By Jean Hofve, DVM
A lot of cats love fish, but it’s really not a good idea to feed it to your cat! Why not?
* The fish used in canned pet foods usually includes bones, and are high in phosphorus and magnesium, which can be an issue in cats with a history of urinary tract disorders or kidney disease. In practice I have seen quite a few cats develop urinary tract infections and blockages if they eat much fish–even boneless fish.
* Many cats are sensitive or even allergic to fish; it is one of the top 3 most common food allergens.
* Fish-based foods have high levels of histamine, a protein involved in allergic reactions.
* While cats can synthesize their own Vitamin K from most food sources, fish-based foods may not support sufficient Vitamin K synthesis. Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting. The most common synthetic Vitamin K supplement, menadione, has toxicity issues. We do not recommend feeding any cat food containing menadione.
* Fish tends to be “addictive” to cats. They love it, and will often stage a “hunger strike” by refusing their regular food in favor of fish. Tuna or other fish should be reserved as a rare and special treat. Feed fish no more than once a week, and even then in very small amounts only.
* There is a known link between the feeding of fish-based canned cat foods and the development of hyperthyroidism in older cats.
* Fish may not be safe to feed to cats. Predatory fish at the top of the food chain, such as tuna and salmon, may contain very elevated levels of heavy metals (including mercury) as well as PCBs, pesticides, and other toxins. Tilefish (listed on pet food labels as “ocean whitefish”) are among the worst contaminated, along with king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. These fish are so toxic that the FDA advises that women of child-bearing age and children should avoid them entirely’; and they recommend only 1 serving of albacore tuna per week due to its high mercury levels. If these fish are dangerous to children, cats are at even more risk!
* The vast majority of salmon today comes from factory-farmed fish. These unfortunate animals are kept in overcrowded net pens– feedlots–in polluted coastal waters. They’re fed anti-fungals, antibiotics, and brightly-colored dyes to make their flesh “salmon colored”–it is naturally gray. Common water pollutants such as PCBs, pesticides, and other chemicals are present in farmed salmon at 10 times the amount found in wild fish. These contaminants will be present in any product made with farmed fish, including cat and dog food.
* Even “wild-caught” salmon are likely to have been born and raised in a hatchery.
* Farmed salmon transmit diseases and parasites; those who escape their pens (and they do) outcompete and interbreed with wild salmon.
* A 2006 study confirms that salmon farms are “massive breeding grounds” for sea lice. Under natural conditions, wild adult fish carrying these parasites are not in migration channels at the same time as the defenseless, inch-long baby salmon, so infestation of the young fish is not a problem. But today, in waters near fish farms (which tend to be located at the end of those same migration channels), up to 95% of baby salmon are fatally infested. It is feared that that farmed salmon from nearly 300 fish factories in North America may ultimately decimate the wild population in the Atlantic.
* “Organic” salmon is also farm-raised, and does not have to comply with USDA organic standards. In fact, there is currently no regulatory agency in the United States that sets organic standards for fish. The contaminant level of organic farmed salmon may be just as high as that of conventional farmed salmon.
* The meat is toxic and the industry is environmentally destructive–need we say more?
In general, the small amounts of “fish meal” included as a flavoring and/or source of omega-3 fatty acids in cat foods are not a problem, but fish should not be a mainstay of any cat’s diet. Fish should be limited to an occasional–and small–treat.
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