A home aquarium provides good environmental enrichment for house cats. They like to watch the fish flutter by and may also be intrigued by the water, the little “palm trees” that move with the “waves,” and perhaps the bubbles or gurgling sounds fish tanks sometimes emit. But if you don’t set things up properly, there are dangers — not just for the cat but also for the fish. International Cat Care (icatcare.org) suggests keeping the following in mind.
For the cat’s sake
- Set up your fish tank on a sturdy stand, and make sure your cat cannot jump onto it or reach it by leaping from other furniture. A falling fish tank filled with water is quite heavy and can be fatal to your delicate feline (not to mention the fish).
- Tuck away all cords for filters, lights, heaters, running water, and any other electronics. A cat potentially biting into an electronic line is a very bad idea. And if the cat pulls on a cord, she can end up knocking the tank off its perch.
- Make sure the tank is tightly covered with a lid, just in case your cat does figure out a way to get near it. Fish tank water is not safe for a cat to drink.
For the fish’s sake
- Make sure your cat is not able to tap on the glass or sit on the cover, which shouldn’t be an issue if you set up the tank so your feline can’t get near it. Fish, like people (and cats), are highly susceptible to stress, which can have negative consequences for their physical health by impairing their immune systems. Being stared at for much of the day is already stressful; they don’t need more stress piled on. You can tell if your fish are feeling stressed if they’re hiding more often, not eating, growing lethargic, or swimming in strange, uncharacteristic patterns. If that’s the case and there’s nothing wrong with the water, cover your fish tank with a dark cloth some of the time so your aquatic pets will not feel constantly on display.
- If you want to have a fish tank that intrigues your cat but doesn’t overly intrigue her, choose slower-moving fish like bettas and catfish. They will be less interesting to your feline than faster-moving guppies and goldfish. (It’s the movement, not the color, that attracts cats.)
- Find plenty of activities to engage your cat. That will make the fish tank a little less interesting.