Cats and tuna seemingly go together like cookies and milk. We see commercials depicting a cat going wild for tuna flavored cat food. We tend to think of tuna, and other types of fish, as the pinnacle treat for our finicky felines.
However, despite this popular image, tuna isn’t always the best choice for your kitty. Before you give your cat tuna, there are some things you should know.
How often to give cats tuna?
It’s natural to want to spoil or indulge your cat. They are your companion. When they are happy, you are happy as well. Few things will get a cat as excited as popping open a can of tuna, but is it healthy for them?
A Cat’s Natural Diet
Cats have evolved to eat a specific diet. This has sustained cats in the wild for thousands of years, and their body has adapted to certain foods. When determining what’s healthy for cats, their natural diet is a good starting point.
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they aren’t designed to consume plants, and require meat to survive. Of course, tuna is a type of meat, so at first glance it seems like a great addition to your cat’s diet.
However, fish are not a part of a cat’s natural diet. Most cats don’t like water. They do their hunting on land. You might find your cat stalking or even eating a mouse, but you aren’t likely to find them catching fish.
Cats began eating fish when they were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians. The legend is that Egyptians would give them fish to lure them into the house. Cats do enjoy fish, but they aren’t a natural part of their diet.
Can Cats Get Addicted to Tuna?
Before we get into the health benefits and risks of tuna, and how often you should give it to your cat, there’s something you should know. Cats can become addicted to tuna. No, they won’t go into withdrawal without their tuna. However, they may prefer the taste of tuna so much that they refuse to eat other foods.
If your cat loves tuna, do not begin giving it to them exclusively. Even tuna cat food should be balanced with other types of cat food. There are many stories of cats who refuse to eat anything other than tuna-flavored food.
Just like us, it’s best for cats to have a balanced diet. Sure, tuna cat food is nutritionally balanced, but it’s still a good idea to provide other protein sources. Giving your cat a variety of different foods helps prevent food sensitivities from developing, and ensures that they get all the nutrition they need.
How Often Can You Feed Tuna Cat Food?
When it comes to tuna cat food, there are no clear guidelines. Tuna cat food isn’t immune to some of the concerns present in canned tuna, including mercury. A research study conducted by the University of Nevada looked at the nutrition and mercury levels of cat foods.
They found that most of the foods were below the suggested limit for mercury. However, fish based foods, including tuna, had higher mercury levels than other types of food. This includes both dry and wet food. The researchers recommend feeding fish based foods in moderation, to prevent mercury toxicity.
The study provided no specific information on how often you should feed your cat tuna based foods. What’s a cat owner to do? Be sure to vary your cat’s diet. Feeding tuna based foods is probably safe, but it is wise to limit it to a few times a week.
Can You Feed Canned Tuna?
Canned tuna designed for humans is very different from tuna cat food. It contains pure tuna, while cat food contains other ingredients, vitamins, and minerals that cats need for a balanced diet.
Tuna does contain protein and Omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for your kitty’s health. This makes it a good choice for an occasional treat.
However, there are several problems with feeding canned tuna to your cat too often. First, as noted above, tuna contains mercury. The levels are low, as they are with tuna based cat foods. However, mercury does build up in the body.
This means if you feed your cat tuna too often, the mercury may accumulate to unhealthy levels.
Another concern is the unbalanced nutritional content. Cat foods are specially formulated to meet your cat’s nutritional needs. This means they contain the correct nutrients in the right amounts.
Tuna lacks Vitamin E, which can lead to yellow fat disease. This condition causes inflammation and tissue damage to the fat layer under the skin. Your cat’s diet also needs both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Too much Omega 6 can cause health problems, including inflammation and organ dysfunction. Too much Omega 3 is unlikely to cause serious problems in cats, but it can lead to digestive upset.
How to Feed Canned Tuna to Cats
If you want to feed your cat canned tuna, you’ll need to follow some basic guidelines. Choose tuna that is packed in water instead of oil. Avoid tuna with added salt or spices. Chunk light tuna is a better choice than albacore, because it has a lower mercury content.
Treats, including tuna, should be no more than 10% of your cat’s diet. To accurately determine this, you’d need to add the calories from your cat’s regular food, and divide it by 10. This is how many treat calories your cat should have each day.
Of course, this is a pretty labor intensive calculation. Instead of calorie counting, keep the 10% rule in mind as a general guideline. Most experts suggest feeding no more than 1 tablespoon of tuna at a time.
If your cat has never had tuna before, feed them no more than 1 tablespoon. This can alert you to any allergies or digestive intolerances. If they do well, you can increase the amount with the next feeding.
If your cat also eats tuna cat food, it’s best not to give tuna as a treat.
Can Kittens Have Tuna?
A small amount of tuna isn’t likely to harm your kitten. However, kittens have different dietary needs than adult cats. Just like human babies, proper nutrition is essential for healthy growth and development.
It’s ok to feed your kitten a tuna based kitten food as part of their regular diet. However, be sure you are feeding them a variety of foods, including other types of cat food. Giving kittens different foods will improve their digestive system, and make them less likely to be finicky eaters when they get older.
Canned tuna isn’t recommended for kittens, because it is not balanced for their nutritional needs. If you do choose to give tuna to your kitten, limit it to 1 teaspoon, once or twice a week.
If you give them a tuna based cat food, it’s best to avoid giving them canned tuna.
Can I give my cats tuna every day?
No, you shouldn’t give your cat tuna every day, regardless of the type. It’s important for them to consume a variety of foods for optimal health. Because tuna is so tasty to cats, they may begin to refuse to eat anything else.
Too much tuna of any type increases the risk they will develop an allergy to it, increases mercury exposure, and increases the risk of tuna addiction.
Do not feed your cat tuna every day. This includes both tuna based cat food and treats. It’s best to limit tuna to a few times a week, at most.
This also applies to other fish based foods. To keep things simple, consider any type of fish a moderate part of your cat’s diet, and not the primary staple. For example, if you feed your cat tuna a few days a week, and salmon on the other days, this can cause the same issues as feeding them tuna each day.
If your cat is a tunaholic, there are some alternatives. Chicken or turkey based foods are a good choice for your cat’s standard diet. If they refuse to eat anything non-tuna, mix the two foods together.
Gradually reduce the amount of tuna and increase the other food. Feed your cat several types or flavors of cat food, to avoid them replacing one preference for another.
You can also swap out tuna for other types of fish. Generally, the larger the fish, the higher the mercury content. This is because big fish eat small fish. Small fish contain small amounts of mercury.
As the big fish gobble up the small fish, they take in the mercury from the small fish. Over time, it builds up in their system.
Sardines, anchovies, and herring are great tuna alternatives. Just like with tuna, it’s best to find the cat version, rather than sharing your snack.
Can cats get mercury poisoning from tuna?
Yes, it’s possible for cats to get mercury poisoning from tuna. Mercury poisoning due to tuna or other fish consumption is rare, but it’s certainly a possibility.
It typically occurs when a cat eats a lot of tuna. If you are feeding your kitty tuna for every meal, they are at risk of mercury poisoning.
It’s also important to note that there are no legal limits for the amount of mercury that can be in cat food. There are recognized standards, but these aren’t required by law. Most cat foods will have less mercury than the recognized limits, but not all of them will meet the standard.
Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning in Cats
Mercury poisoning can cause a wide variety of health issues. Most of these are neurological. They include incoordination, tremors, and convulsions. They may also develop blindness.
Severe mercury poisoning can lead to anorexia, depression, paralysis, and death. Even though mercury poisoning from fish is rare in cats, you should use caution when feeding your cat tuna due to the severity of the symptoms.