Have you ever wanted to spoil your favorite feline or feed a stray, looked in your pantry for a treat, saw that can of tuna, and wondered to yourself, “Can cats eat canned tuna?” Even if they can, “is it healthy and safe for them to enjoy?“
Our girl Rascal loves “people food” but I’d never want to give her anything that harmed her health, and I know you feel the same about your baby too.
As cat parents, it’s important for us to know which human foods are safe for cats so their tasty treat doesn’t turn into a medical emergency waiting to happen.
Here’s our demanding kitchen helper, Rascal, doing what she does best — deciding if she wants what you have in your hand. 😁 She decided the strawberry wasn’t on her menu that evening!
Now she’s here to help us answer if tuna is on the menu for your cat tonight. Let’s dive right in!
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Is canned tuna safe for your cat to eat?
The truth is, it depends. The biggest concern with regular consumption of tuna, and all larger fish, is the threat of mercury poisoning.
As Veterinarian Sharon Butzke explains, “Cats are very sensitive to the effects of methylmercury in particular.” While there are various places the heavy metal, mercury, is found, methylmercury is primarily found in contaminated predator fish, such as tuna, and in some commercial pet foods.
Dr. Sharon Butzke goes on to say, “It can take several weeks for methylmercury to build up in the body to a level where signs of toxicity become apparent. “
Avoid albacore (white) tuna. Some tests reveal potentially unsafe levels of mercury in large tuna, like albacore, compared to the chunk light tuna from smaller tuna sources.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning in cats
Mercury poisoning in cats is uncommon, but here are some telltale symptoms to look out for according to Merck Veterinary Manual:
🐾 Lack of coordination
🐾 Rigid hind legs
🐾 Sudden abnormal behavior
🐾 Nervous system depression
🐾 In severe cases, death can result
Mercury toxicity isn’t the only concern when it comes to kitties eating a regular diet of tuna, though.
Tuna is low in carbohydrates, an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, because it can be high in calories, a regular diet of tuna can also lead to obesity which increases the risk of feline diabetes.
It also isn’t a nutritionally-balanced food for cats, meaning your kitty could end up with too much of one nutrient and not enough of another. For cats, these imbalances can spell disaster medically.
Not sure how many calories your cat needs each day to be healthy? This calorie calculator for cats might be very helpful for you.
Helpful Tip: Don’t create a mealtime monster!
The smell and taste of tuna can be especially intoxicating to some kitties. I won’t go so far as to say you can create a tuna addict (well, maybe?), but it’s true; some cats will begin to refuse their regular food if you continue to feed tuna on a consistent basis.
For health reasons and your sanity, it’s best to leave tuna as a very occasional treat.
When feeding tuna to cats, we also have to take into consideration that fish is a common food allergy for our beloved felines. This can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as fur and skin issues, tummy troubles including vomiting, respiratory symptoms like sneezing and coughing, along with discharge from the eyes and nose.
How much tuna can I give my cat?
Okay, okay, I know I’ve been a killjoy for your cat’s favorite treat. 🙂 Since we’ve covered the risks of feeding too much tuna — you might be wondering if there is a safe amount?
First, if you’ve never fed your cat canned tuna before, I would recommend starting with a small amount to check for fish allergy. Try about a half teaspoon in their food bowl. If you see any signs of an allergic reaction over the next week or two, like those previously mentioned, tuna is officially off the menu.
If there’s a whole lot of lip-smacking going on but no allergies – great! You should be able to safely give your cat a teaspoon or two as a treat in their regular food.
Feeding a whole can is not recommended unless it is an emergency situation.
Veterinarians typically recommend the 90/10 rule. Only about 10% of your cat’s calories should come from treats like tuna or other goodies. That’s not much at all. The other 90% should be from their nutritionally balanced, specially formulated cat food – preferably canned food for its hydration benefits.
Can cats eat canned tuna daily?
No, it is not recommended for cats to have a daily diet of tuna, unless it is specifically formulated for cats to include required nutrients.
One or two teaspoons of light chunk tuna as a treat once or twice a week is a safe amount to avoid mercury toxicity, obesity concerns, and to avoid creating an overly picky eater. It’s also enough to say, “I love you,” and give them the health benefits small amounts of pure tuna can offer.
Can cats eat canned tuna in water?
Yes, in fact, this is the preferred type of tuna if you choose to feed your cat canned tuna. Remember, avoid albacore (white) tuna due to its higher mercury content. Chunk-light tuna is your better option.
Also, shop for tuna in water that has no added preservatives, salt, or chemicals. The purer, the better. Added ingredients can have serious consequences on your cat’s health so be careful!
A healthy tuna for cats and humans is Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna with no salt added. It is naturally low in mercury because they use sustainably sourced, smaller fish. Best of all, there are zero additives or fillers of any kind. It’s pure, clean meat.
Can cats eat canned tuna water?
