It’s common to see a rival relationship between a cat and a pet fish on animated TV shows and films. The four-legged character usually tries to catch the swimmer with the intent of snacking on them. Most of the time, the cat will become frustrated and walk away; if only reality were a cartoon universe! Your fur baby has all the faculties needed to prey on your goldfish and make him his dinner. So, why do cats like fish?
Cat lovers will attest that the sight of a canned tuna is enough to send a cat into hysteria. We went on a mission to investigate everything cats and fish. We were able to come up with several theories that seek to explain why your kitty would go down on his knees for a meal of tuna. Is it nature or nurture? The following information will help you deduce this.
Below, find the reasons behind your cat’s love for fish. We will also explain why too much fish is bad for your cat and the consequences of letting him overindulge. Did you know that some cats are allergic to fish? We will explain how this is diagnosed and treated.
With this information at your fingertips, you can be sure that your cat has a ‘safe’ relationship with fish.
The Reasons Cats Like to Eat Fish
Domestication has molded cats into people-friendly creatures making them less of predators and more of cool pets. Although your cat may seem all timid and docile, he is a certified killing machine. If he was in the wild, his diet would consist entirely of meat.
The reasons behind cats’ predominantly meat-based diet and specifically fish for this matter can be summed up as both instinctual and opportunistic in nature.
#1: They Need Fish in Their Diet
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that their genetic make-up is wired to consider meat as their primary food source. Their bodies have evolved both physiologically and metabolically to require high protein diets. They must eat the tissue of other animals in order to survive and thrive.
A feline’s body needs arginine and taurine. These are amino acids which are needed to biosynthesize or break down proteins in the body. Unlike humans, a cat’s metabolism cannot down-regulate protein requirement. In the absence of these essential proteins, their bodies will result in ‘digesting’ their own muscles.
Also, while most mammals synthesize the amino acids from seeds and dairy products, cats cannot and require them to be pre-formed.
Fish has these amino acids in large quantities which can be the reason cats go for the delicacy.
Cats also need pre-formed vitamin A. Their digestive enzymes cannot break down carotenoids which is the plant-based source of vitamin A. This is despite the fact that plants such as carrots and spinach, which are high in Vitamin A, make up some of the ingredients in cat food. Fish and meat have pre-formed vitamin A in the form of retinoid.
Finally, while humans and plants can synthesis Vitamin D from sunlight in varying degrees, cats can’t. They need it to be pre-formed for their bodies to benefit from it. Their only choice is to get it from animal tissue or as a supplement. They also need pre-formed omega 3 acids which fish is known to have a high content of.
#2: Fish was Used for Domestication
This might sound farfetched, but once you consider the history of feline domestication, the picture becomes clearer. One of the theories on the domestication of cats holds that the practice started in Ancient Egypt. It goes that cats were drawn to humans since they could feed on their leftover foods.
Ancient Egyptian cities were situated along rivers and other water bodies. Fishing was a major economic activity at the time. It makes sense that cats would be drawn to man’s homes where there was an abundance of food.
With fish being the main menu, our furry friends were slowly introduced to it. They found it good for their tummies and decided to stick around for more.
This is supposed to have taken place about 4,000 years ago. As man and cat grew close, raw fish was used to keep the felines inside homesteads. The arrangement worked since cats were of service to man; cats could rid the homes of mice and other rodents who wreaked havoc on grain storages.
See Also: How Long Have Cats Been Domesticated
#3: Cats are Opportunistic Feeders
Cats do not like getting themselves wet. People with both cats and dogs as pets find it easier to give the canines baths as opposed to felines.
When you observe your cat toying with the goldfish, you will notice that he does not dip his paw too deep. He will try to get the fish out with minimal wetting to his coat. So with such distaste for water, why would cats still be interested in fish?
Before we get to that, it’s good to point out that the Ancient Egyptian-domestication theory is just but one of many. A different school of thought has it that the domestic cat originated from the Middle East deserts about 10,000 years ago.
This puts your furry friend’s ancestors miles away from a fish diet; water bodies in the deserts are few and too seasonal to have nurtured an innate fish-craving in the cats. So, without fish in the desert, how did cats develop a taste for it?
The answer lies in the fact that cats, especially the domesticated ones, are opportunistic feeders. This means that they will try to feed on anything that crosses their path.
With their unique sleeping habits where they can spend over 16 hours sleeping, cats have mastered the art of feeding with minimal effort. That explains why your fur baby will only hunt mice after he sees it in the house. Some cats won’t even bat an eyelid when they see the rodent.
If a cat is well fed at home, he will scale down on hunting prey. He will be content with the fish that you feed him. This kind of minimal feeding mirrors the African Wildcat’s way of life.
The species is the wild animal that bears the most resemblance to your domestic cat. Scientists agree that domestic cats evolved from it. Hailing from the desert, African Wildcats conserve energy by hunting only for a few hours at night.
This would explain why your cat will be content with eating ready-made fish and spend 85% of his time alternating between naps and deep sleep. So, beware that your fur baby would rather go for the playful goldfish than tire his body out hunting mice and birds.
#4: Cats Can Actively Hunt Fish
Your furry friend lives in the confines of human standards of living. He may not be the best judge of what cats are capable of in a dissimilar setting. While he may poke around at the pet goldfish, to figure out how he would behave if fish was actively on the menu, you need to consider the wild cats.
