Picture it: You're pan-frying trout or grilling a chunk of salmon for a quick weeknight dinner. A small piece of the fish flakes off and you grab it to hand to your dog, who waits with bated breath. But then you hesitate and wonder, “Can dogs eat fish?”
The answer is yes, dogs can eat fish. Our canine friends are omnivores, meaning that they can derive nutrition from both plant and animal sources, fish included. And if you take a look in the dog food aisle at your local pet shop or grocery store, you'll see plenty of kibble made with fish as the main ingredient. So, fish can be included as a part of your dog's diet.
With that being said, you shouldn't start giving your dog fish without making a few considerations first. The fact is, while fish can provide good nutrition and isn't toxic to dogs, it must be prepared and given in the right way in order to make sure it's safe. And not all types of fish are right for your dog, either.
Let's take a closer look at the benefits and risks of fish for dogs. We'll also learn which kinds of fish to feed your dog, which to avoid, and how to prepare it safely.
What Are the Health Benefits of Fish for Dogs?
Fish gives dogs many of the same health benefits as it gives humans. In addition to nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, selenium, iron, and zinc, fish is packed with amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory. Along with Omega-6 fatty acid, it helps to regulate the inflammatory response. It's also great for the skin and makes for a smooth, shiny, and well-moisturized coat of fur.
Another benefit of fish is that it's a great source of protein and is relatively low in saturated fat. And because many dogs have food allergies to other protein sources like beef, chicken, or soy, fish-based food can often be a good option.
If you're interested in giving your dog the health benefits of fish without actually cooking anything, a food topper is a great choice.
Native Pet's Omega Oil, made with two types of fish oil, can support healthy skin and a vibrant coat.
What Are the Risks of Fish?
While fish provides nutrition and can definitely play a role in your dog's balanced diet, there are some risks to be aware of:
The biggest danger of fish is the small bones found in almost all types of fish. They're very small and sharp, and they can easily be swallowed. This can lead to punctures in the digestive tract or the stomach, which is a serious problem that may require emergency surgery. It's even possible for small fish bones to "migrate" through the walls of the digestive tract and puncture other organs.
Whenever you feed your dog fish of any kind, it's essential that the fish is completely deboned. Additionally, the fins, tail, or head of the fish should never be given to a dog.
Feeding raw or undercooked fish to your dog is never a good idea. When a dog eats raw or undercooked fish, there is a chance of transmission of harmful bacteria like salmonella and listeria. This could result in serious health trouble for any dog, but it can be especially dangerous for young puppies or pregnant mother dogs.
Salmon Poisoning Disease (SPD) is another possibility if you feed your dog raw fish. Fish like salmon that swim upstream to breed can be infected with a parasite called Nanophyetus salmincola. That parasite itself can be infected with a rickettsial organism known as Neorickettsia helminthoeca. This microorganism can cause appetite loss, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and even more severe problems if medical action isn’t taken.
Some dogs are allergic to fish or shellfish. If you know your pet doesn't respond well to seafood, steer clear of feeding them fish.
If you've been feeding Fido a commercial dog food made with fish and you've been noticing health symptoms like scratching, drooling, or vomiting and diarrhea, a fish allergy could be to blame. You'll want to contact your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist for help getting to the bottom of it.
Does your dog struggle with allergies? Native Pet's air-dried Allergy Chicken Chews may help. Our formula provides an all-natural antihistamine to help build defense against allergens, and it can aid in long-term immune system support.
What Types of Fish Are Best for Dogs?
Can dogs eat fish of any kind? No. Certain types of fish are better suited to our canine friends than others.
The best kinds of fish for dogs are small fish with shorter lifespans, because they have accumulated less heavy metals like mercury in their bloodstreams. Larger fish with longer lifespans tend to contain high levels of mercury, which isn't safe for your pet.
Safe fish species for dogs include:
Unsafe fish species for dogs include:
- King mackerel
- Canned fish like tuna or sardines
Remember: Always check with your veterinarian before feeding fish of any kind to your dog that you're unsure about. And make sure it is completely cleaned, deboned, and thoroughly cooked (more on that below). It's always better to play it safe than be sorry.
How Should I Prepare Fish for My Dog?
How can dog owners prepare fish for their pets in a way that is completely safe and healthy? If you plan on giving your dog fish for a little nutritional boost or just as a tasty snack, follow these tips:
Stick to fully-cooked fresh fish, not raw or undercooked fish. Choose from dog-safe species like whitefish, flounder, salmon, or cod. Avoid the risk of mercury poisoning by keeping species like mackerel, shark, and swordfish out of Fido's reach.
Always clean and debone the fish fully before giving it to your dog. Purchasing boneless fillets is an easy way to accomplish this if you don't want to clean and debone a piece of fish yourself.
Grill or steam fish to give to your dog, rather than frying it in oil or butter. Fat, oil, butter, and extra seasonings like salt can prove hazardous to your dog's health.
Avoid giving your dog fish skin. Technically, dogs can eat dried fish skin that has been de-scaled, but it may not be worth the time and effort.
Last but not least, keep the portion size small when feeding your dog fish. Too much of any new food can lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. It's best to give your dog only two or three small chunks of cooked fish at one time.
Give fish as an occasional treat, not an everyday indulgence. And remember to keep an eye on your dog for a few hours after feeding fish, just to make sure there isn't any kind of allergic reaction. If you see anything that you're concerned about, call your vet.
Can Dogs Eat Fish Safely?
Yes, dogs can eat fish, provided that it's been selected and prepared in the proper manner. Eating fish can provide nutritional benefits to your dog. It's a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Dog owners should always feed dog-safe varieties of fish and make sure that it's completely cooked and deboned. Don't give your dog fish skin or the tail, fins, or head of a fish. Choose to steam or grill fresh fish for dogs instead of cooking it with a lot of oil or butter.For more insights into dog nutrition, health, and wellness, visit the Native Pet blog.