Can I Give My Cat Seafood?
Most Americans turn to staple foods such as chicken, eggs, beans, and grains when they want a hit of protein, but many people who can afford to spend a little more on groceries opt for fresh seafood. Often touted as a heart-healthy, diet-friendly source of protein, seafood shows up constantly on food blogs, health magazines, and fitness-oriented TV shows. But seafood is not only consumed by the kale crowd, of course—there has always been a group of people who are extremely passionate about all things seafood. These are the people who go out for sushi on their birthday instead of getting ice cream. If you’re a seafood fanatic, you probably stock up and freeze it whenever it’s affordable.
You may love to use seafood as a diet-friendly treat, but what about your cat? We often hear about people scooping chunks of canned tuna into their cat’s bowl, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a healthy habit. After all, people have been giving their cats unhealthy cream for decades! So, is seafood actually good for your feline friend, or, like dairy products, is this one popular indulgence that is best avoided? Can cats have seafood? What is the healthiest option?
The short answer is yes, most cats can eat seafood in moderation, but there are several risks involved. As long as the seafood in question is fresh, unflavored, and thoroughly cooked, it probably will not cause any serious or lasting issues for healthy cats. However, there are several situations in which seafood may seriously hurt your cat. Like all uncooked meat, raw seafood comes with a risk of contamination; raw fish may house dangerous parasites and bacteria that can sicken or even kill your cat. Seafood is also one of the most common feline allergens, so it should be introduced into the diet with care.
As the nice person in the health food store will tell you, seafood is not without its health benefits. Compared to red meat, many types of seafood are lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol, which is why they are often considered healthy alternatives to beef. Your cat is an obligate carnivore who is far less likely to suffer from high cholesterol (carnivores’ bodies are equipped to deal with saturated fat and cholesterol), but, in a country where over half of all domesticated cats are overweight or obese, the low-fat, low-calorie option may be the best.
Unlike plant superfoods, seafood also offers several important micronutrients in forms that are readily available for feline digestion. Seafood tends to be rich in Vitamin B12, a necessary nutrient. Cats who do not get enough Vitamin B12 in their diet may develop a dangerous vitamin deficiency, which can cause symptoms like muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, nervous system problems such as difficulty walking or jumping, vomiting, diarrhea, and even low white blood cell count.
B12 is necessary for maintenance of immune, brain, nervous, and even digestive health, so a deficiency can cause a wide range of unpleasant symptoms. Though research is limited, some pet parents report that their cats experience improved immunity, higher energy levels, and a general improvement in fitness after they begin eating seafood. Vitamin B12 may be partially responsible for these benefits, but it’s hard to tell without targeted research.
Seafood, especially shrimp, contains all of the amino acids our carnivorous cats need to thrive. One of the biggest perks of shrimp for cats is the high taurine content. Unlike people and dogs, felines are unable to synthesize taurine on their own, so they have to get it in their diet. Taurine deficiency can cause symptoms such as enlarged heart (leading to heart failure), bone problems, skin rashes, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, and vision problems.
Things to Consider
Though it is nutritious, seafood should not make up a large part of your cat’s diet. Seafood is not nutritionally complete—if your cat is eating seafood alone, they will develop nutritional deficiencies that may lead to serious health problems. Many types of seafood are also high in sodium, which can cause salt poisoning. Salt poisoning, also known as hypernatremia, can be fatal to cats. If you give your cat seafood, make sure they have access to fresh water.
Cats who have symptoms of food allergies should probably avoid seafood, because it is one of the most common allergens. When introducing this food into your cat’s diet, start with a small amount and observe them carefully to see if any symptoms arise. If they seem to handle it okay, it can become a more regular part of their diet.
Finally, seafood is also at high risk of contamination. To make sure your cat does not wind up with parasites, give them fresh seafood that has been thoroughly cooked. Seafood is a nutritious food that can make a healthy treat for healthy cats, but it is not risk-free, so it is important to keep an eye on your cat when you introduce it into their diet.