A cat eating tuna.
A cat eating tuna. Photography ©photokitchen | Getty Images.

Tuna for Cats — Let’s Learn the Truth

Tuna and cats obviously go together, right? Well, not exactly. There’s more to know about tuna for cats than you might think.
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Tuna for cats is completely safe, right? Well, certain forms of this fish are healthy and safe to give to your cat, but not raw tuna in the form of your take-home sushi.

“Canned tuna in water with low sodium is better than canned tuna in oil or containing high sodium,” says Joseph Bartges, DVM, PhD, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, Georgia. “The oil in canned tuna also brings in extra calories, which could be a problem long term.”

Tuna for cats — what’s healthy?

A cat looking at stacked cans of wet cat food or tuna.
What’s okay — and what’s not — when it comes to tuna for cats?. Photography © suiwuya | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
  1. Fresh tuna cooked on the grill without seasoning
  2. Canned tuna packed in water, not oil
  3. Bonito tuna flakes

The dangers with tuna for cats

Pay attention to where the tuna comes from, and avoid making tuna the headliner in your cat’s diet. “Tuna is not complete and balanced, and some tuna can contain high levels of mercury,” Dr. Colleran says. “We have an obesity issue with far too many cats, and that’s why we advise against feeding tuna packed in oil because it is high in fat. Fat secretes hormones that can leave overweight cats in a chronic state of inflammation.”

Dr. Bartges agrees, adding that in small amounts, tuna for cats is not a poor food choice. But beware of dishing up yellowfin or skipjack tuna to your cat, especially in raw form.

“These types of tuna may contain thiaminase, which is an enzyme that breaks down vitamin B-1 (thiamine),” he explains. “This can result in neurologic problems in cats. It is active only in raw fish, as cooking destroys the enzyme.”

As for Dr. Colleran’s personal cats, BoDaishin and Andy, both turn their noses up to any dairy product. They prefer freeze-dried chicken treats made in the United States.

Dr. Bartges’ cats, Stevie and Ray, chow on a mix of high-protein, commercial therapeutic diets with the kibble occasionally put into food mazes to engage their inner hunting skills.

A parting message on tuna for cats

“What you feed and how much you feed your cat does impact their health,” Dr. Colleran says. “If you have any questions about what to feed your cat as a steady diet or a treat, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian.

Using tuna for cats as a yum-yum treat

Tuna water is often a ploy used to encourage some cats to take liquid medicine to combat health conditions. Some veterinarians instruct their clients to prepare three syringes in advance of medication time: the first contains tuna juice; the second contains the medicine and the third one — or the chaser — contains tuna juice. The idea is that the cat may be more tolerant to the medicine due to the tuna introduction and finish. “Perhaps if you pair the medicine with a high-value treat, it could be welcoming for the cat,” Dr. Colleran says.

Thumbnail: Photography ©photokitchen | Getty Images.

About the author

Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant, author and master pet first aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Kona. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com, and follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter @ArdenKnowsPets.

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5 thoughts on “Tuna for Cats — Let’s Learn the Truth”

  1. My male cat has to eat prescription urinary care wet food to prevent crystals from forming. Almost lost him some years back when I first discovered this. And I moved him from dry kibble to Science Diet C/D or the equivalent pretty easily. Almost half the time I have to mix in a little bit of tuna into the mix so he’ll finish it and quit staring at me. I use water packed ‘Lite’ tuna for whatever it’s worth.
    Anyone have any similar problem and a possibly solution?
    Thanks!

  2. I read an article that said the best canned tuna for people to eat was Albacore tuna in water. It didn’t contain as much mercury as other tunas did. As for giving tuna to cats, I read an article that said you could give cats tuna as a treat, but just don’t make a steady diet of it. They need other kinds of meat too. I can’t afford the raw diet and the really expensive brands, so I give my cats the commercial brands like Fancy Feast and Friskies. But I feed them chicken, and turkey the most. They eat either the pate brands, or filets. They also like the ones with lots of gravy. If they would lower the prices on those “natural” brands I could feed my cats “natural” cat foods. But those are just too expensive! $$$$$$

  3. This is very misleading:

    Canned tuna on supermarket shelves contains added vitamins, minerals and a very key amino acid for cats: taurine.

    Tuna-flavoured cat food contains adequate taurine because it’s only about 4% tuna (and the beef flavour is only 4% beef, the rabbit flavour is only 4% rabbit, etc.) Tuna for humans does not contain adequate taurine because it’s close to 100% tuna. Taurine does not need to be added to human tuna because humans don’t need it, so it isn’t added to human tuna.

    Anyone reading your article could easily be left with the impression that human tuna is fine for cats. It’s not. Taurine deficiency leads to irreversible damage to the eyes and hearts of cats. Human tuna as a regular meal for a cat will do great harm.

    Every other time Catster has had an article on tuna it got this right. This article did not. But at least you committed the obligatory Catster error of calling taurine an amino acid (it’s not, it’s a sulfonic acid) – I think it’s in the editorial guidelines for Catster authors that they get this wrong.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Thank you for reaching out! We have amended the comment re: tuna and taurine.

      Re: taurine as an amino acid. From WebMD: “Taurine is an amino sulfuric acid, but it is often referred to as an amino acid, a chemical that is a required building block of protein.”

      1. Yeah, taurine is often referred to as an amino acid. That doesn’t mean it is one. If you want to be pedantic, it’s an amino sulfonic acid because it contains both amine and sulfonic groups. If that’s too much of a mouthful then refer to it as a sulfonic acid. From Wikipedia:

        While taurine is sometimes called an amino acid, and indeed is an acid containing an amino group, it is not an amino acid in the usual biochemical meaning of the term, which refers to those compounds containing both amino and carboxyl groups.

        Unlike amino acids, taurine doesn’t have a carboxyl group, it has a sulfonic group instead of a carboxyl group.

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