Some wild cats are good swimmers which makes fish fair game. A good example is the aptly named Fishing Cat. This is a feline twice the size of domestic cats and a native of South and Southeast Asia. The species lives near wetlands like streams, swamps, and rivers.
They waylay fish by crouching on rocks and sandbanks. They are able to scoop fish out of the water at lightning speeds. They are also excellent swimmers and don’t mind getting their coats wet as they dive for their food.
There also other wild cats which are known to scoop fish from drying ponds and those trapped in marshes along river banks. Such include leopards and flat-headed cats.
Other small wild cats like Bobcats, Ocelots, and Jaguarundialso actively hunt fish. They stay in colonies near waterways and loading docks—scavenging on fish leftover by fishermen.
Is Fish Dangerous for Cats?
It’s evident that cats not only love fish but will actively hunt for it if need be. The cat food you buy from your local pet store will usually have fish as one of the major ingredients. Moreover, your furry baby is probably hooked on the stuff and will go nuts whenever fish is in the menu.
Yet the big question remains: can fish be dangerous for your cat?
The simple answer is that the consumption of fish can be harmful to you and your feline friend if not eaten in moderation. Some specific types of fish can be very harmful to the extent of causing infections to your four-legged friend.
Is there something that can be done to ensure that your kitty enjoys the delicacy and remains safe? Certainly; here is what you can do:
#1: Urinary Tract Infection
It’s recommended that you go for pet food from reputable manufactures. There have been recorded cases of cats developing kidney problems after eating canned tuna.
Some canned fish meant for cats is made from decaying and leftovers crumbs from the seafood industry. This unregulated food usually has high levels of magnesium and phosphorous. These two metallic compounds, if consumed in high quantities, can cause urinary tract disorders in cats.
See Also: How to Treat UTI in Cats
#2: Feline Hyperthyroidism
Feline hyperthyroidism has also been linked to diets that are heavy on fish. Senior cats are more prone to the illness, and a fish-based diet may worsen the situation considerably.
#3: Fish Allergy
Fish-based food is ranked among the top causes of allergic reactions in cats. It contains high levels of histamine which is responsible for most allergies.
An allergic reaction occurs when the body fights against the fish protein. This happens as a result of the body’s defense system misjudging fish as an invasive substance.
Intolerance of the food is usually accompanied by several symptoms. The most common sign is gastrointestinal upsets. You will hear gurgling sounds from your cat’s stomach.
Inflammation of the skin may also occur, especially among felines who are allergic but insist on feeding on fish-based foods. Papules and lesions will appear on the skin, making it very itchy. Your cat will start scratching his coat, which may lead to hair loss.
These symptoms are similar to those caused by pests or bacterial infestation. It’s therefore paramount that you take your cat to the vet the moment you notice any of the tell-tale signs of allergies.
The vet will need information on the type of food that your cat is taking. With that, it will be easy to determine the ingredient that is causing the allergy. There are some ingredients which when added commercially to a canned fish meal may cause allergies. Knowing the exact mishmash of nutrients or additives present in the cat food will make it easier to diagnose allergies.
A common approach to allergy treatment is introducing your cat to an elimination diet. This involves feeding him food devoid of fish or the suspected allergy-causing portion of his diet. His progress is observed as the elimination continues.
While residual symptoms are common during the treatment period, allergic reactions clear quickly once the allergen has been isolated. Vets will prescribe antibiotics to combat the resulting skin inflammations to avoid secondary infections during the recovery period.
See Also: How to Treat Cat Allergies
#4: Be Careful of Mercury Poisoning
One of the major concerns when it comes to fish is mercury poisoning. Predator fish such as salmon and tuna have high levels of this highly poisonous metal. The same goes for others like the swordfish, sharks, and mackerels.
The ocean is full of plastic and other manmade waste. These materials are toxic and they move up the food chain from the small fish that consume them to the predatory fish and lastly into your pet.
Food with a high percentage of fish can be toxic especially to women and children. People are advised to tread carefully when it comes to eating fish so it makes sense that you should mind how much fish your kitty consumes.
How Often Should Your Cat Feed on Fish?
Most pet nutritionists advise that cats should be fed one portion of fish at most twice a week. It’s good to note that cats can become ‘addicted’ to fish. This manifests in refusal to eat any other kind of food; so, be on the lookout for a kitty who is growing a preference for fish.
A good approach is to consult the vet on which food brands have the right amount of fish in them. You should also consult on the portions of raw fish that is appropriate for your furry friend.
If your cat loves fish, go for real fish and not the fish-flavored varieties that contain little or no fish; give your cat a human-quality piece of the delicacy.
Cats like fish. The reason behind this preference could be either instinctual or opportunistic. The theories range from the argument that cats were domesticated by people whose major economic activity was fishing or other factors that made the two cross paths.
Fish is a good source of animal-based protein and vitamins that cats need to thrive. However too much of anything is never good, and the adage is true when it comes to food; overfeeding on fish can lead to illnesses—some which are fatal like hyperthyroidism. You should, therefore, feed your kitty small portions of fish, preferably not more than twice in a week.
Tell us how your cat behaves when fish is on the menu. We also welcome comments and additional information on all things cats and fish. Leave us your feedback below. Also, check out our other interesting article on why are cats afraid of cucumbers.