Everyone knows dogs love meat. Dog foods regularly come in chicken, beef, and even bone marrow flavor- but can dogs eat fish? Fish is a frequent hidden ingredient of many types of dog food, both wet and dry. We humans already know that fish is full of protein and beneficial oils, so it’s easy to presume that fish is just as good for our faithful furry friends. But dog physiology isn’t quite the same as human, so is fish really a top choice for dogs? Read on to find out the facts about dogs eating fish and other seafood.
Can Dogs Eat Fish? An Overview
The simple answer to “Can dogs eat fish?” is a firm “Yes.” Fish is an easily digestible source of protein. Protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, a healthy coat, and keeping lots of doggy bodily functions running smoothly.
One of the benefits of fish over other protein sources is that because it’s so easy to digest, it can be fed to dogs who have had digestive problems or a stomach upset. Fish is also lower in fat and calories than some other protein sources, particularly fatty meats. This makes fish ideal for dogs who have liver and kidney problems, or who are on a weight controlled diet.
Fish also contains plenty of other nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids. Think about cod liver oil- we take this as a supplement for healthy joints. When dogs eat fish, they receive the same benefits, making fish great for canines with joint troubles. Check with your vet, as they will be able to recommend the right diet for your pet’s health.
Types of Fish for Dogs
Sardines, mackerel and other oily fish are great for your dog. They are packed with protein and lots of those beneficial “good” fats and nutrients like Omega-3. Small sardines can be enjoyed whole, as the bones are soft and easily digestible. Always remove the bones from larger fish. If in doubt- take them out!
Hake, pollock, cod, and haddock are all fine for your dog as long as they are well cooked and not doused in salt, oils, or other seasoning. Cod and haddock are more at risk of over-fishing these days, so hake or pollock are the more environmentally conscious choices. Make sure the fish is well boned to avoid the risk of choking, as small bones from white fish can become lodged in the throat.
Tuna and swordfish can live for a very long time. This means that heavy metals, like mercury, can accumulate in the fish’s system throughout their lives. Mercury can be harmful when consumed in large amounts. According to the FDA, both canned and fresh tuna have much higher levels of mercury in than hake, crab, or pollock. Because of this, it might be a good idea to avoid feeding tuna to your dog. Stick to shorter lived fish like the others in this list.
There is a lot of clamor around salmon, with lots of people believing that dogs should not eat this nutrient rich fish. However, salmon is a great source of protein, as well as vitamins A, B-complex and D. Some of the controversy around salmon comes from the risk of flukes. These are a nasty type of parasite which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. The good news is, as long as salmon is de-boned and cooked thoroughly, there is no risk of flukes surviving and causing illness in your dog. Never feed your dog undercooked or raw salmon. See more on this in our “risks” section below.
Fish Past Its Prime
It may be tempting to think that a dog can stomach fish that we might throw away. It’s important not to fall into this way of thinking though. Rotten meat or fish is full of bacteria, even when it has only just started to turn. Introducing your dog to these bacteria could lead to serious digestive issues and other conditions.
Feeding Fish to Dogs: The Risks
As well as the parasitic flukes we mentioned, another risk from dogs eating salmon is a specific parasite called Neorickettsia helminthoeca. This parasite can aggressively attack your dog’s digestive system, causing an unpleasant condition known by vets as Salmon Poisoning Disease or SPD. Again though, this is only a risk if consuming raw salmon. Ensure salmon is fully cooked, ideally by steaming, to preserve the useful nutrients and kill any harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
If you decide to feed your dog canned salmon (or other canned fish), choose the type which comes in spring water. The stuff that comes in brine or oil may contain too much salt for your doggy friend to deal with. Too much salt can make your dog dehydrated, and may even lead to sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, mood problems, fever, tremors and fits. If your dog ever exhibits these symptoms, contact a vet immediately and be sure to tell the vet what your dog has eaten and when.
Bones are another pretty obvious risk. Different types of fish have different types of bones, so it’s worth taking this into consideration. Dog foods which contains fish will normally also contain the bones. In this instance, the bones will have been processed to a mush to eliminate any risk of choking. The reason dog food manufacturers include the bones is because they are a great source of calcium and vitamin D- great for your dog’s own bones, skin, coat, and teeth.
