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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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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.