We know that fish has health benefits for humans. But what about our furry companions, can dogs eat fish? Is it ok to give some of our fish food to our doggos? And what about other types of seafood? Is it safe to give seafood like tuna fish to dogs?
You might be feeding your dog a big brand dog food and some commercial dog foods list fish as one of their ingredients. So there is a possibility that you might be feeding your dog fish right now and not even know it.
Well, generally, if you give a dog some fish, it will eat it because dogs aren’t too picky about what they eat. They are like vacuum-cleaners sucking up everything that comes in their way.
Moreover, dogs love the peculiar smell of fish, and their curious nose signals their most curious taste buds to go for it. But just because they are inquisitive it does not mean that dogs can safely eat just any old fish we throw their way.
If you want to give your dog some fish or add a fishy treat to your dog’s diet, here is what you need to know first.
Fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and B2, calcium, phosphorus, and is also rich in minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium.
Fish is generally low in saturated fats and can add a lot of health benefits to a nutrient profile.
Do dogs like fish?
So, yes, most dogs like the smell and taste of fish and fish products.
Is fish harmful for dogs to eat?
Fish is an ingredient in many store-bought dog food and many owners casually offer a fishy treat to their dogs and the dogs happily gulp it down. However, this does not mean it is totally safe for every dog to eat fish.
For instance, one fine day my dogs sneaked into the kitchen and managed to grab some fish from the table. One of them savoured it and digested it easily. But the other dog had stomach issues within hours and had also ended up with a fish bone stuck in her jaw.
All dogs are different, so, it is important to be careful when you first let your dog try fish and avoid any fish accidents at home.
Besides, like with any new food, you want to be sure whether fish is safe for your dog or may jeopardize your dog’s health.
So, before we can conclude whether fish is risk-free or not for our dogs, let us see some of the risks involved if we do feed our dogs fish.
1. High Mercury Levels
One of the three major reasons why many dog health experts say a no to feed our dogs fish is the research showing high levels of mercury in some fish species.
Certain fresh fish caught and sold for consumption like tuna and king mackerel have higher levels of mercury compared to other types of fishes. Why? Easy answer, industrial pollutants and fish age.
Massive industries like the coal plants leak a huge amount of mercury which flows into lakes, rivers, and oceans. This mercury present in the water is then consumed by the sea life and accumulates in all kinds of fishes, both, big and small.
And, needless to mention, the larger the fish, the older it lives to be and hence, the higher the concentration of mercury in its flesh.
Tuna fish has a tendency to grow bigger and live longer, and can thus, allow build-up of higher amount of mercury in its body.
If you feed a dog fish that has high mercury in it, the dog can get mercury poisoning, especially if it is being fed a large amount from a long period of time.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning in dogs look like these:
- Loss of coordination
- Uneasiness, anxiety, or nervousness
- Watery or bloody motions
- Vomiting blood
- Tremors or loss of feeling in paws
- Unable to urinate or abdominal swelling
- Shaking and whimpering
- Hair loss
If your dog has eaten fish and you notice these symptoms, contact your vet or visit the nearest animal care centre immediately.
2. Contamination and parasitic infections
Like any other raw meat, fish meat too contains parasites which get removed only after the cooking process. Therefore, when you get fish home for your family it is very important that you cook it properly before you feed it to anyone, your dog included.
So here was the answer to – can dogs eat raw fish.
3. Thiaminase, Vitamin B1 and Sodium
Irrespective of the species, every raw fish contains the enzyme thiaminase which is responsible for breaking down Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) your dog eats. This enzyme can be made ineffective only by the heat from cooking the fish.
Many fish live in salty waters, so fish meat may also contain high concentrations of sodium which can lead to serious illness in our dogs.
Don’t be surprised, dogs can develop an intolerance or an allergy to any food like the way humans can.
There is always a possibility that your dog can be allergic to fish and if that’s true, do not feed your dog any kind of fish.
A dog with a fish allergy is still rare to have, but with dog domestication it is becoming more common day by day.
If your dog is constantly scratching, licking, or getting an ear infection repeatedly, or has progressive vomiting and diarrhoea, there is a possibility of it being caused by a food allergy.
Having said that – one piece of fish or a fishy treat once in a way won’t harm your dog.