My husband’s cats used to love lapping up the tuna water he’d give them as a treat every now & again. But is this safe?
If your chunk-light tuna is pure and does not have any added ingredients, yes, it is safe. However, just like the tuna itself, it should not be given on a regular basis.
Tuna water does have health benefits, like increasing hydration levels with added vitamins, but you don’t want your purring pal to start refusing regular water or their formerly favorite meal because you’ve spoiled their taste buds with this newfound love!
I’d personally recommend no more often than once per month or so. Let the anticipation build a bit, you know? 😉 Then it’s really something special!
If you really want to spoil your cat, take a look at this fun tunatini recipe!
Can cats eat canned tuna in oil?
In general, no, this is not recommended. If you have fed your cat tuna in oil before, no worries, once or twice are unlikely to cause harm.
Not only are the oils high in calories but they can often cause diarrhea and other tummy trouble. Since these oils really don’t offer any nutritional value to cats, it’s best to just avoid them altogether.
At what age can kittens eat tuna?
While you can safely give your 6 to 10-week-old kitten a tiny taste of pure tuna, the same rule applies to the babies as it does with the elders.
Personally, I’d stick with nutritionally balanced kitten food designed for their little growing bodies. A lot is happening at their age and proper nutrition is required for the rest of their lives to be healthy.
If you are going to give your kitten tuna, remember their little bodies are even more sensitive. Please double-check the ingredients on your label to make sure it is 100% pure chunk light tuna in water with no added chemicals or preservatives.
How to prepare tuna for cats
The most important thing to remember is that tuna should be cooked. Raw fish contains an enzyme called thiaminase.
Thiaminase destroys thiamine, which is a critical B vitamin for your cat’s neurological (brain) function, energy, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Not only that, but raw fish also has bacteria that can cause food poisoning, or worse. It’s just not wise to do.
Here are some creative homemade ways to prepare tuna for cats:
🐾 Balanced Homemade Cat Food with Tuna (video tutorial below)
Is there a safer alternative to tuna for cats?
If cooked properly, Dr. Paola Cuevas recommends oily fish like herring, trout, salmon, and sardines. He goes on to explain that halibut, cod, hake, and flounder are also safe cooked and deboned.
It’s also important to remember that while you may love them, seasonings are a no-no for your cat, and can be very dangerous. If you are enjoying a fish dinner together with your feline, serve theirs plain, cooked, and deboned. Don’t forget their napkin! 😉
Don’t want to cook? If you’re looking for safe, mercury-tested fish for cats, take a look below at Pure Cravings. Cats are going wild over this stuff. It’s kind of pricy at around $25 for a box of twelve 3oz cans, but it is healthy, and gives your fish-loving felines what they love without the risk.
We also love that it is sustainably sourced, non-GMO, grain free, with nothing artificial added. What you will find instead when you crack open a can is solid chunks of real meat in a yummy gravy!
Another fantastic Veterinarian recommended option to try is Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Liquid Supplement. It’s a safer, purity-tested omega-3-rich oil made from sardines and anchovies. Your cat will get all the benefits without the increased mercury risk.
It’s so easy to use too; simply add a few drops to your cat’s wet food and mix in. You do not have to use the recommended dosage if your cat is a picky eater. If possible, increase the dosage over time, but you should still see improvement with less oil.
It’s an excellent choice for pain relief in arthritic kitties, supporting a healthy heart, brain, eyes, and skin!
We gave this oil to our cat Dizzy when she was struggling with hair loss from allergies and it really worked. Her skin became less itchy, her fur grew back, and her coat was shiny! We had hoped it would help her anxiety issues, but unfortunately, in her case, it didn’t.
So…let’s recap; can cats eat canned tuna? Yes, but keep a few things in mind.
- Feeding your cat canned tuna everyday is not considered safe. There is a risk of mercury toxicity and an imbalance in nutrients, both leading to disease.
- Buy only chunk light tuna in water with no added preservatives, seasonings, or chemicals
- Avoid albacore tuna due to higher mercury levels, as well as tuna in oils
- Feed tuna only as an occasional treat. 1 or 2 teaspoons once or twice a week should be a safe amount. Apply the 10% rule. 90% of your cat’s diet should come from balanced nutrition foods made specifically for cats, while 10% can come from treats like tuna.
- Consider trying either Pure Cravings food or Nordic Naturals supplement made for cats, or switch to a safe canned tuna for you and your cat, like Wild Planet. (all linked above)
Before changing your cat’s diet or adding foods like tuna, please consult your Veterinarian. Each cat is unique. What’s safe for one may not be safe for another. Knowing your cat’s health status is always the best place to start.
Now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Is your cat a fish lover? Or are they the chicken, turkey, beef kind of kid? Do you make homemade treats for your cats?
Until next time…
Love & Healing Purrs,
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Tufts Now: With concerns about mercury poisoning, is it safe to give canned tuna to cats as a treat?