Could I Feed My Cat Goldfish?

Someone seriously asked this question and the answers were serious too. One of the answers was to not feed your cats goldfish bought from Wal-Mart because the goldfish may have been supplied by China, in which case they could be full of melamine or some other toxic substance.  Buy them somewhere else, he said.

Cat and Exotic Fish

Cat and Exotic Fish. Photo by admiller

This little vignette of internet life got me thinking about fishing cats – domestic cats acting as if they were the wild cat species called the fishing cat.

Are domestic cats adept fishers if given the opportunity? There are quite a lot of complicated issues to discuss when answering the question:

  • Do cats like or dislike water? Answer: Yes and no. Some cats will like water a lot, some don’t mind it and some will dislike it.
  • Should cats eat raw fish? Answer: yes sometimes, perhaps, but not all the time.
  • Can domestic cats fish like the wild fishing cat? Answer: Not quite so good at it, but, yes they could fish, depending on the individual cat’s personality.
  • Does the African/Asian wildcat like water and fishing? Answer: The African wildcat is the direct wildcat ancestor of the domestic cat. Answer: African wildcats are generalist hunters. They live in a wide range of habitats depending on where they are. In Botswana they are seen near wetlands and rivers. They fish from time to time. So there is quite possibly some hard-wired desires and fishing skills within the humble domestic moggie.

Given the opportunity, a domestic cat, depending on its character, will fish and be good at it. There are some nice stories from long ago, which prove the point.

The Poacher’s Assistant

Donald, a poacher from the 1880s, went night fishing for trout in the river Tweed on the Scottish borders. At one point the river was very shallow. When he caught a fish his loyal lady cat companion, who was always by his side, would wade into the water and bring the fish back to him. She’d grab the fish in her claws. This is reminiscent of the fishing cat who will scoop fish out of the water. The flat-headed cat also fishes very expertly.

This loyal cat also accompanied Donald at work as a ferryman:

…no sooner did a bell at the opposite side of the stream give notice that a passenger was ready to voyage across, than down scampered puss to the boat, and leaping in, she journeyed with her master to the further side, and returned, gravely watching each stroke of the oar…

There was never a happier domestic cat.

The Sea Fishing Cat

This is a story from 1828. A cat living in Plymouth, England routinely dived into the sea. She brought up fish alive in her mouth and took them to a guardroom where there were soldiers to be fed. It was believed she learned her craft chasing water rats. Obviously, she was one of those cats who liked water or who had learned to like it or get along very well in it.

Going dramatically upscale, the tiger is known to be a sea swimming cat where necessary, being able to swim several miles.

Goldfish

How do you answer the bizarre question in the title? The straight answer is yes, you could feed your cat goldfish. However, it would be cruel to do so on the assumption we are writing about a live goldfish.  It would be unnatural and possibly unhealthy. Also your cat probably wouldn’t want to eat a live goldfish. Domestic cats are too used to commercial cat food to eat raw fish.

Cats Pawing at Water in Bowls

Sometimes cats paw at the water in their water bowl. Maine Coons appear to be fond of doing it. This may be an instinctive precursor to hunting for fish by disturbing the surface to attract fish or to smooth the surface to see more clearly into the water. Some cats then lick the water off their paws. Is this behavior all that is left of wild cat behavior when the cat scoops a fish out of the water?

Associated: Water Cats.

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Could I Feed My Cat Goldfish? — 14 Comments

  1. What is wrong with people who seriously think it’s OK to buy goldfish for a cat to eat!
    We had a goldfish called Fred when we were kids, he was quite old, I didn’t know then how cruel it is to keep goldfish in a bowl not a tank.
    One day Fred had vanished!
    It was quite a puzzle until we spotted the wet paw prints leading out of the open window and there was Ginger from further down the street sitting on the sill washing his face after his satisfying dinner lol

    • LOL. Ahhh so cats do like to eat goldfish when they can get their paws on them. There are lots of pictures of cats looking at goldfish but I am not sure how many go on to catch and eat them.

