Nothing will perk up your cat’s ears more than the sound of a tuna can opening in the kitchen. And if you treat your kitty to a tasty spoonful of fish, she’ll lick the bowl bone dry in a matter of seconds. But cats are land animals, and fish aren’t usually within their regular diet—so why do cats like fish?
Cats like fish because of its powerful smell and meaty taste. But there’s a simpler explanation: Cats like fish because they have access. A cat may not catch trout from the river out in the wild, but they’ll gladly take a bowl of pate salmon if it means they don’t have to work for it via hunting.
You know your four-legged friend will never turn down a bowl of salmon, tuna, or sardines, and now you’re going to find out why. To discover why cats like fish, whether fish is genuinely their favorite dish, and when cats began eating fish in the wild, read on!
Table of Contents
The History of Cats & Fish
All cats have the natural desire to hunt, whether it’s to keep their stomachs full or merely provide them with the “thrill of the chase.” This hunting instinct explains why your cat goes berserk when she sees a bird land on the porch, hears a mouse darting around in the attic, or hands you a dead rat she caught in the yard.
But as it turns out, cats may not be as skilled as hunting as previously believed. While modern-day outdoor cats reportedly kill 2.4 billion birds each year, one study found that a colony of feral cats only managed to kill two rats in 79 days.
The most reasonable explanation is that cats aren’t great at hunting because they don’t need to be. The first domestic cat dates back to 7,500 B.C., in turn making these four-legged creatures almost entirely reliant on humans—practically negating the need for cats to hunt to keep their stomachs full.
Cats followed the tasty aroma of dead fish in ancient Egypt when villagers wanted their cat friends to visit and even doubled as hunting companions on fishing excursions. Other cats learned that hanging out on the docks by the seaside meant getting a free snack—a fish—from the local anglers.
Your cat may very well like fish because her ancestors learned to love this gourmet meal. And your cat can secure a bowl of tuna fish without having to hunt for it down by the river. So why would she?
Do Cats Hunt For Fish?
There’s a long-held belief that cats don’t like water and will avoid it at all costs. That’s part of the reason that most cats see a bath as “torture” and will hang on for dear life if you attempt to bring them into the pool with you.
Some cats still have the instinctual drive to hunt for fish today. A cat may hang out alongside your aquarium, fish pond, or lake. As the cat waits with intense focus and silence, she’ll toss her paw into the water to snag a fish when the time is right. Your cat’s temptation to hunt will likely lead her to chase down a rabbit or squirrel in your backyard, but she may still have an inkling to catch a Koi fish in your pond if she sees one!
Cats have, and still do, go fishing! Take a look at the video montage below of cats successfully hunting for fish!
Why Do Cats Like The Smell of Fish?
The primary reason is simple: Cats like the smell of fish because they’re carnivores, and they see fish as a delicious snack. But to fully understand how any creature can appreciate the intense aroma of salmon or tuna, you have to learn about a cat’s olfactory (smell) receptors.
Us humans have about five million receptors in our noses. For comparison, cats have 35 to 80 million, while dogs have upwards of 125 million. Since your cat’s sense of smell is around 14 times that of yours, fishy foods smell much more pleasant to your kitty’s nose, and let her know that this snack is delightful!
Cats also have peculiar taste buds keep them from tasting sweet and sugary foods but prioritize the taste of meat. Your cat may respond the same way to salmon, tuna, and sardines as she does to chicken, turkey, and beef!
Most of your kitty’s diet will be meat, but have you ever wondered why? The video below will explain why in much better detail!
Do Cats Really Like Fish More Than Other Meals?
Your cat’s unhinged excitement when you open up a can of whitefish may lead you to think that your cat loves fish best of all. And statistically, it looks like cat owners feed felines an excessive amount of fish-flavored food each year worldwide—approximately 2.48 million tons of fish like herrings, anchovies, and sardines.
However, your cat will eat just about any meaty food you pour into her bowl, though she might have flavor or texture preferences that better strikes her fancy. Therefore, it’s not unusual for one of your kitties to prefer turkey while another craves tuna for lunch!
Some popular flavors and meats that cats enjoy include:
Your cat will choose her favorite meal based on the different types of wet and dry foods that you feed her in many cases. Unless your kitty has a strong aversion to a specific kind of meat, she’ll enjoy any bowl of meat you give her!
Should a Cat Eat Fish?
Some animals will eat just about everything—a dog may willingly feast on a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, and a cat might snack on a handful of raisins without question. Now for a question that you genuinely need to know the answer to: Should a cat eat fish?
If you’re planning to open up a pouch of Starkist tuna and scrape it into Fluffy’s bowl, you may want to reconsider. While your cat will excitedly eat this bowl of tuna without question, it’s not fully providing her with the nutrients she needs. Canned fish products prepared for human consumption are tasty but lack sufficient taurine.
So what is taurine, and why does your cat need it in her diet?
Taurine is an amino acid that comes from animal proteins, including fish. This protein helps your cat maintain a healthy heart, eyes, digestion, and muscles. But while many animal species can create protein within their bodies, cats must rely on taurine-heavy foods to stay completely healthy. Your cat can—and should—eat fish if it piques her palette, but only if it’s legitimate cat food with adequate taurine content.
Your cat reacts whenever you crack open a can of salmon and will excitedly consume an entire can in just a few minutes. But your cat’s desire to eat fish doesn’t necessarily mean fish is her “go-to” choice for dinner.
Many cats eat fish because they can—if you’re only putting tuna or salmon in their food bowls, their options are to eat the food or starve. With that in mind, don’t automatically assume that your cat loves fish without giving her the chance to “test” other foods.
You may find that your kitty likes turkey, chicken, or beef just as much.
- American Bird Conservancy: Outdoor Cats: Single Greatest Source Of Human-Caused Mortality For Birds And Mammals, Says New Study
- Smithsonian Magazine: Cats Are Surprisingly Bad at Killing Rats
- VCA Hospitals: Why Cats Sniff Butts
- Olfactory Sense in Different Animals
- Reuters: Cats a bigger danger to fish stocks than people: study
- Wikipedia: Maine Coon
- Wikipedia: Abyssinian cat
- VCA Hospitals: Taurine in Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.