Can cats eat sardines? If TV shows you’ve seen growing up are to be believed, fish is a cat’s favorite food and it seems the easiest way to lure a kitty into your care is to open a tin of sardines or can of tuna fish.
If you’ve ever watched a stray cat scarf down sardine after sardine straight from the can (or used this old standby in your trapping or rescue efforts), you’re probably well aware that cats won’t say no to this fishy treat.
But should you be feeding your cat canned sardines regularly?
Read on to learn more about the nutrition your cat could get from canned fish, and how to safely incorporate this type of food into your cat’s diet.
Is Fish An Important Part Of A Cat’s Diet?
While it seems like a natural example of the food chain at work, it’s interesting to note that cats aren’t evolutionarily predisposed to eating fish. Despite being natural predators and carnivorous, your pet cat’s ancestors were more likely to have hunted birds and smaller reptiles and not sea-dwelling prey. 1
That being said, this doesn’t mean cats can’t eat any type of fish (especially since they seem to like it so much).
So, Can Your Pet Cat Eat Sardines?
Obviously, you’ll want to check with your vet first, but the short answer is yes — and it can be pretty good for them, too. Sardines, like anchovies and other fish, contain essential omega-3 fats possibly beneficial to your feline family member’s long-term health and vitality. 2
In addition, sardines also contain trace amounts of vitamin D, vitamin B-complex, and minerals like selenium, iodine, and zinc. 3 It’s also interesting to note that sardines actually contain a fair amount of water, which can potentially be helpful to cats who aren’t too fond of drinking enough water.4
Perhaps most promising is the finding that fish oils in sardines have the potential to support a cat’s brain health.5
Sardines Are Not A Complete Food
But don’t let these potential health benefits fool you into substituting canned sardines for your veterinarian-recommended pet food. Commercial pet food has been formulated to optimize the nutrition dogs and cats receive. And it’s your responsibility to ensure your chosen dog food or cat food can address your pet’s specific nutritional requirements and health concerns.6
One study also showed that cats on predominantly fish-based diets may suffer from vitamin deficiency, further proving that fish alone can’t provide complete nutrition.7
But there’s definitely space for the occasional supplementing of known nutritious food — such as the aforementioned sardines, eggs (not raw eggs, only cooked), and healthy homemade cat treats. These so-called “functional foods” may help support your cat’s health in the long run, as long as you feed your cat responsibly.8
Feeding Your Cat Sardines: Tips To Follow
You simply can’t pick any old can of sardines off your pantry shelf and feed it to your cat. Here are some guidelines to follow before introducing this occasional treat.
Be Aware Of Potential Heavy Metals In Fish
Some fish sources and types have been exposed to a lot of pollution and toxins, and thus contain potentially poisonous heavy metals unsafe for ingestion. Mercury poisoning is a serious concern for humans, who are often warned about consuming contaminated fish.
The same is applicable to your cats and dogs — don’t feed them food you wouldn’t eat yourself. As with choosing eggs, make sure you’re aware of their origin so you can be sure they’re safe to consume. Check if your fresh sardines (if using) were responsibly farmed.9
Never Feed Raw Fish
If you prefer fresh fish, serving it cooked is ideal. Raw fish can contain potentially dangerous parasites and bacteria that can cause serious illness in your cat, and it can affect their thiamine levels. A thiamine deficiency in a cat may cause potentially serious illness. A safer alternative would be canned sardines packed in water, as brine may be too salty for your cat.10
Eliminate Unnecessary Flavorings
A lot of canned sardines come packed in oil, tomato sauce, or even cream or mustard. If you must give this to your cat in a pinch, try to rinse off or pat the sardines dry first. And, make sure the sardines you’re giving haven’t been mixed with other ingredients (especially onions, which are toxic to cats).11
Cut The Fish Into Smaller Chunks
Normally, your cat should be fine with the small chewy bones and fleshier bits of fish, but if you want to be absolutely sure you’ve eliminated potential choking hazards, chop the whole sardines into smaller bits for easier consumption.
Watch Out For Adverse Reactions
The oiliness of sardines can potentially cause diarrhea in your cat.12 Check for signs of stomach upset or symptoms of intolerance or allergies.
Limit Sardines To Once Weekly
Introduce sardines once weekly, and try to stick to a set amount or quantity. Avoid overfeeding your pet, and treat canned sardines like they’re (really fancy) homemade cat treats.13
To Fish Or Not To Fish? Always Consult Your Vet First
As with any changes or additions to your cat or dog’s diet, it’s always smartest to run things by your vet. Your cat’s health and safety are always best left to the professionals, and it’s the pet parents’ job to do right by the furriest members of the family.