NOTE: Always check with your veterinarian first before giving your dog any new foods, especially “people foods.” What might be OK for one dog might not be good for your dog, depending on multiple factors, such as their age, health history, health conditions, and diet. Dogs on prescription diets should not be fed any food or treats outside the diet.
Yes, dogs can eat fish. Fish may be found as an essential ingredient in nutritionally-balanced commercial dog foods, or introduced as part of a healthy, home-cooked diet approved by a veterinary nutritionist.
Fish provides a great source of protein, is relatively low in saturated fats, and is easily digestible as a cooked product. Fish is considered a novel protein in many commercial prescription diets, which may be beneficial to dogs with medical conditions such as food allergies or other dietary intolerances.
Fish is also a good source of several key vitamins and minerals that play important roles in maintaining your dog’s health throughout her life.
Which Types of Fish Can Dogs Eat?
Smaller, younger, wild-caught fish are generally safe options when considering adding fresh or processed fish to your dog’s diet.
Safe Fish for Dogs
Types of fish that are safe for dogs include:
These fish are generally less likely to have high tissue mercury levels or significant parasite burdens.
Can Dogs Eat Sardines?
Sardines seem to be generally accepted as a fish that is safe for dogs to consume due to their small size. They can be eaten skin-on and with the bones.
However, you should look for brands that are packed in water and contain no added salt.
Also look for brands that carry the MSC Certified (Marine Stewardship Council) blue fish labels. This label indicates that these fish are harvested from wild-caught fisheries with sustainable populations that work to minimize any negative impact on local marine habitats.
Can Dogs Eat Tilapia?
Tilapia can be fed to dogs if it’s cleaned properly (skinned, deboned, and only the boneless fillets offered as food) and cooked thoroughly.
This fish is a very low calorie and protein-rich food that’s also high in selenium, potassium, and vitamin D. But it also has a lot of phosphorous, which may not be good for dogs with kidney problems.
Tilapia is famous for being grown under poor conditions in polluted waters, so purchasing U.S.-grown fish or fish produced locally might be a preferable (and perhaps healthier) option. Knowing where your food comes from and the regulations it must meet helps give you confidence that you’re feeding your dog a safe, healthful product.
Can Dogs Eat Lobster?
Dogs can safely eat lobster, as it’s high in protein, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acid. But the lobster needs to be cooked and the shell removed. Dogs should also not eat lobster in excess, as it’s high in iodine, sodium, fat, and cholesterol.
Types of Fish That Aren’t Safe for Dogs
Not all fish are safe for dogs, and you should avoid feeding your pup:
Albacore tuna (canned)
These fish species are typically larger and older when they are harvested. Not only are they more likely to have an accumulation of unhealthy levels of mercury in their tissues, but they often harbor parasites in their skin, muscle tissues, and internal organs.
Farm-raised fish should generally be avoided as well, particularly from areas where there are few industry regulations governing the type and quality of diet provided to the fish. Farm-raised fish may have increased potential for harmful residual antibiotic levels, dyes, and other potential toxins in the skin and muscle of the fish once they are harvested and processed. Be sure to source your fish from farms that are well-regulated and inspected.
Mercury poisoning in dogs can cause:
Loss of full control of body movements
Advanced cases can cause depression, anorexia, paralysis, and even death. Young puppies are particularly susceptible to mercury exposure.
The symptoms dogs exhibit when exposed to parasite-containing fish depend on which parasite is ingested. But signs can include:
Lack of appetite
Nose or eye discharge
Heavy breathing and increased heart rate
Dogs can die in as little as two weeks if the infection isn’t treated.
What Are the Benefits of Fish for Dogs?
Fish can provide a novel protein for dogs, which can be particularly beneficial in managing and minimizing food allergies. Fish is also a great natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for a healthy coat and healthy skin.
Omega-3 fatty acids also provide a natural anti-inflammatory component to a dog’s diet, which can be very beneficial to dogs that suffer from inflammatory bowel disease or joint diseases such as arthritis. Fish skin can be a valuable source of collagen, which is especially important for the bone and skin health of senior dogs.
Can Dogs Eat Raw Fish?
The American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend consumption of raw or undercooked fish by dogs of any life stage, including pregnant females and puppies. Raw fish poses a greater risk of harboring and transmitting parasites embedded in the skin, muscle tissues, or internal organs.
