If you have ever seen the old Lady and the Tramp animated movie, then you remember the scene where the two Siamese cats are trying to acquire a goldfish by dumping over its bowl. So where did the stereotype of cats liking fish come from? Especially since cats are not known to be fond of touching the water?

Cats like fish because it tastes and smells good to them. Cats are carnivorous and will eat nearly any meat, and, after living around humans for thousands of years, they have developed a taste for our leftovers.

History

The relationship between cat and fish goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who are believed to have used fish to lure cats into their homes to domesticate them. Fish has also been cheap meat to feed cats if given whole, and leftovers were a guarantee as I have never seen anyone clean a fish down to the bones during a meal.

In Nature

Cats are not known for their love of water but are not opposed to getting their paws wet if an easy meal presents itself. Stray cats will clean out a koi pond in short order if they can get close to the water. Tigers love the water but do not catch fish on a regular basis.

There is a wild cat species in Southeast Asia called the Fishing Cat that catches fish as its primary food source. They hunt along waterways and grab their prey from the bank, sometimes diving in after a fish. The Fishing Cat is a nineteen-pound striped cat that looks similar to a leopard cub. Populations are found almost exclusively in wildlife reserves from Pakistan to Thailand and are considered endangered. 

At Home

Growing up, my sister’s calico cat would watch my aquarium like it was a television. I always made sure to have the lid down tight to prevent losing a fish, but the reality is she was probably just mesmerized by the movement and flash of my fish. But, I also don’t doubt that if I had left one of the fish in a dish on the counter overnight, that it would not have been there in the morning.

Feeding fish to your cat

Fish is not typically part of a wild cat’s diet, but domestic cats have never opposed letting humans acquire food for them. Fish are loaded with protein and Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for joints, skin, and coat health. Fish also contain taurine, an amino acid that helps with vision, digestion, and regulating heart rhythm. 

Do not serve your cat raw fish! This is a great way to give parasites to your furry friend. Serve fish boiled, baked, or grilled (not smoked) with no spices. Avoid fish sticks, breaded fillets, and fish that have been cooked or preserved in oil. Cod and flounder are good fish to serve, so are tuna and salmon, but the latter two can have a higher mercury content and should be served sparingly. Fish should not be given to your cat every day either. Several servings of fish a week is the average recommended amount to feed. 

Warnings

If cats are fed too much fish, they can develop a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, which could lead to nerve damage. Hypothyroidism and increased risk of urinary tract infections also can come with the overconsumption of fish by felines. 

Some cats are allergic to fish. If your cat starts vomiting, losing hair, wheezing, or coughing after consuming fish, then contact your vet immediately as your cat may be having an allergic reaction.

Conclusion

Cats love fish because it smells good and tastes good to them. The proximity of cats and humans throughout the millennia has made access to fresh and leftover fish easy, and as we all know, cats are lazy. These easy pickings have helped endear us to cats and vice versa. And as long as this relationship continues, so will the stereotype of a fish-obsessed cat.

Brandon Tanis