A dog would need large amounts of fish over quite a long period of time to develop issues related to fish poisoning or any serious illness.
Types of fish that aren’t safe for dogs
According to the FDA guidelines, these types of fish must be avoided for consumption:
- Albacore tuna (canned)
- King mackerel
Generally, these species of fish more likely to have an accumulation of unhealthy levels of mercury in their tissues due their age and larger size. Additionally, these fish often foster bacteria and parasites in their skin, flesh, and internal organs.
Farm-raised fish should generally be avoided as well as they may have increased potential for harmful residual antibiotic levels, dyes, and other potential toxins in the skin and meat of the fish once they are harvested and treated.
If you may want to look up your favourite fish usually eaten at home and see if it is something your dog can enjoy safely, take a look at the table below for detailed information on mercury levels in different fish species.
Benefits of fish for dogs
Not only is the smell of fish exciting for dogs, it actually offers many health benefits when you add it to your dog’s diet in a proper way.
Fish meat is a wonderful source of protein omega-3 fats that your dog needs, and it can also help dogs control certain issues, especially as they age.
One of the major element to a dog’s coat are the Omega-3 fatty acids. When dogs eat fish, it helps make their fur thicker, more strong and shiny. It can give your dog’s coat a nice sheen that looks good and feels really good.
Fish oils can help decrease inflammation and swelling in dogs. Many dogs suffer from gastrointestinal diseases that happen due to inflammation as they get older. Eating fish or fish supplements can manage these problems in dogs.
Giving fish to older dogs can help ease off the pain and swelling from arthritis. It is an excellent way to help your senior dog move around and walk a little better.
Eating fish can keep your dog’s skin healthy. Giving fish to dogs can help them produce many natural oils that they need to have healthy skin.
It is very beneficially for dogs that have skin issue, rashes and other skin diseases. It can provide relief in symptoms of skin issues and sometimes even fix minor skin matters before they start.
Beyond the health benefits, fish treats can make your dog happy and excited. Pop a treat or two and watch that tail wag away!
Vet’s always suggest that the first time you give your dog any fish, give only a small portion until you are sure that your dog can digest that particular fish without an allergic reaction or any stomach upset.
Best types of fish for dogs
The following are some best types of healthy fish you can safely feed your dog in small amounts periodically:
- Freshwater Trout
- Cooked salmon
- Cooked tilapia
- Cooked light tuna
- Canned tuna only packed in water
- Sardines and anchovies (with no brine)
- Cooked shellfish
- Thoroughly cooked fish skin (only in small amounts)
Most commercial fish food and treats for dogs contain these healthy fish in small and safe amounts. If you wish to consider any store-bought fish food for your dog, don’t forget to read the contents and caution columns before getting it for your dog.
So can dogs eat fish?
Yes, dogs can eat fish provided you follow these tips first –
- Use only fresh fish.
- Steep the fish in water overnight to remove as much salt as possible before cooking.
- Only feed your dog cooked fish.
- Do not feed fried or seasoned fish to your dog.
- Introduce the fish food or fish product in small portions in the beginning.
- Watch for signs of a food allergy or GI upset.
- Those eyes may be tempting but never go overboard when feeding fish to your dog.
- Keep it moderate with one or two times a week in small and controlled amounts.
- Feed only FDA recommended fish species with low mercury levels.
- No fish bones, never.
Can dogs eat fish? It totally depends as I mentioned before. Fish species, small portions, allergies, and food requirements, everything must be taken into consideration before deciding the best for your dog.
I have a theory; no one knows my dogs better than I do. So I decide a new food based on how they respond to it in the first place.
With fish, my dogs had different reactions – one was totally fine, one got diarrhoea with fish, one got a fish bone stuck in her jaw, and the new one is just a puppy and puppies are fast eaters.
I don’t want another dog to end up with a fish bone or fish allergy. So I decided on not feeding them fish at all as it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Fish or no fish, your dog’s diet must be completely balanced. Too much of a thing can be an issue and hence, instead of making it a staple part of your dog’s diet, it is best to treat fish as a once-in-a-while special treat.
Wagging tail, fishy eyes and lips smacking, don’t take the bait!
Share this very informative and important article with all the dog parents out there.