Cats in cartoons are always hovering around the fishbowl, hoping for a chance to catch a treat. Perhaps for this reason, many people think of fish as a common food for cats when, evolutionarily speaking, that may not be the case. Domestic cats are actually evolved from desert-dwelling ancestors like the African wildcat and, as you probably already know, the desert isn’t exactly the best place to find fish.
- Rich in real animal protein
- Blend of omega-3
So, why is fish such a common ingredient in cat food? To understand the reason, you need to understand one thing about the pet food industry: it’s all about money. Fish is a readily available source of animal protein for pet food manufacturers and, in many cases, a relatively affordable one. Even so, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best option for your cat.
In this article, we’ll explore the subject of fish in cat food to help you better understand why this ingredient is so frequently used and what issues it might present. We’ll also talk about alternative protein options and provide you with our top picks for the best cat food without fish.
What Is The Best Cat Food Without Fish?
What You Need to Know About Fish in Cat Food
The most commonly used fish in cat food are salmon, tilefish (often referred to as whitefish or ocean fish), and tuna. Each of these types has its own related health concerns. Farm-raised salmon are often treated with antibiotics and antifungals and may be laced with ocean pollutants like pesticides and PCBs. Tuna is near the top of the predatory ocean food chain, so it may accumulate high levels of mercury and other heavy metals as well as the pollutants consumed by smaller fish. Tilefish is one the worst in germs of contamination and toxicity – so much so that the FDA advises women and children to avoid it entirely.
Fresh fish like salmon and tuna are much better than unnamed fish and seafood products, though the health concerns just listed still apply. In lower quality cat foods where a real fish is not actually named, the fish may come from the leftovers of the seafood industry. One of the main issues is high magnesium and phosphorus content which can cause serious problems in cats with urinary or kidney diseases.
To help you interpret the information on a label for cat food made with fish, here are some things to know about fish ingredients:
- If fish ingredients come from a single species, they must be named on the label (ex: salmon).
- Fish ingredients that come from multiple species must be described as fish (ex: fish meal).
- The name “fish meal” implies that the fish or fish parts were dried prior to manufacture of the pet food but there are no requirements/restrictions for how.
- Fish meal may contain whole fish, fish cuttings, or a combination of both.
- Ingredients in fish meal can be artificially preserved with no disclosure to customers, generally by suppliers who sell to pet food manufacturers.
Now that you know a little more about the different forms fish might take in pet food, you may be wondering what makes it so bad? The answer is that there is no simple answer.
Fish is by not always a bad option and, as an animal-based protein, it is preferable to plant-based options like corn gluten meal or pea protein. One major problem is that fish (both fresh fish and unnamed fish products) is responsible for nearly one-third of cat food allergy symptoms, according to a small study. Though this particular study is limited, it’s no secret that proteins like fish, chicken, and beef are the most common cat food allergens.
What Are the Alternatives?
Because fresh fish is not inherently bad for cats, you may not need to avoid is unless your cat actually has a diagnosed fish allergy. The best way to diagnose a food allergy in cats is to conduct a feeding trial. Change your cat’s diet to one free from the potential allergen, ideally a limited ingredient diet, for at least 8 to 12 weeks. If all cat food allergy symptoms disappear, you’ll have confirmed the allergy. From there, you can continue to feed the limited ingredient diet or choose an alternative recipe free from fish.
Here are some protein alternatives to fish you might consider:
Remember, just because a cat food doesn’t contain fish that doesn’t necessarily make it a good option for your cat. You need to keep your cat’s nutritional requirements in mind and do your homework to evaluate the quality of the food before selecting it. Read on to learn what you should be looking for in a healthy cat food and to see our top picks for fish free cat food.
What Should You Look for in a Healthy Cat Food?
Cats are what experts call obligate carnivores. This makes them different from dogs (scavenging carnivores) in the sense that they have an extremely limited ability to digest and absorb nutrients from plant products. The foundation of your cat’s diet must be animal-based. Animal proteins like chicken, beef, and lamb are much more nutritious and biologically valuable than plant-based proteins like corn gluten meal, pea protein, and potato protein. A healthy source of animal protein should be the first ingredient in your cat’s food.
Here are some other things to look for in a good cat food:
- High-quality animal-based protein. Even if your cat can’t have fish, you should still look for an animal source of protein as the first ingredient. Meat or poultry options like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or game meats like venison are a great choice.
- Healthy animal-based fats. Fat provides your cat with a concentrated source of energy as well as essential fatty acids. It is best from animal sources like chicken fat. If your cat has a confirmed fish allergy, you may want to avoid salmon oil or the more generic fish oil.
- Limited carbohydrate content. Dry food tends to have a higher concentration of carbohydrates than wet food, so you may want to look for a wet cat food without fish or fish oil. Any carbs your cat food does contain should be digestible – things like whole grains or fresh vegetables.
- No artificial additives. Additives like artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives serve no nutritional value and only increase the risk of triggering a negative reaction so avoid them.
