Can Cats Have Salmon Skin?
When we order salmon in a restaurant, it comes to us pretty in pink—head removed, skin removed, looking more like a carefully crafted food product than the body of a dead fish. Most of us who eat fish other people have prepared do so without questioning the way it is served to us. People who buy or catch whole, fresh fish, however, have the opportunity to think about the logic behind every step they take. Most of us wouldn’t even consider leaving the head on our plates (it makes us feel guilty to have the glassy eyes of a fish staring at us from the dinner table), but the skin is another story.
Plenty of people simply throw away salmon skin, but are they wasting perfectly good meat? If you have a cat, you have probably given them your cooking scraps on at least one occasion, and most cats love fish. After all, your cat’s favorite wet food contains plenty of fish! Even so, you have no way of knowing which parts of the fish the pet food companies use, or why they use some parts and not others. So, can you toss unwanted skins to your house cat? Can cats have salmon skin?
The answer is yes, cats can eat salmon skin in moderation, but only if it has been thoroughly cooked. Contrary to popular belief, the skin of most fish is totally edible—if the meat of the fish is nontoxic, the skin probably is, too. In fact, salmon skin may be more nutritious for cats than the pink muscle meat we use in sushi and other dishes. There are, however, some drawbacks—fish is often full of pollutants, and these pollutants may become concentrated in the skin. In general, cooked salmon skin is about as safe as cooked salmon meat, but it’s best to give this food to your cat in small quantities as a treat or a dietary supplement. Be aware of mercury poisoning and keep an eye on your cat.
Salmon and other fish are often touted as foods that are high in the good kind of fat, and there is a lot of truth to this. Salmon is high in omega-3s, and many of these omega-3s are concentrated in the skin! We have not done a whole lot of research on the long-term health effects of omega-3 fatty acids in feline health, but there are countless studies performed on humans and other animals that we can draw from.
Unlike the trans fats that were once found in margarine, Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the healthy fats. Omega-3s are thought to have anticancer effects in humans and other animals, with a few studies showing that there may be a positive correlation between omega-3 consumption and a slowed rate of growth in cancer cells. One study even found that omega-3 fatty acids had the ability to slow the growth of existing tumors. While salmon skin certainly will not prevent your cat from getting cancer, the omega-3 fatty acids contained within may (emphasis on ‘may’) decrease their risk—or slow the progression of existing cancer.
The healthy fats in salmon skin also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can provide some degree of relief to cats suffering from inflammatory illness. Eating anti-inflammatory foods may reduce joint swelling associated with arthritis, which can help manage pain and improve mobility in the long term. Anti-inflammatory foods are not a substitute for veterinary care, but, under the guidance of a veterinarian, a diet high in such foods may help manage symptoms of chronic disease.
Even if it would be convenient to toss your cat salmon skin straight off the cutting board, it’s dangerous to give them raw fish flesh of any kind. Raw meat is often contaminated with dangerous pathogens like parasites, E. Coli, and salmonella, which can cause serious or life-threatening illness. The only way to kill these bacteria and parasites is to cook fish, including the skin, thoroughly before serving. Freezing salmon skin will not kill any dangerous pathogens locked inside, and you should not rely on your cat’s immune system to keep them safe. Even carnivores can suffer from food poisoning.
Things to Consider
The biggest risk associated with salmon skin is the bioaccumulation of toxic substances, including mercury and PCBs. These contaminants are present in every part of the fish (the only way to avoid mercury altogether is to avoid fish!), but they tend to appear in the skin in larger concentrations. Symptoms of mercury poisoning in cats include irritability, lack of coordination, convulsions, tremors, stiff limbs, blindness, and other neurological problems. If you want to give your cat salmon skin, don’t do it regularly.
In conclusion, where cats are concerned, fully cooked salmon skin is about as safe as salmon meat. Fish skin tends to be more nutritious, but it also comes with a higher risk of exposure to pollutants like mercury and PCBs. Make sure salmon skin is clean, thoroughly cooked, and only fed in small quantities.