

Why Cats Can’t Live On Fish Alone

cat eating dry food
Image Credit: aleg baranau, Shutterstock

To be fair, while cats can’t live on fish alone, they also can’t live on any other protein source alone either. While you may have heard that cats are what is known as obligate carnivores, meaning they can only process nutrients from animal sources, that doesn’t mean you can toss them a hunk of fish or meat and call it a day.

Cats need to eat food carefully crafted and balanced with the essential nutrients they require to stay healthy. The simplest way to ensure your cat gets what they need nutritionally is to feed a commercially prepared diet. An organization called the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) established the basic nutritional requirements that all commercial cat foods must meet.

In some circumstances, owners may decide to feed their cat a homemade rather than a commercial diet. Often, these diets may contain fish as their main protein source. Homemade diets can be time-consuming to prepare but the primary difficulty is ensuring this home-cooked food is nutritionally balanced. If you decide you want to feed this kind of diet, first talk to your veterinarian for help formulating the recipe.

Other Human Foods Your Cat Can Eat

While your cat probably doesn’t think their food is as bland as you do, treats are always a welcome addition to anyone’s diet, human or feline. Since raw fish is off-limits, here are some safe human foods you can give your cat for treats:

  • Cooked meat like chicken or steak
  • Whole grains like oats or polenta
  • Cooked eggs
  • Small amounts of cheese
  • Many fruits and vegetables, like cantaloupe and broccoli

Besides raw fish and other raw foods, here are some other foods you shouldn’t feed your cat:

  • Onions and garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Bread dough
  • Any food containing the artificial sweetener xylitol

Play it safe and double-check with your vet before offering any human food to your cat. Just because a particular food isn’t necessarily dangerous to your cat doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And keep any treats, regardless of how nutritious, to no more than 10%–15% of your cat’s total daily calories. Obesity is a common problem for cats and can be hard to correct.

Conclusion

While many humans love their sushi, cats should never eat raw fish, to avoid developing thiamine deficiency or other potential health problems. If your cat seems determined to share your dinner, stick to offering only foods you know are safe for them and check with your vet if you ever have any concerns. Remember that cats have different nutritional requirements than humans and should eat a diet formulated to their specific health needs.


Featured Image Credit: Cat eating raw fish on a butcher’s block (Image Credit: Serena via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

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