How To Safely Keep Pet Fish and Cats In The Same House

By Matt Leighton,

Cats and fish are often a tricky combination. While some people are lucky enough to have cats that either ignore the fish altogether or give up trying to get at them after the first few wet paws, others have felines that persist in trying to reach the fish.


The latter scenario can be dangerous for both fish and cats. Even if the cat doesn’t succeed in catching the fish, her attempts at doing so will stress them out. If the cat falls in the tank, she could hurt herself or even drown.

So, how can you safely keep cats and fish in the same house?

Keeping the Fish Safe

1. Make it hard for the cat to reach the tank

Place the tank somewhere high off the floor that the cat can’t reach in a single bound. Make certain that there isn’t any furniture nearby that Felix can use as a stepping stone or launchpad. Alternatively, place obstacles like books on the furniture.

Choose a stand for the tank that fits the tank’s dimensions exactly, so there is no room for a curious feline. The cat thus won’t be able to paw at the tank or climb onto the lid.

2. Make sure the cat can’t knock over the tank

Don’t pick a tank with a small base or that is taller than it is wide, as a cat might be able to push or tip it over. The stand should also be firm and stable.


3. Consider ways of making the fish tank less attractive to the cat

Possibilities include placing wintergreen, eucalyptus, or citronella near the tank. Cats hate the smell of all three. Similarly, cats hate the smell of Vicks VapoRub, which contains a lot of eucalyptus. This is the same sort of idea we suggest when it comes to cat-proofing your Christmas tree.

You can also “booby trap” the fish tank by placing items with an unpleasant texture around or on it. Examples include aluminum foil and sticky paper.

4. Put a lid on the tank

The lid will need a hole to allow airflow. It should also be heavy or come with snaps so Felix can’t just knock it over. 

Don’t get a glass lid, for it could crack if the cat decides to lie on top of it. It may be a good idea to get advice from someone at a local pet store in order to choose the best cat-proof lid for the fish tank.

A lid will also keep your fish from jumping out of the tank if you have a notorious jumper!

5. Throw a sheet or towel over the tank before going to bed

Covering the tank with a cloth will make it a lot less interesting to the cat. The fish themselves will like the resultant darkness.

6. Give the fish hiding places

Plant foliage and provide other cover to give the fish somewhere to hide from a cat or larger and more aggressive fish. Hiding places will thus help reduce stress and improve the health of the fish.

7. Put the tank in a cat-free room

If all else fails, put the tank in a room that the cat doesn’t have access to. This is admittedly only an option for people living in houses with several rooms. The difficulty, of course, is keeping the cat out of the room.

cats and fish

Keeping Kitty Safe and Happy

1. Don’t punish the cat.

Cats don’t respond well to punishment. Yelling or smacking the cat won’t teach the cat to leave the fish alone. They will just make sure that you aren’t around before going after the fish.

2. Play with the cat

Playing with the cat will distract it from the fish, and exercising it will help it burn off energy. Cats enjoy laser pointers, feather wands, and motorized mice. Some cats also like to play fetch while others enjoy batting around small balls.

3. Put a water bowl in front of the tank

Some cats are actually more interested in the water than the fish. If that’s the case, give them a bowl of water. Alternatively, get a pet fountain so they can enjoy watching or playing with the moving water.

4. Set up an area for the cat away from the tank

If the cat has its own space with a cat tree, scratching post, and toys, it will be less likely to bother the fish. Sprinkling catnip on the scratching post or cat tree will help entice the cat into using it.

Some cats do enjoy watching fish. In this case, the cat’s perch should be at least two feet away from the tank, so the cat can’t paw at the glass or otherwise stress the fish out.

About the Author

Matt Leighton is a web designer by day and a long-time fishkeeper by night. He’s had fish for as long as he can remember, and grew up taking more and more responsibility for his parent’s tanks – from nano reef tanks all the way up to their massive 400-gallon beauty (his cats never messed with that one!). He’s passionate about helping more people find joy in fishkeeping and teaching them how to become expert pet parents at VIVOFISH

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