If you’ve ever taken a glimpse at the ingredient panel of your dog’s food or examined other brands of dog food in the store, then you know that fish is frequently on the menu. Just because it is an ingredient in dog food, however, does not mean that dogs can safely eat just any old fish we throw their way. If you want to add a fishy treat to your dog's diet, here is what you need to know.
Benefits of Fish for Dogs
Dogs love the smell of fish, and in this case, there is a reason. Fish is a healthy source of protein and is often included in commercial dog food as an alternative protein source. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which according to veterinarians may have health benefits such as decreasing inflammation. Fish is also a good alternative for dogs with food allergies to more common ingredients, like chicken.
Fish can be an important part of a home-cooked diet, but if you choose to feed a homemade diet with fish, be sure to consult your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure you are meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. The first time you give your dog any fish, give only a small portion until you determine if your dog can tolerate that particular fish without an allergic reaction or gastro-intestinal upset.
Best Types of Fish for Dogs
There are many fish in the sea, but the most common types of fish used in commercial dog food are shorter-lived species like salmon, ocean whitefish, lake whitefish, herring, walleye, flounder, and Arctic char. Longer-lived fish species, like tuna and swordfish on the other hand, can contain heavy metals like mercury. Mercury builds up over time in the fish’s system and can lead to heavy metal toxicity, which is why feeding a shorter-lived fish species is preferable to tuna or swordfish. With so many fish to choose from, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Risks of Feeding Fish to Dogs
Fish itself is not harmful to dogs, but the way we prepare it can cause problems. Fish cooked in too much oil can cause GI upset in dogs, or even lead to serious illness such as pancreatitis. Seasonings may also cause serious health problems for dogs, especially if they contain toxic ingredients, like garlic. The biggest risk of feeding fish to dogs, however, is bones.
Can dogs eat fish bones?
Fish bones are small, brittle, and dangerous. They can lodge themselves in your dog’s mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines, sometimes even perforating the organ wall. Not only is this painful, it can also result in an expensive visit to the veterinarian. While there are plenty of anecdotal stories about dogs eating fish bones without issues, in this instance, it is better to heed the advice of veterinarians and play it safe.
Can dogs eat raw fish?
Raw fish is at risk of carrying harmful bacteria like salmonella and listeria. This is problematic for two reasons. One, it can make your dog sick, and two, according to the FDA, it can also make you and other members of your family ill. This is especially worrisome for small children, who may come into more contact with your dog’s saliva than adults, and for people with compromised immune systems. If you choose to feed a raw diet with fish, make sure you take the appropriate precautions suggested by the FDA for preparing your dog’s meals, like thoroughly disinfecting all surfaces and bowls after use, and washing your hands.
How much fish is too much for dogs?
Too much of a good thing can become a problem. Plain, cooked, steamed, or grilled fish is fine for dogs to eat in moderation. Too much fish can lead to obesity, so consult your veterinarian about appropriate serving sizes of fish for your dog, especially if you plan to feed fish as a regular part of her diet.
As humans with varied diets, we tend to forget that dogs that are fed a commercial, complete, and balanced dog food do not need additional nutrition unless recommended by a veterinarian. Table scraps, including fish, are not necessary for your dog's health, but fish can make a good occasional treat for dogs, as long as owners keep an eye on their dog's weight. A general rule of thumb to follow for portion control is to make sure treats only make up 10 percent of your dog's daily diet.
So Can Dogs Eat Fish?
To make a long story short, yes, dogs can eat fish, and fish can be a part of a healthy diet for your dog, provided it is fully cooked without any additional oils and seasonings, does not contain any bones, and is not a species prone to high levels of mercury such as tuna. For more information about dog nutrition or feeding fish to your dog, contact your veterinarian.
For more information on what you should feed your dog, please check out our video below!