4 min read

Can Cats Eat Tuna?


By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 01/12/2023, edited: 01/12/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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There's nothing that will make most cats come running more than the scent of tuna in the air. Opening a can is sure to get your feline's attention, but is it safe to give them this fishy treat? Yes, cats can eat tuna, but with a few considerations that cat parents should keep in mind.

All tuna is not created equal. For example, albacore tuna contains a very high mercury level which can be damaging to your cat's health. And while tuna serves up several important nutrients, it doesn’t provide everything cats need to stay healthy. 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of giving tuna to your purr pal.

Do cats like tuna?

Yes, cats do like tuna and they’ll come running when they sniff the fish’s pungent aroma. Some kitties like it so much they may begin to turn up their noses at more complete cat foods, and their parents may be tempted to give them only tuna. But to ensure they receive a complete package of nutrients, it should be a small part of a feline’s diet. Balanced and complete commercial or homemade cat food should be your cat's main source of nutrition. Luckily for kitties, many treats and wet cat foods already contain tuna!

Bowl of white tuna - can cats eat tuna

Health benefits of tuna for cats

Tuna fits neatly into a cat’s diet and can offer some important health benefits through its vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. Calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, and B vitamins all contribute to an active, healthy kitty. Check out these purrific benefits of this fishy protein. 

Tuna helps maintain a healthy weight

Well-cooked fresh tuna prepared without seasoning, and tuna that’s canned in water, are low in calories and unhealthy fats, and high in protein, with few or no carbohydrates. This nutritional profile means that tuna, when used to replace only 10% of a kitty’s regular diet, can be a big help in weight loss and maintenance. Obesity is known to be a cause of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritic conditions in cats.

Tuna may improve a cat’s appetite

The taste and smell of tuna are potent lures for a cat that’s picky or just has a temporary drop in appetite. A small amount added to your purr buddy’s food may make it more palatable, whether used as a topper or mixed in with dry or canned food. Some commercial cat food contains tuna, but a boost of canned fish may help get your fluffer to start eating.

Tuna can help administer medications 

Tuna can make administering cat meds easier for everyone by hiding the smell and taste of pills. A tablet or capsule swiped with a bit of tuna, or even encased in it, can distract your cat and before they know it, they’ve swallowed it. 

Tuna can fight inflammation

Tuna contains an impressive amount of Omega-3 essential fatty acid, which can help control inflammation, a factor involved in many conditions including arthritis, intestinal flare-ups, and heart disease, among others. Omega-3 can also help lower cholesterol. 

How much tuna can I give my cat?

Outside of commercial cat foods, tuna should never be the sole source of a cat’s diet. Feed your cat tuna like it's a treat, meaning only give your cat tuna occasionally and only up to 10% of their day’s calories. 

As part of a balanced diet, you can safely offer one teaspoon of tuna a few times a week, or about one-half can per month. Tuna that's been packed in oil may upset a kitty’s GI tract, and canned tuna packed in salt water is too high in sodium which can contribute to both fat and water weight and lead to health complications. Light tuna such as skipjack or yellowfin that's canned in fresh water is a better choice. 

In rare cases, intolerance or an allergy may develop. The signs of this can include itchy, red, and scaly skin and hair loss. If unsure about feeding your cat tuna, consult your veterinarian. 

Bowl of prepared tuna salad

Can cats eat tuna salad?

Tuna salad on sandwiches, lettuce leaves and as dips have become a popular staple for quick lunches and party platters, but it's better left to the humans. To make tuna salad, canned tuna for human consumption, whether in oil or water, is mixed with mayonnaise, salt, pepper, onions and other ingredients that can be harmful to cats. While an accidental lick probably won't affect your cat much, eating tuna salad could dangerously raise your cat's sodium levels and contribute to high cholesterol. 

Will the mercury in tuna poison my cat?

Mercury poisoning has become a concern across the globe as more metal contaminates the ocean and the fish that live inside of it. Certain types of tuna in large amounts can cause mercury poisoning in cats, so it’s wise to choose a species of fish that are smaller and produce light meat as opposed to white. The best-known white tuna source is albacore, which can have three times the amount of mercury in its body than smaller, light tuna sources such as yellowtail and skipjack, so it's best to be discerning when feeding tuna to your cat. 

Mercury poisoning causes a number of symptoms that can be confused with those of other conditions, including abnormal behavior, poor coordination, involuntary movements, vision loss, seizures, paralysis and death.

Can cats safely eat canned cat food with tuna?

Canned cat foods are formulated with kitty health in mind, meaning they've been prepared, blended and fortified with other healthy ingredients, vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced meal for your cat. While it is safe to feed your cat canned food that contains tuna, you should make it part of a rotation that includes foods with other protein sources. 

While tuna in moderation is safe for cats and is a good source of protein and nutrients, it should remain an occasional treat due to its salt and mercury levels. If your cat goes nuts for tuna, try adding in more into their diet through safely formulated cat foods that include it.

Mercury poisoning can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your cat is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. From leading companies like PetPlan to Embrace, find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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