Why do cats like fish?

Most people seem to think that cats love fish and that it plays a significant part in a cat's diet. Felines are often seen as being especially keen to fish in comparison to other sources of protein, but this is actually a widespread misconception.

It's in cartoons, movies, books…

Cats are often presented as fish-loving pets, that that makes us think it's all cats that adore the fruit of the sea.

Many cats do like fish, there is no doubt about that. But there are also many cats that clearly have a dislike for the food. 

why do cats like fish

Cats, fish, and evolution

The taste for fish is not evolutionary in the sense that cats usually don't fish themselves. The African wildcat, which is probably the ancestor of our domesticated cat, did not eat fish at all. Their diet consisted mainly of mice, rabbits, reptiles, rats, and birds.

Scientists are not exactly sure how cats have acquired a taste fish, but there is some speculation.

  • It has been suggested, that ancient Egyptians domesticated the cat and lured them into their homes with fish. However, the domestication of cats actually started in the Middle Eastern deserts 10,000 years ago.
  • Felis catus, the domesticated cat, and its closest relatives in the wild are simply built for hunting birds and small mammals. Most cats are exclusively terrestrial predators with a few exceptions.
  • The fishing cat (prionailurus viverrinus) actually does mainly hunt and eat fish. Also, tigers and some other wild cats have been known to fish if they have the opportunity. Nevertheless, fish has never played a significant part in a feline diet.
  • Fish also smells and tastes different than their normal prey would, and most cats hate water. Fish just don't seem to fit their diet.

If it's not a part of their natural diet,
why do many cats love fish?

The answer to the question is pretty simple: cats are what is referred to as opportunistic feeders. That means that they will take advantage of the situation and eat anything that is up for grabs.

Fresh Tuna

Also, they have spent thousands of years with humans, scavenging on human food. And because cats are smart, they quickly realized that the fish they could get from the humans at the docks was an easy food source that didn't require any effort.

It was actually good for their coats and allowed them to focus on other things like reproducing. Eating fish that was caught by humans reduced the need for active hunting and saved their energy.

Since cats' digestive systems haven't caught un with this change in their diet, it is only recommended to give fish to your cat in moderation.

A cat can taste significantly less than humans – cats only have about 470 taste buds when humans have 9,000. They can detect all of the five flavors: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami. Yet, their taste of the sweet flavor is restricted since they can't fully digest carbohydrates and sugars, and they don't really need them in their diet.

Although their sense of taste is not as distinct as ours, cats do have a superior sense of smell, and the strong smell of fish might be what attracts cats to it.

Since you're familiar with the different types of hamster cages, here are a few important things to consider when buying the best hamster cage.

Should I feed fish to my cat?

Fish can be an excellent source of protein for your cat when it is fed in moderation. 

Cats are obligate carnivores which means they eat primarily meat and only small amounts of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Because cats have short digestive systems, they can not fully digest any plant material.

Cats need proteins, which are made from amino acids. These proteins form the enzymes, antibodies, and hormones that cats need for their bodies to function and for them to stay healthy. They build tissues, regulate the pH balance, and provide energy to your cat's body.

Cats' bodies also need oils and fats which they get from fatty acids. Although plants can also contain proteins, cats can only fully use the fatty acids that they get from meat and fish.

Fish is also packed with taurine, which is an amino acid that controls heart rhythm, vision, digestion, and reproduction. Many mammals manufacture taurine themselves from other amino acids, but cats' bodies can't do this, and they must have their diets supplemented with taurine.

Although fish contains the amino acids cats need, it lacks certain minerals like iron, calcium, and sodium. It also contains too much phosphorus and it can contain high levels of mercury and other toxins. Providing your cat with a diet that is high in fish is links to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and hyperthyroidism.

Apart from being very rich in iodine and other ingredients that are harmful to the cats if fed on a regular basis or in huge doses, fish also does not have all the required minerals and vitamins for a healthy and balanced diet.

It may be high in protein, but it lacks vitamin B and vitamin E. Also, the nutritional values of fish greatly depends on where it lived. Some fishes are raised in unhealthy sources of water, which can be full of sewage and pollutants.

What it all comes down to is that if your cat likes fish, it is definitely a great addition to their diet - when it only makes up a part of your cats diet, and you mostly feed them with other sources of protein.

Although you often see cats eating raw fish in cartoons, cooking the fish might be a good idea to prevent your cat from getting parasites.

Those who prefer feeding their cats with tuna or other fish in oil may put their lovable pet in danger, as oiled products like tuna are not commercial, regular cat foods. They consist of a large number of polyunsaturated fats, which promote pancreatitis (also called yellow-fat disease).

Do cats need omega-3 fatty acids?

Yes, just like humans, cats also need fatty acids to keep them healthy. The cat's body can not synthesize docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and arachidonic acid (AA), so they need to get these from the food they eat.

Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits when it comes to your cat. They keep the coat glossy and shiny, but they may also reduce inflammatory conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and some skin diseases. They may also reduce the risk of cancer.

The best sources for omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish like tuna and salmon.

What types of fish should I feed my cat?

If your cat is not allergic to fish, any type of fish is safe for her.

Tuna and salmon are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but unfortunately, they are high in mercury. Other smaller fish like cod, flounder and halibut have less mercury in them, making them a good choice too.

holding my cat

How much fish should a cat eat?

Although fish is a great source of protein, taurine, and fatty acids, it also contains some harmful toxins like mercury. It also often contains an enzyme called the thiaminase, which destroys the thiamine that cats need. 

A thiamine deficiency might damage the cat's nervous system, although developing the deficiency would require feeding your cat with fish every day for long periods of time. Eating too much fish may also risk developing urinary tract infections or hyperthyroidism in your cat.

The recommendation is that you don't feed fish to your cat more than two or three times a week.

Can cats be allergic to fish?

Yes, cats can certainly be allergic to fish, just like humans.

When your cat is allergic to fish, her immune system is overreacting to a protein in the food. The allergy may cause digestive and skin problems as well as

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Inflamed skin
  • Hair loss and scratching
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Wheezing

If your cat develops these symptoms after eating fish, you should take her to the vet to get a professional assessment.

Final thoughts

Although fish can be a great source of protein for your cat, it should only be fed in moderation. 

Many cats like fish, but not all. Many are also put off by even the smell of fish in the house.

Although people seem to think all cats love fish, in the end, it depends on the individual taste of your cat. Just like humans, some cats crave for fish, while others prefer meat. 

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