Can Dogs Eat Fish?

Leslie Gillette, DVM
Jun 30, 2020
   |   6 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

 

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 plan for your dog

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:

  • Whitefish
  • Flounder
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Whiting
  • Light tuna fish (canned)

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 consumed skin-on and with the bones. However, you should look for brands that are packed in water and contain no added salt. Also for brands that carry the MSC Certified (Marine Stewardship Council) blue fish labels, which indicate 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 is cleaned properly (skinned, deboned, and only the boneless fillets offered as food) and cooked thoroughly. Since tilapia is a farm-raised, hybridized aquaculture product, it would be advisable to look for brands whose labels carry the certification of either the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program has also recommended tilapia harvested from Ecuador and Peru, which tend to be “greener” raised and therefore healthier options.

Types of Fish That Aren’t Safe for Dogs

Food and Drug Administration guidelines recommend avoiding consumption of these types of fish:

  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • 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 also 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. 

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 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.

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 consumed, there is still an increased risk that your dog will experience gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis from the heavy oils, butter, and seasonings typically used in the cooking process.

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 heavy oils or seasonings are used in the preparation process.

Fish bones, fins, the tail, and the head of the fish should not be fed to dogs. Fresh-caught fish should be carefully cleaned, deboned, and filleted prior to feeding to your dog.

Fish bones can cause aggravation or physical injury to your dog if the fragments are swallowed and the lining of the digestive tract is abraded or penetrated. You may notice your dog drooling excessively or pawing at their face if a bone is lodged in her mouth or throat. Fish bones can even migrate through the walls of the stomach or the intestine and cause injury to adjacent organs and soft tissues.

Can Puppies or Pregnant Dogs Eat Fish?

Yes, pregnant females and weaned puppies will benefit from the extra protein found in fish, in addition to their regular prenatal or puppy diet. Fresh fish is safe for pregnant females and puppies if it is properly cleaned, deboned, cooked thoroughly, and offered in small amounts as a treat or as part of a balanced home-cooked diet. 

Light canned tuna (canned in water, not oil) may also be offered as part of a balanced, home-cooked diet or in addition to a commercially available, life stage-appropriate diet.

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. 

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 your veterinarian 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.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Solovyova

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