is it okay to feed cats sardines?
Cat Food and Hydration

Can You Feed Cats Sardines?

You already know that cats like eating sardines. Felines don’t hunt in water, and they don’t eat fish in the wild. Given that some human foods are toxic to cats, this makes many owners wonder if it’s safe to feed cats sardines.

Sardines are healthy for cats because they’re high in protein, which cats need for energy. Sardines also contain minerals like calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc, which cats require for a healthy coat and internal organs. Sardines also assist with hydration.

One reason why cats enjoy fish is the high protein content. However, you should only feed your cat sardines infrequently, and you must drain the can of any added oils, sauces, or brine. Sardines in spring water, without any added salt, are the preferred option for cats.

Do Cats Like Sardines?

Cats enjoy sardines, just as they enjoy all types of oily fish. It’s odd that they do. Cats don’t hunt in water, and don’t eat fish in the wild. So, it’s unclear where they got their taste for eating fish.

A cat’s diet should contain lots of protein, which is why cats almost solely eat meat. Fish is similarly high in protein to white and red meats.

Can Cats Eat Sardines?

A sardine is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. These are all essential to a cat’s health.

But there are issues with sardines, but these usually don’t prove to be a problem. Canned sardines may have bones in them, but these are small and bendy. So, your cat can digest them without any problems.

Another issue is whether the oils, brines, and sauces that sardines are covered in are healthy for your cat. Each kind of sauce or oil should be fine for your cat, so long as you don’t overfeed it. Drain the sardines first so that you minimize how much of the sauce or oil you feed your cat.

Ideally, you should feed your cat sardines in spring water with no added salt. This avoids feeding your cat either too much sodium or too much fat.

1/ Oil

Sunflower oil isn’t bad for cats in small quantities. So, if you feed a cat one sardine with the sunflower oil mostly drained from it, that’s not a problem. Neither sunflower oil or olive oil is poisonous to cats.

However, large quantities of sunflower oil (or any oil) can cause diarrhea in cats. It will also fatten your cat up over time. So, you should be careful not to feed it too much.

The same applies to sardines in olive oil. Olive oil is itself slightly better for cats, but still shouldn’t be fed in large quantities.

2/ Brine

Brine is another term for saltwater. Things are stored in brine because it preserves foods. This is an ancient practice dating back hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, salt is bad for cats because it can lead to high blood pressure. You should avoid feeding your cat too much brine. One sardine in brine should not be a problem, but you should wash it off first.

3/ Tomato Sauce

Cats can eat tomato sauce without it causing health issues. Tomato is a fruit, and cats don’t eat fruit. But that’s not because all fruits are poisonous or toxic. It’s because fruit doesn’t contain the nutrition that cats need.

You can feed sardines in tomato sauce to your cat. Your cat will still eat them, because it likes sardines. But it would probably prefer to have the sardines without any sauce on them.

4/ Spring Water

Better than all of the above options are sardines in spring water. These don’t have any added sodium or fat, which is good.

But the sardines themselves still have all the protein, vitamins, and minerals that cats benefit from.

Sardine Nutritional Information

Sardines are a nutritious food for cats. They contain lots of different minerals in high quantities and some vitamins in lower quantities.

On a macro level, sardines contain lots of protein and some fat, with no carbs, which is optimal for a cat.

Here’s a table using data from NutritionValue.org, detailing the macronutrients that sardines contain. This table relates to sardines stored in sunflower oil. Other kinds of sardines contain less fat.

MacronutrientAmount per 100g
Protein25g
Fat11g
Carbohydrate0g
Fiber0g
Water59.6g
Calories208

Cats need lots of protein because they’re obligate carnivores. Other pets are omnivores, so can eat meat alongside other foods like fruits and vegetables.

But almost all of a cat’s diet should be meat, which means they need a lot of protein. That’s what their guts are set up to process.

Another interesting point is that sardines contain lots of water. Cats that eat lots of dry foods struggle to get enough water from their diet.

Sardines are a suitable meal because they contain lots of vitamins and minerals, too. Here’s a table:

Vitamin/MineralAmount per 100g
Niacin (Vitamin B3)5.245mg
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)0.642mg
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)0.227mg
Vitamin B128.94ug
Vitamin B60.167mg
Vitamin E2.04mg
Calcium382mg
Copper0.186mg
Iron2.92mg
Magnesium39mg
Phosphorus490mg
Selenium52.7ug
Sodium307mg
Zinc1.31mg

This is a wide range of vitamins and minerals for any food to contain. Cats have a special need for calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. Sardines offer much of the micronutrition that cats need.

That doesn’t mean that sardines have everything that cats need. According to JSAP, cats fed largely fish-based diets can be deficient in vitamin K. So, like all diets of small pets, your cat’s diet should be varied.

Are Sardines Good for Cats?

Sardines contain plenty of protein without much carbs or fat, unless they were stored in sunflower oil. But however they were stored, sardines contain lots of things that cats need to thrive.

They contain protein, which cats need in higher relative qualities than other animals. Rather than mostly using carbohydrate energy, cats mostly use protein energy. And that’s beside the fact that protein/amino acids are required to build healthy muscle mass.

According to the Cambridge University Press, the fish oils in sardines may reduce the effects of brain aging in older cats.

They are also better for cats than standard dried treats. That’s because dried treats can cause or exacerbate kidney disease. Cats hardly drink at all, getting most of their water from food instead.

What Are the Side Effects of Sardines in Cats?

While sardines are healthy for cats, they aren’t the perfect food. They can cause several side effects, especially when fed in large quantities.

Do cats like sardines?

1/ Diarrhea

Diarrhea can occur when a cat eats something too oily. While one sardine wouldn’t be too oily for a person’s digestive system, cats are much smaller. So, a comparatively small amount of oil could have this effect on a cat.

You can, and should, avoid this issue by feeding your cat sardines kept in water, preferably without salt.

2/ Choking Hazard

Sardines in cans may have bones in them. These bones aren’t too big for a cat to handle, unless your cat is small. But even then, your cat will chew through the sardine and eat around any bones that are too big.

3/ Mercury Poisoning

Mercury poisoning is dangerous, and affects the internal organs of cats. It can also harm the development of kittens if ingested by pregnant cats.

Cats that eat fish may have elevated levels of mercury. According to the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, cats that eat lots of tuna can have elevated levels of mercury.

Your cat won’t ingest enough mercury from one sardine to cause these issues. But if your cat eats nothing but mercury throughout its whole life, this could become a problem.

How to Make Sardines for Cats

You don’t need to prepare a sardine to feed it to a cat. Open the can, drain it, and place the sardine in your cat’s food bowl as normal.

Feed it as part of your cat’s meal rather than separately because sardines are high in calories.

How Often Can Cats Eat Sardines?

A good limit is one treat a week. This may not seem like much, and it’s not. The reason it seems so little is that people are accustomed to overfeeding their pets. That’s why there are so many overweight house cats.

You can feed your cat sardines more frequently than this, so long as you adjust your cat’s regular diet to contain fewer calories. However, if you do, be prepared for your cat to bother you constantly for more treats.

Cats will beg. If you give in, they will beg more frequently and urgently. So, only feed sardines to cats in moderation once a week.