By Caitlin Ultimo
Whether you’ve caught your dog sniffing the air and pining after your plate of grilled salmon or spotted a few dog food brands touting it as the main protein, you may wonder if you can in fact feed your dog fish, and if so, how healthy it is healthy for him. Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at NYC's Animal Medical Center shares the answer and provides a few nutritional and safety facts to consider before making fish a regular part of your dog’s diet, below.
Can Dogs Eat Fish?
The simple answer: Yes, dogs can eat fish. “Fish can form the basis for a healthy and nutritious diet for your dog,” Hohenhaus said. Not only can you cook up a fresh piece of fish for your furry friend, there are also are many complete and balanced fish-based dog foods on the market, she added.
Types of Fish That Are Safe for Dogs
Some of the fish most commonly found in dog foods as the main protein include ocean whitefish, lake whitefish, herring, walleye, flounder, Arctic char and salmon pike. You can also steam, bake or grill these types of fish at home for your dog, just keep in mind that seasonings, like salt and pepper, and greasing options, like butter, oil and oil sprays, should be avoided. When feeding your dog a piece of fish (or any at-home-prepared protein), keep it plain and simple, remember to buy boneless fillets and inspect the fish before and after cooking to be sure no bones were missed.
Can Dogs Eat Tuna Fish or Raw Fish?
Heavy metals accumulate in long-lived fish like tuna and swordfish and can raise some health concerns, particularly when it comes to mercury. Because of the high levels of mercury found in these long-lived fish, as seen in this list of mercury levels released by the FDA, it might be wise to avoid giving your dog tuna and similar fish to eat. Fortunately, today’s dog foods tend to contain shorter-lived fish (like those listed above) to decrease the risk of heavy metal toxicity, Hohenhaus said.
In the case of feeding your dog raw fish, it’s better to be safe than sorry and properly cook all fish before feeding it to your pet. “Feeding [a dog] raw fish carries the concern for parasites being ingested that are normally killed by cooking,” Hohenhaus said. Additionally, the FDA believes that raw meat foods for animals can actually endanger the general public, putting the pet’s owner’s health at risk when the raw meat is not tended to or cleaned up after properly.
The Health Benefits of Eating Fish
If you stick to the list of shorter-lived fish and cook them properly, fish can be a sustaining, healthy meal for your dog. “Fish is an excellent source of protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have health benefits like decreasing inflammation,” Hohenhaus said. Additionally, fish-based foods may also be a good option for dogs with food allergies.
“Fish is not commonly in standard dog food and provides an alternative protein source to beef, chicken and turkey,” Hohenhaus said. Just read the label of your dog’s food carefully to be sure that it doesn’t contain other protein sources (those labeled as “fish recipe” or “fish formula” may also have other protein sources in them). “If your dog has allergies and your veterinarian recommends a homemade fish diet, be sure to follow the recipe exactly or you risk causing nutritional deficiencies,” she added. “For a long-term home cooked diet, you may want to have a recipe made by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.”
If your dog loves the taste of fish, let him gobble up all of the healthy benefits like omega-3 fatty acids and protein, but don’t forget about the other nutrients he needs like vitamins and antioxidants. “Dogs need more than just fish – they need a complete and balanced diet,” Hohenhaus said. “Any food you choose for your dog (fish-based or otherwise) should have the AAFCO label indicating the diet is complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage.”