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Can Cats Eat Goldfish? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Precautions

Written by: Sarah Psaradelis

Last Updated on February 28, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Can Cats Eat Goldfish? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Precautions


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are popular pets that are obligate carnivores, meaning they need nutrients found in animal protein to survive. They also happen to be exceptional hunters who skilfully catch and consume various live prey.

Most domestic cats will eat a commercial diet specifically formulated for cats. These foods, some of which may contain fish as a protein source, are safe, balanced, and pre-cooked so you do not need to worry about putting your cat at risk when you feed them. However, some cats may see your pet goldfish as food since it appeals to the cat’s hunting and carnivorous nature.

Your cat should not be eating goldfish. This article will explain why.

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Are Goldfish Safe for Cats to Eat?

The simple answer is that most goldfish are not safe for cats to eat, nor are they a beneficial addition to a cat’s diet. Although cats can eat various types of fish, a goldfish is not a good choice.

Goldfish are one of the most popular aquarium fish in the world. Many homes probably keep both a cat and a goldfish as pets. When a goldfish is kept in a secure aquarium, they should be protected from ever encountering a cat. Cats and goldfish shouldn’t be allowed to interact, especially since one is a skillful hunter and the other is its potential prey. There’s no doubt that a cat will jump at the chance to catch and eat a goldfish, which is why you are urged to keep your goldfish secured in a tank with a lid.

Although your cat is unlikely to be harmed by accidentally eating a goldfish once or twice, this behavior should not be encouraged for several reasons, which we will discuss below.

There is also the ethical standpoint with feeding live goldfish to cats since goldfish are capable of feeling pain and suffering. In some cases, cats may leave the goldfish injured and refuse to eat them, leading to a prolonged death.

A cat putting his paw in a goldfish bowl.
Image By: David De Lossy, Thinkstock

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Why Your Cat Should Not Be Eating Goldfish

There are four main reasons why your cat should not be eating goldfish, regardless of whether they are dead or alive.

1. Goldfish May Contain Dangerous Parasites and Bacteria

Even the healthiest and most well-maintained goldfish could be harboring dangerous parasites and bacteria. You won’t necessarily be able to tell if a goldfish has parasites or bacterial pathogens just by looking at the fish.

When your cat ingests the infected goldfish, they are exposed to those parasites and bacteria. This puts your cat’s health at risk, and they can get sick as a result.

2. Goldfish Are Contaminated With Toxic Water Treatments and Medications

Goldfish do not live in an environment with just tap water. There are various water treatments used to make their aquarium water safe, most of which contain chemicals that can be dangerous for cats to ingest. Although most of the water treatments are diluted in the aquarium’s water, you still don’t want to expose your cat to those chemicals. The tank water is not safe for your cat to drink and must be covered with a lid .

Remember the heavy fish tank itself can be dangerous to cats, so make sure cords and filters are not accessible so that your cat can’t play with them and pull the tank down.

goldfish in the aquarium
Image By: Tinh Nguyen, Unsplash

3. Cats Should Not Eat Too Much Raw Fish

Even though cats love the smell and taste of raw fish, they should not eat it and should only have cooked fish. As well as the pathogens that it may contain, like Salmonella and E. coli, another concern is the enzyme thiaminase, which is found in raw fish, including goldfish.

Thiaminase breaks down thiamine which is an essential B vitamin involved in many metabolic processes. If a cat is consuming large amounts of raw fish often, this may lead to a thiamine deficiency. Early signs include lethargy and inappetence, but if untreated, this progresses to serious neurological signs, such as an abnormal gait and incoordination, and it can even be fatal.

4. The Bones and Size of Some Goldfish Are a Choking Hazard

Cats might be natural hunters that have evolved to eat live prey, but that doesn’t mean they cannot choke on their food. Most goldfish are not very large, so some cats might attempt to swallow the fish whole. The cartilage and bones of goldfish are small and hard, which can easily get lodged in your cat’s throat. Both situations are a choking hazard for cats and have the potential to cause intestinal blockages or damage. These hazards can easily be prevented by not allowing them to eat bony fish.

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In Conclusion

Since it’s likely that your cat is already eating a balanced and complete diet, there is no reason to include goldfish in it—on purpose or not. You risk exposing your cat to potentially harmful pathogens, parasites, and chemical-based treatments that could make your cat ill. There are much safer alternatives, like cooked salmon or sardines, that still offer your cat vital nutrients without the risks. Make sure to keep your goldfish tank secured with a lid, and keep it in another room altogether, if possible, to keep both your fish and feline safe.

Featured Image Credit: kabita Darlami, Unsplash

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