- Complete and balanced nutrition. Most importantly, make sure whatever recipe you choose is complete and balanced according to AAFCO requirements. You’ll still need to do your homework to determine the quality of the recipe.
How Do We Make Cat Food Recommendations?
Your cat is your baby and you want what’s best for him. So do we! We would never recommend something to you if we weren’t completely confident in it. We would gladly feed our own cats any of the products we recommend. But what makes a product worthy of our approval? First and foremost, every recipe we recommend adheres to AAFCO minimum nutrient requirements. After checking for the AAFCO seal of approval, we then look at the ingredients list to determine the quality of the recipe.
Here are some general requirements for a cat food recipe to receive our stamp of approval:
- A source of high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient
- At least 30% crude protein for kittens and at least 26% for adults
- A minimum of 9% crude fat for kittens and adults
- A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from animal sources
- A rich blend of nutrients from natural sources and supplements, as needed
- Limited carbohydrate content from digestible sources (like whole grains and veggies)
- No low-quality fillers, by-products, or artificial additives (preservatives, dyes, or flavors)
Your cat is completely unique, so we can’t guarantee that our top picks will be the perfect fit in every case. Though our recommendations are all good options in terms of quality, you still need to do the work to determine whether they’re a good fit for your cat. Your veterinarian can tell you whether your cat requires a special diet or if a healthy, balanced cat food is acceptable.
The 10 Best Cat Foods Without Fish
If you’ve determined that your cat has an allergy or sensitivity to fish, you may be on the lookout for a hypoallergenic cat food. The thing to remember is that the term “hypoallergenic” simply means free from allergens. Cats can be allergic to many different things, so a recipe that is hypoallergenic for one cat might not be for another. Start by choosing a fish free cat food and go from there.
|Our 2021 Picks: Best Cat Foods Without Fish|
|NomNomNow Fresh Cat Food Delivery
|Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Pate
|Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Chicken
|Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free
|Wysong Optimal Geriatrx Dry Cat Food
|Instinct by Nature’s Variety LID Grain-Free
|Ziwi Peak Chicken Recipe
|Nutro Perfect Portions Grain-Free
|Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free
|Addiction Grain-Free Viva la Venison
Our Top Overall Pick: Many pet experts agree that fresh food is the most nutritious option for cats. Commercial pet food is often cooked at high temperatures which can reduce the nutritional value but fresh food is usually cooked at lower temperatures and made in smaller batches to ensure nutritional quality. This is the case for NomNomNow which makes it our top pick for the best fresh cat food service as well as our top pick for fish-free cat food. NomNomNow only offers two cat food recipes at this time, but one contains chicken as the only protein source. To order NomNomNow you simply provide basic information about your cat’s age, breed, and weight as well as his activity level and food sensitivities. They calculate his calorie needs and send you prep-portioned packages of fresh food. It’s that easy!
Most Popular Cat Food without Fish: If you have no idea where to start when shopping for cat food, you can always start with a popular brand like Blue Buffalo. This company offers over 100 products for cats including this Healthy Gourmet Pate Chicken Entrée indoor adult recipe. It features fresh chicken and chicken liver as the main ingredients with brown rice and sweet potatoes for digestible carbohydrates. This recipe contains flaxseed as a natural source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, plus it is supplemented with chelated minerals to ensure optimal nutrient uptake. Best of all, it is completely free from fish ingredients including fish oils.
Most Affordable Cat Food without Fish: As you can imagine, cheap cat food isn’t good and good cat food isn’t cheap. If you’re looking for a fish-free recipe, you may think you have to go with an expensive limited ingredient cat food or a pricy wet cat food without fish. You’ll be glad to know that there’s an affordable option in this Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Chicken recipe. It features chicken meal and turkey meal as the top two ingredients with fresh chicken for supplemental protein. Dried potatoes and peas offer digestible sources of grain-free carbohydrates as well as fiber for digestion. This recipe does contain a small amount of salmon oil, but it appears on the ingredients list after the mineral supplements, so it is not likely use in any significant amount. If your cat is allergic to fish, he may still be able to tolerate small amounts of fish oil.
Best Kitten Food without Fish: Your kitten deserves the best start in life you can give him which means a high-quality kitten food like this Castor & Pollux Grain-Free Organic Kitten recipe. It features organic chicken and chicken meal as the top two ingredients with other wholesome organic ingredients like sweet potato, peas, and coconut oil. This recipe does contain a small amount of salmon oil as well, but it is the 16th ingredient on the list, so it is not likely use in any significant amount. If your cat is allergic to fish, he may still be able to tolerate small amounts of fish oil. We weren’t able to find any quality kitten foods completely free from fish oil.