      I thought the title would get people thinking. Some people do think it is a good idea to feed live animals to their pets. I am thinking of snakes and feeding them with live kittens. Horror. Do you remember that article?

      http://pictures-of-cats.org/warning-kitties-fed-live-to-snakes.html

      This is along similar lines. I wanted to use the callous idea of feeding goldfish to cats to introduce the subject of domestic cats fishing.

      People are a mystery to me but not cats.

    • Oh no, one of your pets ate the other one! My parents had fish in their fountain outside until they realized the water wasn’t deep enough to give the fish cover from predators. A mink or fisher or maybe a raccoon got Little Guy– scooped him out of the pond, took one bite and left him to die. Little Guy was the last straw for my mom who decided “no more pets” because she was so sad. Little Guy was a fish my parents won at the Sauk County Fair and he was so small you could see through him. By the end he was at least eight inches long if not more– just huge from living in the fountain. In winter Little Guy and their other fish lived inside in a tank that was big but never seemed quite big enough for them. My mom would talk to them all the time. “Hi boys!” she would say at feeding time. She claims they could hear, understand and respond to her. They had various fish over the years including Clarence, Pete and Rerun (like Pete and Repeat) and others. Some lived through more than one cycle of summers in the fountain and winters in the tank inside. But Little Guy was special because they had him so long and he started out so small you could see through him. After all the fish had died and weren’t replaced a little boy still kept coming around asking if the fish were in the fountain. The water was a little murky so it could be hard to spot them so Mom just kept lying to the little boy and saying, “Yep, they’re in there!” until he grew up and kept coming around. She couldn’t bear to tell him that something ate Little Guy. It could even have been a cat that did it, I suppose. The murder of Little Guy remains unsolved.

    • what do u mean what is wrong with the people?! like what is wrong with chu? do u or ur family eat fish to so why cant cats or kittens eat it? fish are meant to die anyways?

      • Saemi,I take it you are referring to my comment ‘What is wrong with people who seriously think it’s OK to buy goldfish for a cat to eat!’
        So my answer is no, my family and I do not eat fish, we are vegetarians and we eat no creature who had a face when they were alive.

  2. There is a YouTube video out there in which people put not more than two inches of water into a bathtub, put in a tiny goldfish and then let their cats have at it trying to catch the fish. On one hand I was appalled at the cruelty to the fish, but I also could see that the cats were having the time of their lives. They were playing in the water but taking no notice of it in their intensity in trying to catch the fish. I don’t think they actually caught it, but they did make contact with it and it could have been injured. Wrong to do it, but the cats loved it. I need some kind of wind up or battery powered bathtub toy that would mimic the movements of a fish in the water and let Monty play with it in a couple inches of water. He would love that. But I wouldn’t give him a live fish. It’s tempting. If he knew what I was thinking he would say, “Yes, please!” But it would be cruel to the fish and as a human I know that even if Monty wouldn’t see the problem. He would think it was great, the best thing that ever happened to him in his whole life.

  3. But why do they have a tank of cheap “feeder fish” in most pet stores? They are fed to larger fish (like Oscars). Frequently there will be inexpensive feeder mice to feed to larger reptiles (and I will stop there).

    How much different is it to get a feeder fish for the cat to chase, or get a couple of crickets for the cat to chase?

    I guess it depends on how you feel about goldfish. In my life, they have been disposable pets. My roommate in college had one, in a tiny bowl. Inevitably, it ended belly up. There was the usual “burial at sea” at which my roommate went hysterical about me flushing the dead fish (she wanted me to do it before I did it). I have zero attachment to goldfish (although if that was the only pet I had, I would become emotionally attached to it. Heck, I get emotionally attached to houseplants.)

    • Thanks Sue for sharing your opinion. Personally, I don’t even think it would work. I’d be very surprised if a domestic cat wanted to eat a goldfish. The cat would play and kill the fish quite possibly but eat it? No, I doubt it.

  4. I suspect my kitties would eat the fish if they were given the option to catch them. They certainly eat mice that they catch (something I am happy to let them do) and would eat birds if they were outdoor kitties and able to hunt them.

    Your article was well expressed, thanks.

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