Can Cats Eat Canned Tuna Safely?

Written February 19th, 2013 by
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Cats love the taste of tuna, but where would a cat find such a fish? This might incline a person to wonder if it is natural for cats to eat tuna, or even if it is safe for them to do so.

Of course eating tuna is not natural for a cat. Tuna are ocean fish—cats would never encounter them naturally. In general, fish is not a natural part of a cat’s diet. Cats do enjoy the taste of fish. After all it is meat, it smells good, and cats are attracted to smelly foods. But as a top ocean predator, tuna are loaded with mercury.

Mercury is found in different amounts in different types of tuna with albacore, or white tuna, having more mercury in it than light tuna. While guidelines exist (and are sometimes broken) for how much mercury can be in tuna canned for humans, no such guidelines exist for tuna in cat food.

You might think that tuna canned for humans would be safe for cats, but again, this is wrong.

Tuna canned for humans contains things humans can eat, but cats should not.

Tuna canned for human consumption is usually canned in either oil or water. The oil can cause steatitis, a condition in which fatty lumps form under the cat’s skin. Steatitis is also known as yellow fat disease and is caused because the oil interferes with the cats metabolism of vitamin E.

Whether canned in water or in oil, canned tuna often contains onions or garlic. Onions and garlic are toxic to cats. In small amounts no damage may be noticed, but over time they can contribute to a cat developing anemia.

Finally if tuna canned for humans is used as a cat food replacement, the cat is likely to have health issues (particularly with eyesight) because tuna does not contain taurine. Taurine is an important amino acid for cats.

©B Nelson- tabby cat

©B Nelson- tabby cat

Can Cats Have Tuna, Ever?

Cats should really not have tuna as a major or regular part of their diet. However, there are a few rare times when you might give it to a cat.

Tuna is smelly and can be used to bait traps for catching feral cats, or can be set out to lure a cat from its hiding place.

Tuna can be given to a sick cat that is not eating well. The smell of any fish is hard for a cat to resist. When cats are sick with problems that make it hard to smell, most cat foods do not interest them.

If you ever do give tuna to your cat, be sure it safe for pets, canned in water, and does not contain onions or garlic.

Other Reading

Can Pets Have Turkey Leftovers?

Information About AAFCO Approved Pet Foods


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I have worked with pets for many years, been to college to study horses, worked in an animal shelter, kept pets, owned my own pet supply store, and currently live on a hobby farm in Alberta. I have sheep, a donkey, llama, have kept chickens, pheasants, and pigeons, as well as lots of other critters. I am also interested in travel and science. I am not a veterinarian but have a lot of pet and animal knowledge.

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