Recently, there has been news that spoke about how dogs died after eating fish. The information resulted in dog owners being concerned and asking questions such as ‘can dogs eat fish’ and ‘is fish good for dogs’ on forums and search engines.
The short answer is: Dogs can eat some types of fish, and for those that they can eat, it is good for their health.There are many brands of dog food that include fish as one of their ingredients, so dogs can definitely eat fish. It is the type (species) that matters.
To promote awareness about the benefits and dangers of eating fish, I spent hours researching existing posts and articles about the types of fish that are safe for dogs to eat.
In this article, I will discuss:
- General fish nutrition
- The fish parts that dogs can eat
- How to prepare fish for dogs
- Discussing existing debates on feeding fish to dogs
- Evaluating the suitability of common supermarket fishes for dogs
One of the most important nutrition that dogs can get from fish is the omega-3 fatty acids. They can help to maintain a healthy heart and coat, prevent inflammation, and improve performance on existing arthritic conditions .
Fish can also be an alternative protein source when the dog is allergic to other meats such as chicken or beef.
In addition to the benefits above, the various fish species each bring their own set of vitamins and minerals, which are beneficial for your dog’s growth development.
Which Part of the Fish Can Dogs Eat?
The whole fish can be broken down into different parts: the bones, the skin, the flesh, and the head.
Technically, all parts can be eaten, but some of them require additional preparation before consumption. Therefore, I will be going through all the parts to allow you to have a better idea of how you can feed them to your dog.
As long as the fish scales are not unusually sharp, large, or contain poison, it is okay to feed fish skin to your dog.
The skin of the fish is in direct contact with the surrounding environment. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to know that it is also the part that is most likely to contain the greatest number of bacteria and parasites.
If you want to feed your dog fish skin, it is best to cook it thoroughly before feeding to kill any bacteria or parasites.
Also, although fish skin is high in omega-3, it contains a lot of fats. Therefore, do feed fish sin in moderation.
The flesh is the most common portion humans and dogs eat. If a fish is labeled as ‘edible’, then you can almost be sure that the flesh is edible. (At least I have never come across a fish with other parts edible but not the flesh.)
Similar to fish skin, there may be bacteria and parasites inhabiting the flesh. Therefore, do cook the flesh thoroughly before feeding it to your dog.
Unprocessed fish bones can be easily lodged in the side of the mouth or the gums. Bigger fish bones can be a choking hazard, while smaller ones swallowed successfully can lead to internal bleeding if they are sharp enough.
If you want to feed your dog fish bones for the calcium content, I advise grinding it into powder or paste form before feeding them to your dog.
The head structure is unique, so it can be challenging for dogs to eat, but it can be eaten.
Although slow-growing fish may seem to be the same size as fast-growing fish, they have lived for a longer time, and their head structures have much sturdier bones. These sturdy bones can be challenging for dogs to eat and may contain more heavy metals and parasites.
On the other hand, fast-growing fish have softer bones and lesser metals accumulate within them.
Therefore, if you intend to feed your dog fish heads, ensure that the fish you select are fast-growing fish.
How Should Fish Be Prepared for Dogs?
Fish can be prepared in many ways. Some people prefer eating raw, while others like those that are thoroughly cooked. Others prefer processed fish instead of the original.
Here, I will go through the different ways of preparing fish and discuss their suitability for dogs.
Raw or Half-Cooked
Fish bought from the supermarket that are not cooked or half-cooked are usually safe to feed to dogs. This is because supermarkets would have frozen the fish at a temperature that kills off any potential parasites living in the fish when they imported it into the store.
However, fish that are freshly caught from fishing trips are NOT safe to feed to dogs. Fresh fish lack the freezing process that supermarket fish had, which killed the parasites on them. The temperature in most house freezers is not cold enough to kill parasites, so even if you freeze the caught fish before feeding it to your dog, the parasites can still be alive.
The best option is to feed your dog thoroughly cooked fish to avoid bacteria and parasitic complications.
Thoroughly cooked includes any method that allows a fish to be fully cooked – steamed, fried, baked, grilled, or otherwise.
A thoroughly cooked fish is cooked at 145°F/63°C or higher. To identify if a fish is thoroughly cooked, you can observe the change in texture and color, usually from shiny and translucent to solid and opaque.
However, not all types of cooked fish can be fed to dogs. As with eggs, you should keep the fish plain if you intend to feed it to your dog. Fish prepared through some methods, such as frying with oil or grilled with spices, should be reserved for humans only.
Canned or Processed
For canned fish, the rule of thumb is to select those that do not contain oil or high salt content for your dog. If not, the health benefits brought by the fish will be outweighed by the problems brought by excessive consumption of oil or salt.
As for processed food such as fish sticks and fish paste, my recommendation is to stay away from them. There are two reasons for this:
- They do not offer any additional nutritional benefits apart from convenience.
- It is hard to determine the ingredients used in making the processed fish.
Unless you can be sure of the ingredients, my recommendation is to avoid feeding your dog canned and processed fish.
Some Debates About Feeding Fish to Dogs
There are many debates regarding feeding fish to dogs, with the most commonly seen answered below.
I saw somewhere that dogs could eat an entire fish raw and with bones!
It is true that some breeds of dogs, like those that live in the arctic areas, eat raw fish daily .
However, their practices may be slightly different due to the environment they live in and their cultures. Perhaps one can even speculate that the dogs there might have adapted to such diets over the years as generations after generations of dogs live in this particular manner.