When you feed your dog small fish like whitebait, or even small sardines, the chances are the dog will eat it up without even noticing the bones are there. With fillets of white fish, though, bones are strong and kind of elastic, meaning they can bend rather than break. They may then become lodged in the back of the mouth or throat. Because of this risk, it’s always recommended to remove any bones before serving your dog fish.
The final risk to think about is the risk of seafood allergies. There’s no way to know if your dog has a seafood allergy until you have fed them seafood! Because of this, always start with a small amount the first time you feed your dog fish or other seafood. If your dog has a reaction, discuss it with your vet immediately.
Dogs and Other Seafood
So, we’ve talked about dogs eating a nice bit of pollock or hake, or getting their jaws around a juicy sardine. But what about other types of seafood? Can dogs eat crab? Or shrimp?
Again, it’s mainly good news. Shellfish are full of safe protein and other nutrients, meaning they can be a beneficial part of any dog’s regular diet. There are a few points to think about though, which may sway your decision on whether or not to feed your dog shellfish.
Crab can contain high amounts of iodine. All mammals, including humans and dogs, need a small amount of iodine in their diets. Iodine supports the metabolism and can prevent thyroid problems. However, too much iodine can cause problems including allergic reactions, although this tends to vary from dog to dog. Again, it’s best to try a small amount to ensure your dog doesn’t have an adverse reaction.
Don’t feed your dog crab shells or whole claws. Although the shells are full of calcium, they are too difficult for your dog to digest and can be compacted or get caught in the digestive tract. Either of these problems is a one-way ticket to the vet, so it’s best to avoid that situation by not allowing your dog to eat the hard shell.
Lobster is often seen as a luxury seafood, and can be considered quite rich. That’s usually due to the amount of butter or sauce that us humans enjoy with it though! Plain, steamed lobster meat is healthy and nutritious for your dog. Just make sure no shell is mixed in with the meat.
Shrimp is always a popular choice for both humans and dogs. Did you know about a billion pounds of shrimp are consumed in America each year? Shrimp contains Vitamin B12 and selenium, both really important nutrients for your dog. Just remember to take the heads, shells and tails off. Your dog won’t enjoy these harder parts of the shrimp, and they can even cause a tummy upset. Boil or steam shrimp for the healthiest meal. Treat prawns exactly the same as shrimp.
Oysters, clams, and mussels are all types of shellfish that can hide completely in a two-part shell that works on a hinge. Your dog is totally fine to eat the succulent meat inside, as long as it is safely and thoroughly cooked. Again, don’t allow your dog to eat the shells, and bear in mind that your dog might develop a taste for these small shellfish which can be quite fiddly to prepare!
Should Dogs Eat Raw Fish?
You should never feed your dog raw fish. We’ve already highlighted a couple of risks above, including the dangers of Salmon Poisoning Disease and other parasitic invaders. Another problem with raw fish is the high number and variety of bacteria it can harbor. Cooking fish eliminates these risks by killing the parasites and bacteria.
Feeding raw fish to dogs puts you and your family in danger, too. When raw fish is prepared and the surfaces aren’t disinfected properly, bacteria can breed and pass to humans. Small children might pick up a dog bowl that’s had some raw fish in. Dogs might eat raw fish then come running for some love, licking you with their now bacteria laden tongues. It sounds gross and off-putting, but all these risks are easily dealt with by simply safely preparing all foods and cooking them thoroughly.
In conclusion, there are plenty of safe ways to include fish in your dog’s diet. Next time you buy dog food, take a look at the label. You may be surprised to find out how much fish protein is included. Dog food manufacturers already know that fish is great for your doggy friend, and now you do too. Just remember to always cook it thoroughly, take out any bones, and avoid salt or other seasoning that could upset your dog’s stomach.
By following those safety guidelines, you and your dog should be able to get the most out of a seafood filled diet! If you’re ever concerned about your dog’s health, or thinking about a change in diet, it’s always best to talk to your vet first.