Salmon is an ingredient in many cat foods, but think twice before preparing it at home.

Do cats like to eat salmon? They sure do. And so do their people: Salmon and tuna vie for second-place in fish consumption behind the most popular seafood: shrimp.

Salmon is a good source of protein, packs a number of vitamins and minerals, and includes a general helping of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which is a nutritious meal for people, cats, and dogs in all sorts of ways.

But is there an ideal way to get salmon into your cat's diet? Because a cat cannot live on salmon alone, say veterinarians.

cat sniffing salmon on kitchen counter
Credit: Atle RÔøΩ_nningen Photography / Stocksy / Getty

Is Salmon Good for Cats?

Can you feed your cat salmon? The answer is yes, says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.

"Any type of salmon, and all the parts, are fine," Schmid says.

It almost goes without saying—but better safe than sorry—that the head, tail, and bones should be removed. They can all present a choking hazard or cause damage as they pass through your cat's digestive tract if swallowed.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need important nutrients provided in meat as part of their diet. Salmon provides that animal protein along with cat-friendly vitamins and minerals like niacin, potassium, selenium, as well as vitamins B6 and B12. 

Salmon is not enough by itself to keep your cat healthy, however. Cats need a complete balanced diet to make sure they get all their fats, carbohydrates, protein, and micronutrients. But if you and your cat think salmon's cool, don't worry: Salmon may be an ingredient in one of those complete diets in wet or dry cat food that you provide your favorite feline already.

How to Give Your Cat Salmon Safely

Let's look at the common ways this super-popular fish might show up at your dinner table or as a treat for your cat.

Raw Salmon

Can cats have raw salmon? They can, says Schmid, but that doesn't mean they should.

"Cooked salmon is probably better than raw to prevent gastrointestinal upset," she says. Schmid also notes that Salmon Poisoning Disease is a risk for dogs who eat raw salmon and some other fish.

"It's from raw salmon infected with a bacteria, Neorickettsia helminthoeca, and a fluke,  Nanophyetus salmincola," Schmid says. "Cats though, appear to be resistant."

But just because this one disease doesn't affect cats doesn't mean raw salmon and other meat isn't a risk to pets and people. Ten years ago, the American Animal Hospital Association, with the endorsement of the Association of American Feline Practitioners, provided a statement against raw food diets for cats:

"Homemade raw food diets are unsafe because retail meats for human consumption can be contaminated with pathogens," the statement reads. "Many of the pathogens found in raw protein diets can be transmitted to the human population by contact with the food itself, pet or environmental surfaces. A disturbing number of these organisms have also been shown to be resistant to multiple antimicrobials."

How to avoid the problem? Cook the salmon and any other meat you feed your cat.

Canned Salmon

Is canned salmon ok for cats to eat? Not necessarily.

Because various canned salmon may include additives or spices that won't agree with your cat's stomach or might be toxic to cats, it's best to steer clear of canned salmon meant for human consumption. There can also be a lot of added salt for flavor, and cats need very little sodium in their diet.

Smoked Salmon

Can cats eat smoked salmon? Well, they can, but like canned salmon, smoked salmon may have been prepared during and after the cooking process with extra salt or extra spices that are bad for your cat.

Salmon Skin

Salmon skin may have an even higher concentration of those fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) than the meat. So while you should make sure to cut off the head and fins and remove all the bones, it might be cool to leave on the salmon skin. Just watch to make sure it doesn't cause any post-meal discomfort, if you're a cat has a sensitive stomach.

Cooked Salmon

This is the way to feed salmon to your feline, cat parents.

Remove the head, fins, and bones and consider roasting, grilling, or poaching the fish. Deeper cooking methods may remove some of the nutrients from salmon, but it's still safe.

Many recipes call for other ingredients, so stick to plain cooked salmon for your cat if you're not sure about all the delicious additions you've made for your own dinner table.

Should I Be Giving My Cat Salmon Oil Supplements?

Fish oil supplements are common in every drug store and grocery store, with people sold on the benefits by medical experts. Turns out, fish oil, and salmon oil included, may be good for cats too. 

But it's always a good idea to check with your vet before adding new supplements to your pet's diet.

Your veterinarian may tell you, "Sounds great to try! Wonderful benefits!" But your cat's doctor may also know of an underlying medical condition that makes a particular supplement a risk for unbalancing your cat's daily nutrition.

How to Make Salmon Cat Treats

You've thoroughly deboned the raw salmon. You've cooked the raw salmon. Time to hand off a big chunk to your cat, right? Not so fast. Remember, cooked salmon can be good for cats, but it needs to be part of a balanced diet. You can add salmon with the help of a veterinary nutritionist, or you can add salmon as a treat. But veterinarians recommend you keep calories from treats to 10 percent or less of your pet's diet. What's the math look like for salmon?

Let's say your cat weighs 10 pounds. A ballpark estimate from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association of a cat's daily calorie count would be 270 to 290 calories per day. That means just 30 or so calories would come from treats.

But the average half-fillet of salmon is 356 calories, according to the USDA's FoodData Central.

A good salmon cat treat for a 10-pound cat (30 calories or so), then, would be one-tenth of a half-fillet.

You can see it might be easy to overdo these fish treats for a cat that scarfs down tasty food. Veterinarians say cats can become used to cooked salmon and may start eating less of their regular balanced meal in favor of your fishy treats.

So, cook your salmon safely, keep the portions treat-sized and enjoy watching your cat lose his mind about the fact that fish is what's for dinner.