When we’re enjoying a meal and our cats give us the big eyes, the urge to give in and share is strong. In general, it’s best to avoid giving table scraps and other human leftovers to cats, but what about human foods that cats are also known to love, like fish?
In particular, what about smoked salmon? Is it safe? Maybe. While it can be safe as an occasional small treat, it can also be very dangerous. Read on to learn what you, as the pet owner, must look for before sharing your fishy treat.
Fish and Cats
Despite the seemingly universal understanding that cats not only eat fish, but love to eat fish, seafood is likely a recent addition to the feline diet. Depictions of cats eating fish appear as early as the 15th century BC in Egyptian tombs, and one theory as to why domestic cats and their ancestors, who evolved to hunt birds and small mammals, took to eating fish is that the Ancient Egyptians used fish to lure the wild ancestors for domestication. Cats in the wild rarely, if ever, look for fish as a food source, but will eat meat when they find it.
Since they did not evolve to digest fish, though, they should not be given fish as a main part of their diets. Feline nutrition is complex and no individual factor–vitamins, proteins, etc.–can be isolated. The different nutrients in a cat’s diet interact with one another, affecting how other nutrients are digested. Nutritional guidelines published by The Association of American Feed Control Officials for commercial cat foods therefore emphasize ratios, not set amounts of any given nutrient. A diet heavy in fish isn’t inherently unhealthy for cats but is lacking in the correct balance needed for good health to be maintained.
When served as part of a balanced diet, there are still factors to consider before declaring fish a healthy food for your cat. Preparation is one such factor. Raw fish should not be given to cats; it contains an enzyme that breaks down the vitamin thiamine. Thiamine deficiency in cats can cause neurological dysfunction, including seizures and collapse. The dangerous enzyme is destroyed in the cooking process.
Another factor goes back to the newness of fish in the cat diet: allergies and intolerance. Veterinarian Jennifer Coates, writing for PetMD, cites fish as the third most prevalent food allergy among cats. In almost a quarter of cases studied, fish was the culprit in an allergic reaction.
The final factor we’ll look at is the type of fish! Tuna is attractive to cats for its strong smell and to humans for its convenience, but even human-grade tuna carries high levels of heavy metals like mercury. Ocean whitefish, a common flavor in commercial cat foods, should not be given to cats outside of an FDA-approved cat food. This fish is frequently so toxic due to pollutants that children and women of child-bearing age are advised by the FDA to avoid it entirely.
Is Salmon a Safe Fish?
The answer here is another maybe. Salmon, like other popular fish, are often harvested from farms. Farmed salmon have an unnatural and unbalanced ratio of omega-6 to 0mega-3 fatty acids due to their different diet. Omega-6 fatty acids without sufficient omega-3 to balance it can lead to inflammation and sickness in cats. Most alarmingly, farmed salmon have 16 times the level of pollutants as wild salmon.
Also, labeling is deceptive. Just because salmon is labeled “wild caught” or “wild” doesn’t mean it wasn’t bred in a hatchery, with all the toxins and unnatural hormones and foods, and then released into the wild to be caught after contaminating wild-born salmon.
However, if you are careful about how you source and prepare your wild caught salmon, it can be a safe treat as part of a balanced diet.
Is Smoked Salmon Safe For Cats?
This topic is controversial. The main objection to smoked meats of all sorts and cats is the high level of sodium in the finished product. Cat food manufacturer Whiskas goes so far as to say smoked salmon is dangerous and potentially deadly. Veterinary Oncologist Cristina Vulpe warns in her article, “Can Cats Eat Smoked Salmon,” that the amount of sodium in smoked salmon is dangerous and advises that healthy salmon be prepared in other ways. Veterinarian Mojtaba Yegani, writing for petanew.com, suggests sticking with cold-smoked salmon, as hot-smoked salmon can cause gastronomic distress. He acknowledges the high level of sodium but says it should be safe as long as the cat has plenty of access to water.
In a different article for PetMD, Dr. Coates shares the findings of a 2015 study that challenged the traditional stance that sodium is as dangerous to cats as it is to people. Surprisingly, she reported the following:
“While a few small differences were found in the laboratory parameters of cats who ate high versus low salt diets, none of the studies showed a significant effect on the important measurements, like blood urea nitrogen (BUN) or creatinine levels (indicators of kidney function), cardiac measurements taken by ultrasound, blood pressure levels, or bone density.”
Not only this, but another study cited by Dr. Coates looked specifically at high-risk cats and found that over the course of two years, a diet with triple the sodium had no adverse effects on these criteria.
So it seems that despite what our human doctors tell us about our own health, sodium is not a major factor, and so your carefully sourced, properly prepared occasional smoked salmon treat should be safe for your cat.
Is All Smoked Salmon the Same?
Absolutely not. It is critical to remember when considering any people food for your cat to examine additives. Onions and garlic are very dangerous, according to The Spruce Pets, along with several other spices. Dr. Karen Becker, writing for Mercola, lists risks to cats from soy-derived products to include thyroid damage, diabetes, and seizures in cats. Black pepper may or may not be toxic, but it repels cats and may make them suspicious of you and your offerings, and even their own food bowls.
This just means that smoked salmon that could be perfectly safe for you might not be for your cat. Brand Ducktrap promises their salmon is wild, caught in Alaska, and cold-smoked. Their traditional smoked salmon, however, is spiced with black pepper and dill, and their alternative contains garlic. Fine for you, but don’t share with your cat! Walmart’s house brand promises that their additives are extracts from carrots and peas, both safe for cats, but may contain bits of bone.
You may carefully share with your cat, only after ensuring there are no bone fragments remaining. On the other hand, if concerns about smoking methods and sodium steer you away from smoked salmon but you want that smoked salmon flavor, you might look at the smoke-flavored salmon fillets from Bumblebee. They may be better for your heart health, but the soybean oil used to mimic the smoky flavor makes it a bad option for kitty! Read the labels carefully, and you can find a treat that’s safe for both you and your cat.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good emergency cat food?
Lean and unflavored, plainly cooked chicken or pork can tide your cat over until the stores open.
Is scrambled egg safe for my cat?
As long as the egg is cooked and you do not add dairy or harmful spices, eggs can be a safe and healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Why do vets not like grain free cat food?
Grain free diets raise the risk of your cat developing dilated cardiomyopathy.
We humans and our cats have different dietary needs, and the healthy choices we make for ourselves may not have good effects if shared with our feline companions. Sharing, whether smoked salmon or other treats, can be done on occasion and can be a great bonding experience, but be selective about which of your snacks you offer, and offer it in moderation.