Additionally, if the temperature of raw fish is not carefully monitored prior to consumption or if the fish is undercooked, there’s an increased risk of transmission of bacterial organisms such as salmonella, Listeria, and Clostridium. Not only are these bacteria dangerous to your dog, but they pose a public health risk to humans as well. For these reasons, any fish your dog eats should be properly cooked.
How To Cook Fish for Dogs
While how you cook fish depends on the type of fish, all fish for dogs should be prepared to meet human consumption standards.
Can Dogs Eat Fried Fish?
Fried fish is not recommended for dogs. Although fried fish is usually completely cooked and less likely to transmit parasites or bacteria when eaten, there’s still an increased risk that your dog will experience gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. The heavy oils and butter used in fried fish can also cause pancreatitis in dogs.
Can Dogs Eat Fish Sticks?
Fish sticks are not recommended for dogs. Their added breading introduces oils, fats, salts, and empty calories to your pup’s diet and can trigger vomiting, diarrhea, or even pancreatitis.
Can Dogs Eat Fish Skin or Bones?
Uncooked fish skin is not safe for dogs to consume due to its potential to transmit parasites and bacteria. Fish skin that’s prepared as a dried, jerky-type treat may be offered to dogs as long as surface scales have been removed and no oils or seasonings are used in the preparation process.
The fish head and tail, along with fish bones and fins, should not be fed to dogs. Fresh-caught fish should be carefully cleaned, deboned, and filleted before your dog eats it.
Fish bones can be dangerous to your dog. They can cause aggravation or physical injury to your dog if the fragments are swallowed, and the lining of the digestive tract is scratched or penetrated. Fish bones can even migrate through the walls of the stomach or the intestine and cause injury to adjacent organs and soft tissues.
Bones can also be a choking hazard for dogs. If you notice your dog is excessively drooling or pawing at their face, a bone may be lodged in their throat. Contact your vet immediately if this happens.
Fresh-caught fish should be carefully cleaned, deboned, and filleted before your dog eats it.
Can Puppies or Pregnant Dogs Eat Fish?
Pregnant females and weaned puppies may benefit from the extra protein found in fish, in addition to their regular prenatal or puppy diet. Always check with your veterinarian before offering fish to a pregnant dog or puppy.
Fresh fish is safe for pregnant females and puppies if it’s properly cleaned, deboned, cooked thoroughly, and offered in small amounts as a treat or as part of a balanced diet.
Light canned tuna (canned in water, not oil) may also be offered as part of a balanced diet or in addition to a commercially available, life stage-appropriate dog food.
How Much Fish Should Dogs Eat?
Depending on your dog’s nutritional needs and general health, fish can be offered either as a special treat or dietary supplement several times a week.
Fish may be a daily component of your dog’s diet if they require a hypoallergenic, novel source of protein to manage medical conditions such as allergies, arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease.
In general, you can follow the portion recommendations below when feeding a healthy dog fish:
Extra-small dog (2–20 pounds) = one 1-inch by ¼-inch square of fish TK
Small dog (21–30 pounds) = two to three 1-inch by ¼-inch square of fish
Medium dog (31–50 pounds) = three to five 1-inch by ¼-inch square of fish
Large dog (51–90 pounds) = five to nine 1-inch by ¼-inch square of fish
Extra-large dog (91+ pounds) = nine to ten 1-inch by ¼-inch square of fish
Your veterinarian will guide you on the amount of fish your dog’s diet should contain based on her age, weight, and medical needs, as well as the recommended brand of food.
How to Add Fish to Your Dog’s Diet
Fish can be added to your dog’s diet either as an occasional treat in addition to a commercially available, nutritionally balanced diet, or as part of a balanced home-cooked diet with other appropriate vitamins, minerals, and fat/carbohydrates/fiber.
If you are thinking of switching your dog to a home-cooked diet, talk to a veterinary nutritionist first to be sure that you are including all of the appropriate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary to keep your dog healthy.
The bones, fins, head, tail, and scales of fish should not be included in your dog’s food, as these portions could potentially cause oral trauma, pose a choking risk, or lead to an increased risk of intestinal perforation and damage to the surrounding organs.
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