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Why Do Cats Like Fish? Feline Facts & FAQs

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Cat Watching Goldfish


We’ve seen it in comics, cartoons, and funny home videos: cats chasing fish and getting wet in the process. Have you ever wondered if cats even like fish, and if so, where did they get their love for fish? After all, most cats hate getting wet!

It’s thought that the strong smell of fish and the cat’s need for protein evolved into the enduring love of fish. Above all else, cats are opportunistic feeders, which means they are quite resourceful when looking for food.

If you’re interested in learning more about cats and their love affair with fish, read on. We also look at the best kinds of fish for your cat and other interesting bits of information.

The History of Cats and Fish

This title isn’t exactly accurate, as cats generally don’t have a history with fish. Our modern cats are thought to have descended from the North African/Southwest Asian Wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), which does not have fish as a part of their menu plan. Instead, they eat frogs, reptiles, rodents, birds, and insects.

On top of this, cats don’t typically fish, so how did this love affair start? One of the central beliefs that keeps coming up is that the domestication of cats began in ancient Egypt and that Egyptians enticed cats into their homes with fish.

However, cats were domesticated as far back as the Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. Also, cats chose to live with us, so it’s unlikely that they developed a love for fish because of the Egyptians.

Not a Part of the Diet

Our domesticated cats are designed for hunting small animals and birds because they are solely land-only predators with few exceptions.

Some big cats, such as tigers, leopards, and jaguars, are known to occasionally eat fish, but they are far from the preferred prey, as fish are small and not as easy to catch as land animals.

On the other hand, the fishing cat comes from South and Southeast Asia and is one of the only feline species whose diet consists primarily of fish. Fishing cats spend most of their time in or near or in the water. But they are the exception to the rule.

All in all, fish are just not a significant part of most feline’s diets, so why do our cats seem to enjoy it so much?

cats near fishing boat
Photo Credit: RoDobby, Pixabay

Domestic Cats and the Love of Fish

Cats are opportunistic feeders and will essentially eat whatever is easiest and available at the time. Cats have been living among humans for thousands of years and have gotten good at scavenging and nabbing food, even from our plates!

Of course, any smart kitty would realize that they’ve struck gold by hanging around the docks and fishing boats. Stealing fish from humans would be easy-breezy for these rascally cats.

Also, cats have an excellent sense of smell — they can smell at least 14 times better than us humans! Combine their nose for scent and the rather pungent odor of fish and you’ve got a cat that is quite interested in chowing down on a fish.

How Healthy Is Fish for Cats?

Fish is chockful of all kinds of healthy goodness. But this depends on the type of fish and how it was caught and prepared.

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat animal meat as their primary diet. Their digestive tracts are short and don’t properly digest plant materials.

Fish are an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can make your cat’s skin and coat glossy and healthy. It can also help with conditions such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and skin diseases.

Fish is a source of the amino acid taurine, which can help with a cat’s digestive and reproductive systems and their eyes and heart. In fact, cats need taurine given to them as a supplement because their bodies don’t manufacture it.

Cat Eat Fish
Photo Credit: Zanna Pesnina,Shutterstock

What Kinds of Fish Are Best?

Some fish are better than others for your cat. It should come as no surprise, considering that these fish show up in many commercial cat foods, but tuna, salmon, herring, sardines, and trout are all good options for your cat. You can also feed your cat halibut, flounder, and cod. They are all excellent sources of protein, taurine, and omega-3.

When Are Fish Not Okay?

If your cat happens to be allergic to fish, then obviously, it’s not okay. If your cat doesn’t actually enjoy fish, then don’t force it. You also should be aware of the issue with mercury.

How and where the fish was caught and what the fish has been fed are all factors. Freshly caught fish from freshwater and ponds might be contaminated with bacteria and parasites, so it is best avoided.

Commercial fish are best because they come from fish farms where they are raised in the right conditions.

commercial fish
Image Credit: Skitterphoto, Pexels

Methods of Feeding Fish to Your Cat

Technically, you can feed your cat raw fish, but it’s best in small amounts because their digestive systems might not be able to handle it.

It’s best to give your cat fish that has been cooked without any added seasonings, flavorings, sauces, or oils. It should not be breaded, smoked, or fried. Boiling, roasting, or grilling are fine, as long as you don’t add anything to the fish.

Canned fish is definitely one of the easiest and safest forms of fish that you can give your cat. Just be sure you only get the kind that is canned in water or its own juices. Avoid fish canned in oil, and double-check that there isn’t any added salt. Just give your cat a tiny amount, and not the entire can!

cat eating food
Image Credit: Seattle Cat Photo, Shutterstock

How Much Fish Is Okay?

Since cats aren’t built for eating fish, their digestive systems might not always appreciate a fish diet, so it should always be given in moderation.

Fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase that destroys thiamine, which cats really need. Too much fish can cause a thiamine deficiency, which can negatively impact your cat’s nervous system. This can lead to a loss of appetite, seizures, and death. Too much fish can also contribute to hyperthyroidism and urinary tract infections for your cat.

The good news is that if you feed your cat commercial cat food that contains fish, the manufacturers add in thiamine to counteract the thiaminase enzyme.

When it comes to fish that is technically meant for humans, you shouldn’t give it to your cat more than two or three times a week.

Is My Cat Allergic to Fish?

It should be obvious if your cat is allergic to fish; the common signs include:

  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Weepy eyes
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Irritated and inflamed skin
  • Excessive scratching that might cause wounds
  • Hair loss

If your cat eats fish and exhibits any of these symptoms, you should visit your vet as soon as possible. Take all items that contain fish away from your cat. Check the ingredients in your canned and dry food. Even if it’s labeled as chicken flavor, it might still have fish content.

Cat vomiting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock


As a general rule, cats don’t hunt and catch fish — not including the fish in your aquarium! There are cats out there that genuinely don’t love fish. But for those cats that are not allergic and absolutely love eating fish, remember to only give them a small amount a few times a week.

Don’t worry if you have fish-flavored dry or canned cat food. This is quite safe for your cat (unless there’s an allergy, of course). While we may never see a cat fishing and even though cats aren’t technically built to properly eat and digest fish (except for the fisher cat), some of those cartoons got it right. Cats really do love fish!

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Maleo, Shutterstock

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