Last updated: September 17, 2016
Your sweet, lovable lap cat snoozes on the couch for hours, hardly moving a whisker. Then you open a can of tuna in the kitchen, and your otherwise docile kitty comes alive! Does this sound familiar? All of sudden he’s meowing at the top of his lungs, and he will not take no for an answer! You just wanted some tuna salad for your lunch, but your cat thinks it’s snack time for him. What causes cats to turn into raging carnivores at the mere whiff of tuna fish? Why do cats like fish?
Feline History: Fact or Fiction
To solve the mystery of cats and fish, let’s start at the beginning. What are the origins of the domestic cat? Modern legend has it that about 4,000 years ago, Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats. Allegedly, the love story between cats and their taste of fish began in Egypt when Egyptians used tasty chunks of fish to lure wild cats into their homes and domesticate them. That sounds like a reasonable enough explanation, but is it actually true?
Nope! Studies show that today’s pet cats got their start in the deserts of the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, which is the approximate start of the feline domestication process. But what does that have to do with cats and fish? After all, deserts are not exactly teeming with rivers full of fish. It turns out that even though scientists know when cats were first domesticated, they have no idea when they started to love the taste of fish. That’s because the African wildcat, which is most likely the ancestor of your pet cat, didn’t eat fish at all. The diet of the African wildcat consisted primarily of rabbits, rats, and mice, as well as birds and reptiles from time to time.
Sensory Overload: Cats’ Sense of Taste and Smell
Historians admit they have no idea how the relationship between cats and fish started, but what about biologists? Surely they can solve the mystery. A quick lesson in how your cat senses his food may offer some explanation as to why cats favor some food over others.
The sense of taste in cats is far less pronounced than that in humans. However, cats have a sense of smell that is far superior to what people are capable of detecting with their noses. Just like smelling food attracts people to some foods more than others, a cat’s sense of smell can enhance the taste of the food he eats. Maybe the strong smell of fish is what attracts cats?
Your cat’s ability to smell is not limited to his nose. He has ducts that connect his mouth to his nose, and they are known collectively as the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ. Have you ever noticed your cat make a really funny face with his mouth open and his upper lip curled? That’s the face he makes when he uses his Jacobson’s organ, which helps enhance his sense of smell. Your cat uses his special smell superpower to detect pheromones of other cats, and many scientists believe that cats use the organ to simultaneously taste and smell their food. That’s right, they use their Jacobson’s organ to both smell AND taste their food. Maybe their specially developed sense is why cats like fish?
Feline Nutrition: The Good, The Bad, and The Stinky
So by now you are starting to realize the truth. Historians don’t know why cats like fish. Biologists have no idea either. So what do vets think about what your cat eats? A vet will tell you that even though your cat likes fish, he doesn’t necessarily need a diet that includes fish. Vets are much more concerned with the amount of water, carbohydrates, and proteins consumed by your cat.
Experts agree that water is absolutely essential to keeping your cat healthy and free of illness. You are already a great pet owner, so you know that keeping a constant supply of fresh, clean water for your precious kitty is a must. But have you ever thought about the moisture in your cat’s food? Vets say that you should. They warn that the water content in dry cat food is insufficient and will not protect your cat from urinary tract diseases, which are incredibly painful and expensive to treat.
But what about carbs? You know what they do to your waistline; what do they have to do with your cat? It turns out that too many carbohydrates can be just as bad for your cat as they are for you! They can lead to diabetes, obesity, and intestinal diseases in felines.
And vets place a heavy emphasis on the nutritional importance of protein. Have you ever thought about what sources of protein are most healthy for your cat? Cats are carnivores, and we know that their ancestral diets consisted of rodents and other small mammals. That means the healthiest sources of protein for your cat are meat-based, not plant-based. Many bargain brand cat foods get their protein content from plants, but a healthy diet for cats must be rich in meats.
Feeding Your Cat Fish: Health and Safety
Your cat doesn’t care about the history of his ancestors or expert analysis of his biology. Nor does he care about what his vet thinks he should eat. He’s a cat; it’s his job not too care! But one thing remains the same: he absolutely goes crazy over fish! So as a responsible pet owner, it’s your job to figure out if you can satisfy your cat’s cravings for fish without compromising his health or nutritional requirements.
Who knows why cats like fish? The experts certainly haven’t figured out the answer to that question, but they do agree on guidelines when it comes to including fish in your cat’s diet. The most important rule of thumb is moderation. Vets say that it’s okay for your cat to enjoy an occasional fish treat, but too much fish in a cat’s diet can lead to health problems.
Doctors tell people to avoid overconsumption of fish due to high levels of mercury and other heavy metals. You should avoid overfeeding fish to your cat for the same reason. In addition, cats are prone to food allergies, and feeding too much of any one thing can cause your cat to become allergic. Another problem with cats and fish is urine. Too much tuna in your cat’s diet can cause really smelly urine, yuck! And even worse, too much fish can lead to urinary tract infections in cats.
Cats Love Fish, and You Love Your Cat
Have you ever noticed that every year researchers discover that more of your favorite foods are bad for you? Do you eat some of them anyway? Cats have those tendencies too. We’ve all seen the warning lists of people foods that are bad for cats. But if you give your cat a piece of your chocolate bar right now, chances are he would eat it.
Fish is certainly not bad for your cat like chocolate, but it can be if you let your cat have too much. However, the dangers of overeating fish are the last thing your cat cares about! All he knows is that it smells good; it tastes great; and when you open that next can of tuna, it’s his obligation as your pet to torture you until you share!
Why do cats like fish? Did their ancestors get bored with mice and decide to check out the food in the river one day? Do the extra glands in the top of their mouths make fish irresistible? No one really knows the answer, but experts agree that a limited amount of fish can be a healthy part of a cat’s diet.