Your mother has probably told you this countless times: fish is good for you. But is feeding fish to cats a good idea? Well recent research is suggesting that it probably is. And that's great news for cats, as most felines love the taste of fish.
Are All Fish Created Equal?
You might be tempted to think that if fish is so great that you can just dish up the odd treat of a little Dover Sole, lightly steamed, or poached in milk. But if you really want your cat to receive the maximum nutritional benefit from fish, read on…
Like any other ingredient, fish should be given as part of a balanced diet. And there is mounting evidence to show that you can get a lot of benefit from eating just some particular nutritional components of fish.
First off, fish is a great source of protein, whether you are a cat, or a cat owner. That means that pound for pound, it supplies a good amount of protein that is very usable by cats' bodies. It has the right amino acids - the components of protein - in the ratios we need them, although it's not going to be an exact match.
On the negative side, some kinds of fish can also destroy certain vitamins. So, feeding fish to cats is a bit of a science, if nutritional balance is to be achieved. Another problem for cat owners is that cat food that has a lot of fish in it, frankly, smells horrible and can linger!
Thankfully that's where technology can lend a helping hand. By extracting the best nutrients from the fish and adding them to cat foods, your cat can get the useful health benefits whether they eat their favourite chicken, beef or lamb varieties.
Even if you don't have a degree in fishmongery, you would probably suspect that white fish, such as sole and cod, is going to differ from oily fish, such as Mackerel and Tuna. In fact, if we were to isolate just one 'super-nutrient' that can be found in fish, then it has to be fish oil.
Your natural inclination may be to opt for white fish, but these contain very little of the valuable oils, so, it's the oily fish that should be your first choice.
The Healthy Option
The studies that scientists are publishing about the benefits of fish oils are just astounding. Want your cat to have good eyesight? Try fish oils. Your old cat is stiffening up? Try fish oils. Wish your cat was a bit brainier? Try fish oils.
Veterinary surgeon, Libby Sheridan from Hill's Pet Nutrition explains it like this, "There is a particular fish oil called DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, that we know is involved in neurological development - that's development of the brain and its connections. Although some of that development occurs while the kitten is still in its mother's womb, it's clear that some changes are still occurring after birth.
That makes sense because the brain has to remain 'plastic' for a time to encompass all the information being assimilated from the animal's surroundings as they see, hear, touch and experience a whole raft of new things. We now supplement all our kitten foods with DHA, the nutrient that helps to power this ongoing development. Everyone can have a more alert and adaptable cat, just by feeding their kitten correctly during the first few months."
A question of balance
In the body there is a balancing act going on with respect to these special kinds of fatty acids. There are two broad types, called omega 6 and omega 3.
Valuable forms of omega 3's are found in some vegetable oils, such as linseed (flax) and fish, particularly oily fish. Each group holds the other groups effects in check to some extent. So, by giving more of one kind and less of the other, different effects may be seen. It is generally thought that a diet that is high in animal fats will result in more omega 6 compared to omega 3 and that there might be scope for pets (and possibly people) to eat a lot more omega 3s and stay healthy.
A few words of caution, however: don't be tempted to just give extra fish oil to your cat. Too much of any one nutrient can throw the body out of kilter and cause problems. Get veterinary advice before supplementing a diet, especially if your cat is ill. In most cases there will be a correctly formulated supplement that your vet can prescribe, or a suitable veterinary formulated special diet that can meet your pet's specific needs for all nutrients and that is tailored for that medical condition.
For owners of healthy cats, Libby Sheridan has some sensible advice, "When shopping for cat food don't get too distracted by the glamour-puss on the label. Look for the labels that say the food has added fish oils: we're so convinced of the validity of this research that we made the decision to supplement all our feline dry diets. And always buy a reputable brand where you know the right oils have been used, sourced from the right kinds of fish from clean, unpolluted waters."