Can I Give My Cat Prawns?
These days, most of us have learned to watch our meat intake. Whereas our ancestors jumped at the opportunity to scarf down as much of the protein-rich, calorie-dense food as possible (after all, beef was the key to growing big and strong, right?), the health-conscious among us are conscious of our cholesterol and the foods that might contribute to heart disease. Today, red and processed meats are considered by most to be the most dangerous, so we have learned to opt for slightly less rich protein sources. For many people, ‘lean meat’ means seafood, and shellfish are among the most widely consumed.
Many people consider prawns and other crustaceans to be healthy for human consumption, but pet parents have a question that is perhaps even more pressing: are they suitable for cat consumption? Just as we obsess over the food we feed to our kids, we want to make sure our animal companions are eating the healthiest diets possible. Animal lives are awfully short compared to ours, so if we can do anything to buy another year or two, we’re going to do it! So, should we include seafood as a source of lean protein for our furry friends, too? Can cats have prawns?
Yes, cats can eat prawns in small quantities, but they should not consume shellfish regularly or in large amounts. Cats are notoriously picky eaters—whereas our dogs will beg for anything that touches our plates, our feline friends turn up their noses at many of the table scraps we offer out to them. To make matters worse, it seems that the only table scraps they DO enjoy (such as ice cream and high-fat chocolate) are unhealthy or flat-out dangerous. Prawns, however, are generally considered a safe treat for healthy cats. They are high in protein, minimally processed, and usually well-tolerated. Just remember that shellfish should be used as supplements or treats, and not as staples.
As treats go, prawns are one of the healthier options for cats. These crustaceans are chock full of animal protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. Unlike people, cats are obligate carnivores who tend to thrive on diets high in protein from animal, rather than plant, sources. The average person would have no trouble getting their protein needs met by eating plant foods like beans, legumes, and grains, but cats who get a lot of protein from plant sources will develop potentially dangerous nutritional deficiencies.
The biggest reason why cats benefit from animal foods like prawns is an amino acid called taurine. If your cat does not consume adequate taurine, they may suffer from a wide range of health problems, including poor eye health (which can eventually lead to blindness), reproductive issues such as infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects, bone loss, skin disorders, enlarged heart, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, fur loss, cavities and gum disease, and even heart failure.
While humans synthesize taurine on their own, felines are unable to create this amino acid in their bodies. Because cats can’t create taurine on their own, they have to eat the bodies of animals who can. Prawns are one of these animals! Feeding your cat shellfish will not solve their taurine-related health problems singlehandedly, but supplementing with prawns may help boost their overall taurine intake.
Prawns and other crustaceans also contain large quantities of two other key nutrients: Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are believed to support brain health and combat chronic inflammation. Prawns’ anti-inflammatory properties may be beneficial to cats who suffer from inflammatory diseases such as ulcerative colitis, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, skin allergies, and other conditions. These healthy fats may also help fight dry skin and itchiness. If your cat has a brittle, dry, or thinning fur coat, increasing their Omega-3 intake may help restore their coat’s natural sheen.
Things to Consider
That said, research on the effects of Omega-3s on cat health has been rather limited—many of these claims come from anecdotes, and others have been extrapolated based on human studies. If your cat is suffering from arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or any other health condition, have them examined by a veterinarian before you start feeding them prawns. Seafood is not a substitute for veterinary care.
Prawns are not perfect cat food. They are high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure or hypernatremia. Like other types of seafood, they also come with a moderate to high risk of contamination, which means that all prawns fed to your cat should be fully cooked. Cooking prawns will kill any pathogens that may harm your cat. Lastly, prawns are not nutritionally complete—your cat will develop nutritional imbalances if their diet is high in prawns.
In the end, fully cooked prawns are safe as treats or supplements, but your cat should not consume them in excess. Though they are high in taurine, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids, they are high in sodium and lacking in several other key nutrients. In order to meet all of their nutritional needs, your cat should get most of their calories from high quality cat food.