Best Senior Cat Food without Fish: As your cat gets older, he may slow down so you need to be careful of how many calories he needs. At the same time, his general nutritional requirements don’t change, so you still need a healthy and high-quality cat food. We weren’t able to find a high-quality senior cat food completely free from fish oils, but this Wysong Optimal Geriatrx dry food is formulated specifically for senior cats and only contains a small amount of fish oil that appears more than 30 ingredients down in the list. This formula contains chicken meal, chicken, and turkey meal as the top three ingredients followed by nutritious whole grains like brown rice and oat groats. Overall, it is a complete and balanced formula.
Best Cat Food without Fish for Sensitive Stomach: If you’re looking for a hypoallergenic cat food for fish allergies or sensitive stomach, you may want to start with a limited ingredient diet. A limited number of ingredients reduces the risk of triggering your cat’s allergies, though you also need to choose a recipe free from fish ingredients. When it comes to limited ingredient cat food, salmon is a common ingredient – you’ll want to look for other proteins like chicken, turkey, or venison. Our top pick for the best limited ingredient cat food is Instinct by Nature’s Variety LID Grain-Free Recipe with Real Turkey Dry Food. It features turkey meal as the main ingredient and is completely free from fish and other common allergens.
4 More Top-Rated Cat Foods without Fish
If you’re looking for a wet cat food without fish or fish oil, we recommend this Ziwi Peak Chicken Recipe. Made with the highest-quality natural ingredients, this formula features 92% chicken meat, organs, and bones with green mussels as a natural source of joint-supporting glucosamine and chondroitin. This recipe contains just seven main ingredients, further reducing the risk for triggering a food allergy and it is complete and balanced for optimal nutrition.
Many cat owners hate leaving cans of cat food open in the fridge. If you feel that pain, these Nutro Perfect Portions Grain-Free Cuts in Gravy Beef Recipe Cat Food Trays might be a good option. Packaged in perfect portions, this recipe also has the bonus of being a high-quality wet cat food without fish or fish oil. It contains chicken and beef as the main ingredients with no added carbohydrate other than some tapioca starch, likely used as a thickener.
Another great option in limited ingredient cat food free from fish ingredients is this Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Chicken Pate. This formula features fresh chicken as the first ingredient and only contains six other main ingredients aside from supplements. It is complete and balanced, guaranteed to deliver high-quality nutrition and irresistible flavor your cat will love.
Though not one of the biggest brands on the market, Addiction offers a variety of unique recipes with novel proteins like venison. This Addiction Grain-Free Viva la Venison Dry Cat Food is nutritionally balanced and contains absolutely no fish ingredients. It contains 30% protein which is enough for adult cats and kittens with 15% fat. It is naturally grain-free and contains all the nutrients your cat needs for balanced nutrition along with probiotics for healthy digestion.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the most common cat food allergy symptoms? Human food allergies often present with digestive symptoms, though severe allergies may result in anaphylaxis. In cats, the most common cat food allergy symptoms are skin-related – things like itchy skin, hot spots, skin infections, and recurrent ear infections.
- Should I feed my cat a limited ingredient diet? A limited ingredient diet or LID is a cat food made with a shorter list of ingredients than is average. Limited ingredient cat food has a lower risk for triggering food allergies simply because there are fewer things for your cat to react to. If you suspect that your cat has food allergies, switching to a LID may help resolve his cat food allergy symptoms.
- Can I feed my cat fresh fish? Fresh fish is not necessarily bad for cats as long as it is properly cooked. It still has the risks mentioned above such as mercury content and other contaminants, but it is just another animal-based protein. If your cat is allergic to fish, that may not be the case. Do not feed cats with fish allergies fresh fish.
- How do I know if my cat is allergic to fish? Cat food allergies generally present with recurrent skin problems as the major symptoms, so if your cat has chronically itchy skin and recurrent ear infections, allergies could be the cause. If your cat is currently eating a fish-based cat food, it’s a good bet that fish is the issue. The best way to tell for sure is to switch to a cat food made with no fish ingredients for a period of 8 to 12 weeks (this is known as a food trial or elimination diet). If your cat’s symptoms disappear, you’ll have a good idea that it was the fish causing the problem.
- How much and how often should I feed my cat? Generally speaking, the amount of food your cat needs depends on his age, weight, and activity level. Kittens and very active cats require more calories than adult and senior cats – they may also require more protein to fuel their growth and development or to maintain a healthy adult body weight. The best thing you can do is choose a high-quality cat food appropriate for your cat’s age and follow the feeding instructions. Remember that these recommendations are for the whole day, so you’ll need to divide it into two or more meals. Most cats do well with two daily meals, though kittens and very active cats may require an additional meal to sustain their metabolisms.
The next time you’re grilling a nice fillet of fish, you might be tempted to give your cat a bite. Fish is not necessarily unhealthy for cats, but there are certain risks that come with feeding it. Aside from contamination and toxicity issues, fish is a common cause of cat food allergy symptoms. If you suspect that your cat has a fish allergy, you should avoid all fish ingredients.
Now that you have a better understanding of fish in cat food and what to look for, you’re ready to start shopping! If you still need a little help, try one of our recommendations for the best fish free cat food.