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.
Whether you’re a fan of seafood or not, chances are your dog is probably a fan of most snacks from the sea. Their noses seem to go into hyperdrive anytime there’s something fishy on the menu … including tuna. Whether it’s served canned, seared, or sushi-style, tuna is a popular protein and if your dog is around, you might even catch them begging for a bite.
But just because she wants a nibble of your tuna salad sandwich doesn’t mean you should let your dog share the fish. While dogs can have tuna in small amounts as a rare treat, it shouldn’t be their main course at dinner.
When it comes to tuna and dogs, there are a few risks you should consider before feeding your pooch this popular fish. So while a dog can have tuna, it’s probably not the best option for them.
Is Tuna Good for Dogs?
Tuna is packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important nutrients for maintaining your dog’s skin, coat, and joints. This fish also contains several essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, selenium, and niacin—all good things for a dog’s diet. When fed in very small amounts as an occasional treat, tuna is OK for dogs to eat.
But while tuna can be safe for dogs in small amounts on special occasions, it should not be their main source of nutrition or a regular ingredient in their bowl. Tuna contains relatively high levels of mercury, a heavy metal that can cause poisoning in humans and animals alike. Because tuna is a big fish that’s higher on the food chain, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tuna has higher levels of mercury than nearly all other commercial seafood products. There are several other kinds of seafood, including salmon, that are considered safer options to feed your dog if you’re looking for a nutritional addition to their diet.
Do not feed tuna to puppies, even if it’s just a tiny bit on rare occasions. Mercury poisoning can pose a serious risk for dogs, especially small breeds and pups who are still developing.
Signs of Mercury Poisoning in Dogs
Because of the high levels of mercury, pet parents who do feed their dog tuna should understand the risks of mercury poisoning for dogs who eat too much of the fish.
Call your vet if your pet exhibits any of these symptoms of mercury poisoning:
In severe cases, mercury poisoning can lead to kidney damage and even blindness, so it’s important to limit the amount and frequency of tuna your dog is allowed to eat. In fact, it’s really best to avoid feeding tuna to your dog altogether.
My Dog Ate Tuna. Now What?
A small amount of tuna is not considered dangerous for your dog and is fine as an infrequent treat. But too much tuna can pose a risk to dogs who eat large amounts of the fish or snack on it too often. If Fido happens to steal an entire can of tuna, he might experience an upset stomach, especially if the tuna was packed in oil instead of water. In fact, tuna packed in oil can lead to pancreatitis in dogs.
Keep a close eye on your pet if they eat a large amount of tuna, especially the kinds that are known to have higher levels of mercury (like albacore tuna). If you do notice any of the symptoms of mercury poisoning, head to the vet right away for immediate treatment.
How Vets Treat Mercury Poisoning in Dogs
If you suspect that your dog has mercury poisoning after consuming a large amount of tuna, call your vet ASAP. Early treatment can be critical in helping to reduce the risk of long-term health effects and increase the chances of a full recovery.
Treatment for mercury poisoning in dogs depends on the severity of the poisoning and their symptoms. In some cases, treatment may include IV fluids and medications to control vomiting and diarrhea.
If the poisoning is severe, your dog may need to be hospitalized so they can be treated with medications designed to bind to mercury and remove it from the body (like charcoal). Some dogs may even need dialysis to remove the toxin from their kidneys.
Can Dogs Die From Eating Tuna?
While highly unlikely, it is possible for dogs to die from eating tuna, especially if they consume very large amounts of tuna contaminated with high levels of mercury. Mercury poisoning can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition and, if left untreated, can lead to kidney failure and death.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all tuna contains high levels of mercury, and the risks may vary depending on the type and amount of tuna consumed. It’s generally safe to feed your dog small amounts of cooked tuna as an occasional treat, but it should not be a regular part of their diet. Never give tuna to dogs that are small, young, or have any health problems.
What Other Fish Can Dogs Eat?
Fish can be a nutritious and tasty addition to a dog’s diet in small amounts. Some of the fish that are considered safe for dogs to eat include:
Salmon: A good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that can support healthy skin and a shiny coat in dogs
Whitefish: A low-fat, low-calorie protein source that is a good choice for dogs with food sensitivities
Shrimp: A good source of protein and other nutrients, but is high in cholesterol and should be fed in moderation
Oysters: A good source of protein, zinc, and other nutrients, but high in cholesterol and should be fed in moderation
Fish oil: This supplement can help your dog get enough omega-3 fatty acids without splurging on a full filet. Fish oil is recommended by vets for the treatment of many inflammatory diseases in dogs, including skin conditions, arthritis, digestive issues, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, epilepsy, and even some types of cancer.
Reminder: All seafood should be cooked before adding to your dog’s bowl to ensure that it’s safe for them to consume. Raw seafood can contain harmful bacteria and/or parasites that can cause illness in dogs. So, sorry Fido, that means no sushi for you.
Featured Image: iStock/Chalabala
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