Your dog and its ancestors have faced a different environment from those arctic dogs over the years. Therefore, their adaptations would be different, and what is suitable for arctic dogs may not be suitable for your dog.
A recent study had raised food safety issues regarding feeding dogs with raw meat diets, such as possible zoonotic infections . Therefore, I recommend feeding cooked fish for both the safety of your dog and your family.
Won’t all saltwater fish accumulate a lot of heavy metals?
It is inevitable that saltwater fish consume a certain amount of toxins due to the industrial waste that is dump directly and indirectly into the ocean.
We can neither control the type of industrial toxins dumped into the sea nor the amount of toxin ingested by the fish. We do, however, have control over the choice of fish we choose to feed our dog.
Therefore, choose to pick fish for your dog with lower levels of toxins in them by avoiding these group of fishes, which are likely to have higher levels of toxins:
- Bottom feeders
- Fish that take a long time to grow into an adult
- Fish that is at the top of the food chain
Should I avoid fish from fish farms?
Fish from uncertified fish farms should be avoided because you have no idea how the fish is being treated. Some fish farms can have poor living conditions that may impact the health and nutritional value of the fish.
However, fish farms certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) are safe to consume. They can even be as healthy or even healthier than wild fish due to the precautions and monitoring measures in place.
Common Fishes Found in Supermarkets
Here, I will list some common fishes that you can buy from most local supermarkets to feed your dog. This non-exhaustive list gives you a general idea of the types of fishes that are safe and not that safe for dogs to eat.
Yes, dogs can eat catfish.
Catfish farms are pretty common, and most supermarkets get their catfish from these farms. Therefore, owners do not have to worry about mercury content in catfish. Look out for the Global Aquaculture Alliance or ASC certification to ensure that the fish farms are well-kept and are of quality.
Most commercial dog food uses catfish in their ingredients, so you can be reassured that catfish are safe for dogs to consume
No, dogs should not be fed cod.
Cod are bottom feeders, which means that they live near the bottom of the sea. As most industrial toxins have a higher density than water, they will sink to the bottom of the sea and get consumed by the bottom feeders, including cod.
As dogs are smaller than humans, it poses more danger for them to ingest the same amount of mercury. The smaller the breed, the higher the risks. If dogs consume too much of these industrial toxins, it can be detrimental to their health.
No, dogs should not be fed flounder.
Similar to cods, flounders are bottom feeders, so they are more likely to ingest industrial toxins. Therefore, avoid them if possible.
It depends; some mackerel, like Atlantic mackerel, is fine, while others, like King mackerel, are not okay.
This is because Atlantic mackerels are smaller and contain lesser mercury content than King mackerels, thus making them safe for dogs to consume.
If you are unsure about the type of mackerel you intend to feed your dog, then the safest bet will be to avoid them altogether.
Yes, dogs can eat salmon, but only thoroughly cooked salmon.
Raw salmon may contain the bacteria Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which can cause Salmon poisoning disease (SPD). It is fatal if not treated in time. Listed below are some of the common symptoms of SPD [4, 5]:
- Decreasing body temperature
- Diarrhea with blood and mucus
Since SPD can appear as late as 2 weeks after consuming the bacteria, you should remain alert for such signs after feeding your dog raw salmon.
Yes, dogs can eat sardines.
Sardines are small fishes, so they have less mercury (metal) accumulated within them. Also, they have soft bones, so your dog will have an easier time digesting them.
No, dogs should not eat snapper.
Snappers can contain bacteria that, when ingested, will cause Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP). Listed below are some of the common symptoms of CFP :
- Standing and walking unsteadily with an abnormal gait
- Lying on the back, side, or stomach with an inability to stand or control body
- A loss of appetite
- Weakness in limbs
- Collapsing to the floor without loss of consciousness
- Unusually fast breathing
The worst about CFP? The toxins cannot be removed through conventional cooking or freezing, so the only way to avoid CFP is to avoid any fish at high risk of containing this particular toxin .
As with SPD, if you see your dog exhibiting one or more of such symptoms, bring him/her to the vet immediately for treatment.
Yes, dogs can eat tilapia.
Similar to catfish, the majority of the tilapia in supermarkets are from fish farms. Therefore, keep an eye out for the Global Aquaculture Alliance or ASC certification for healthier options.
Yes, dogs can eat trout, but only thoroughly cooked trout.
The reason is that trout can carry the same type of bacteria found in salmon that can cause SPD. Cooking the trout kills the bacteria that can endanger your dog’s health.
No, dogs should not be fed tuna.
Tuna is a type of saltwater fish that is large-sized and lives for very long. Therefore, it is highly likely that the concentration of mercury accumulated in the fish is relatively high.
Planning to Feed Fish to Your Dog?
A gentle reminder that dogs are different from humans in terms of size and how the body systems work in general, so fish for dogs must be prepared differently – plain and deboned.
While some types of fish can be eaten raw, feeding thoroughly cooked fish to your dog can significantly reduce the likelihood of health complications such as SPD and CFP. Also, if you intend to provide your dog with fish bones (including the head), it is safer to grind them before feeding them to your dog.
When introducing fish into your dog’s diet, it is good to consider your dog’s current diet and make adjustments based on it to prevent overfeeding. Start by adding small amounts and observing any symptoms that may suggest that the fish you feed is not suitable for your dog. If everything is clear, gradually increase the amount to what you intend to feed your dog.
What are you waiting for? Time to feed your dog the yummy fish treats!