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.
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.
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.