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Cat eating from dish outside

The essentials

  • Tuna is OK in small amounts — Generally speaking, feeding your cat some chunk light tuna is fine as a rare treat.
  • Don’t overdo it — Tuna should be an occasional indulgence, not a primary food source.
  • Read the label — When it comes to cats, not all tuna is created equal — certain restrictions apply.

Fish for cats is like a birthday cake for humans. It’s exciting and delicious, makes our taste buds sing, and is enjoyed on rare occasions. Cats are strongly attracted to the smell of fish and would eat it every day if they could. Although there are some downsides, tuna does offer health benefits in small amounts. It’s also handy for masking medication, or coaxing your cat to eat or drink enough water.

Can cats eat tuna?

We all love our cats and want to give them delicious food they’ll love. Cat owners often wonder if tuna is a good treat or supplemental nutrition. The short answer is yes, but there are a few things you need to know. If there are any reasons you’re unsure if tuna poses a risk to your cat, talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s nutritional needs and the safest way to give fish.

Pros of feeding tuna to cats

  • Nutritional value. Tuna is high in protein, omega 3-fatty acids, essential amino acids, and vitamins like zinc, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B, all of which are great for your cat’s body.
  • Coat health. Omega-3-rich tuna gives cats just the right amount of oil from amino acids to produce a shiny, healthy coat.
  • Hydration. The smell and taste of tuna are cat magnets. Adding some of the water from a can of tuna to a bowl of fresh water will encourage them to drink. Just don’t overdo it, or your cat may come to expect tuna flavor in their water every day.
  • Cats love it. An open can of tuna will cause your cat to appear in minutes. Tuna will be one of their favorite treats and can be a nice addition to food.

👉 Cats get most of their hydration from food. Fish flesh has a high water content, which can help your cat get the hydration they need.

Cons of feeding tuna to cats

  • Risk of mercury poisoning. Too much tuna can cause mercury build-up in the body. Mercury poisoning is a dangerous condition that can be hard to recognize since symptoms mirror vitamin B deficiency. It can cause weakness, tremors, decreased brain function, and even death.
  • Encourages pickiness. Did we mention cats love tuna? When cat owners get in the habit of giving tuna, cats get addicted to it and may refuse other foods.
  • Potential for allergies. Yes, tuna is a non-toxic food for cats, but look for symptoms of food allergies like itching, hair loss, gas, and loss of appetite. These may be signs of a food allergy .

👉 Cats should never eat albacore tuna, as it has higher amounts of mercury, almost three times the amount of chunk light tuna!

Overfeeding tuna can lead to vitamin E deficiency and a disease called steatitis, which is a serious inflammation of the fat in the body. High phosphorus mineral content in tuna can also be associated with increased struvite urinary crystals and stone formation. It’s best to do everything in moderation beyond quality cat food.

Bruce Armstrong, DVM

Types of tuna for cats

You may be wondering: can cats eat tuna in oil? Can cats eat tuna in water? Can cats eat raw tuna? Cat owners should know the difference between Skipjack and albacore, canned versus fresh, and more. Here’s how to prepare tuna for cats.

Tuna in water vs. tuna in oil

If you want to give your cat some tuna, most veterinarians encourage canned tuna in natural spring water as the best choice. Tuna in oil is higher in fat, cholesterol, and calories, not to mention a high salt content, which can cause dehydration. But can cats eat tuna in oil … ever? Tuna in oil does provide vitamin D and is more flavorful. While tuna in water is overall the better choice, a small amount of tuna in oil on a rare occasion will not harm your cat.

Tuna flakes

Tuna flakes are very thin shavings of tuna with a strong flavor. Flakes are made from dried, dehydrated, and smoked tuna fish. Tuna flakes are an affordable and safe snack for cats when sprinkled on top of food for a flavor boost. They’re best as an occasional treat, good for combatting thiamine deficiency.

👉No form of tuna should be fed to cats daily or as a main source of food. 

Tuna treats

Because tuna is a cat’s favorite flavor, there are many forms of tuna treats other than straight tuna. Crunchy treats, wet pouches, and squeezables are just a few. There are even tuna-flavored treats to help with your cat’s dental care. It’s important to remember that excessive treats of any kind can cause dehydration, weight gain, poor health, and nutritional deficiencies, so keep tuna treats for special occasions and in small quantities.

Homemade tuna treats

When it comes to treats, homemade pet foods are often best, and cat treats are no different. Cat parents can whip up a delicious treat for their feline friend with a few simple ingredients. If you’re feeling adventurous (or it’s Whisker’s birthday) you might try these homemade tuna puffs or tuna cheddar biscuits. Homemade treats are a great way to take charge of the ingredients you’re feeding your cat.


2 cans chunk-light tuna in water

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon whole wheat bread crumbs (or rolled oats)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine both cans of tuna, egg whites, bread crumbs, and optional hemp oil in a blender until smooth. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto your baking sheet roughly 1 inch apart. Lightly mash each spoonful down with a fork to flatten. Bake for 20 minutes or until dried.

Alternatives to tuna for cats

There are a few other fish that you can give your cat if you need an alternative to tuna. Whether you notice allergy symptoms in your cat or have an aversion to tuna yourself, you may want an alternative that offers the same benefits. As always, seek veterinary advice if you need a better option for protein sources or essential fatty acids for a healthy cat.


Salmon is the most popular alternative to tuna for cats. Like tuna, it can be a healthy treat but shouldn’t be given daily or as a main source of protein in your cat’s diet. The best salmon for cats is grilled, poached, or baked without spices or seasonings that can upset their tummy. If you opt for a pre-packaged treat, look for a natural recipe without corn or soy.


Sardines offer protein and nutrients, as well as plenty of flavor. They’re also high in fat and sodium, so should be avoided by overweight cats. Avoid smoked sardines and sardines flavored with onion, garlic, and tomato. Drained sardines in oil are typically a good choice. Oily fish like salmon and sardines support healthy joints and kidneys while offering essential omega fatty acids and other nutrients.


Mercury content is usually one of the biggest concerns with fish. Cod has a lower mercury content than tuna and salmon and is a leaner, lower-calorie fish that still offers benefits like boosting the immune system and supporting the kidney. Try the occasional cod chip (consider breaking into smaller, manageable pieces) or cleaning and baking plain, unseasoned cod as a homemade cat treat.

👉 Regardless of what type of fishy treat you choose, always avoid smoked fish or fish steeped in brine because of the salt content. 

Frequently asked questions

At what age can kittens eat tuna?

Avoid giving tuna to kittens, as the mercury content may be too much for their small bodies. Additionally, you may set your kitten up for bad habits if they get obsessive about fish. Wait until your cat is at least 6 months old to give tuna, even as a treat.

Can cats eat tuna in water every day?

No. All forms of tuna should be used as a treat only and never given in large quantities. Daily consumption of tuna poses a higher risk of mercury poisoning and doesn’t provide the full scope of nutrients your cat needs.

Can cats eat raw tuna?

No. Cats should not be fed raw fish of any kind due to the potential for bacteria that causes food poisoning.

How often can you safely feed cats tuna?

Keep small amounts of tuna treats to once or twice a week.

Can cats eat human tuna?

Yes. Chunk light tuna is usually thought of as a food for human consumption, but it can be cat tuna, too.