young cute hungry labrador retriever dog puppy eats a fish

Can Dogs Eat Fish?

Can dogs eat fish is a question every dog owner asks at some point. After all, seeing fish at the top of dog food ingredients lists is a common occurrence. When it comes to serving your dog fish that isn’t found in his kibble, however, that’s when it can get tricky. With all of the different types of fish such as sardines, flounder, catfish, and even salmon, you need to know which types can be harmful and which can even be healthy for your canine.

It seems as though there are a million different types of fish and trying to figure out which ones are safe for your dog can be a grueling match. However, it’s essential that you know so you don’t put your dog in a dangerous situation. The simple answer when it comes to dogs eating fish is, yes, dogs can eat fish. However, it does depend on the type of fish. Some fish can be beneficial for your dog. You’ve probably heard this and that’s why you’re reading this. Here are some of the health benefits of fish.

The Benefits of Fish For Your Dog

There are many reasons why fish is an essential part of your dog’s diet. For example, fish is a great source of protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and is easily digestible. Fish can also improve the health of your dog’s skin and coat, it can decrease inflammation, and be greatly beneficial to dogs with food allergies. 

Despite the numerous health benefits that come with allowing your dog to indulge in fish every now and then, it’s pointless if you fail to give him the right type of fish. An important thing to remember is that you want to give your dog a shorter-lived species of fish. These are the most common found in commercial dog food. Below are several types of fish your dog can eat that won’t cause health problems:

  • Salmon
  • Catfish
  • Whitefish
  • Flounder
  • Sardines
  • Tilapia
Fresh raw salmon red fish fillet with spices, herbs and lemon

Salmon is beneficial for your dog as long as it’s cooked.

Dogs and Salmon

Salmon is one of the most common types of fish found in dog food and there’s a reason for that. There are many nutritional benefits that come with feeding your dog salmon. In addition to being rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, salmon also boasts vitamins A, D, and B-complex. Salmon also contains minerals such as magnesium, potassium, selenium, and zinc. 

The health benefits that come with implementing salmon into your dog’s diet include improved brain function, improved joint mobility, and a strengthened immune system. It’s also known to decrease joint inflammation–which can be great if your dog has arthritis. 

Giving Your Dog Raw Salmon

You should avoid giving your dog raw salmon. For that matter, you should avoid giving your dog raw fish at all. Despite the numerous health benefits of feeding your dog salmon, raw salmon can have the opposite effect. This is because raw or undercooked salmon contains bacteria and parasites that can be harmful to your pooch.

In addition, raw salmon can contain flukes. Flukes are a parasite that is flat and worm-like. If ingested by your dog, it can make him extremely sick. Fluke consumption can give your dog symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. You also have to watch out for salmon poisoning disease. When salmon isn’t cooked properly, it can contain a bacteria known as neorickettsia helminthoeca–which causes the disease.

This can be terrifying for a pet owner because the symptoms won’t occur until at least five days later. The symptoms that come with salmon poisoning are very similar to symptoms of lactose intolerance. Symptoms of salmon poisoning include the following: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

The Problem With Smoked Salmon

You should also never give your dog smoked salmon. While it may be a family favorite, it can be dangerous for your pooch. This is because the smoking process involves curing the salmon in brine and added salt. This added salt is too much for your pup and can be detrimental to your dog’s health.

Your Dog and Catfish

Catfish is yet another type of fish that is safe for your dog to consume. Catfish is lean, easy to prepare, and contains all of the benefits of salmon. As with salmon, you will want to avoid serving your dog raw catfish. Raw catfish can cause illnesses in dogs such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Catfish may also require a little more preparation. The first thing you should do is remove the fish bones.

Bones are very small, sharp, and can be a choking hazard if they get lodged in your dog’s throat. Like humans, dogs don’t like bones in their fish. You should also avoid giving your dog fried fish. Although fried fish is cooked and less likely to transmit harmful bacteria or parasites to your dog, it can cause other health problems.

Frying fish in too much oil can cause GI problems such as diarrhea and vomiting. Even worse, your dog could come down with pancreatitis due to the butter, oils, and seasoning. Seasoning the fish you’ve prepared for your dog can also have negative consequences. This is because your dog may have certain food allergies that a type of seasoning may trigger.

Dogs and Whitefish

Just like salmon and catfish, whitefish can be an excellent source of nutrients for your dog. Whitefish is lean and can be a great source of protein. Aside from protein, whitefish like cod and haddock are an essential source of B vitamins. The list of these B vitamins includes B6, B12, and niacin.

The Good News About Flounder

Flounder boasts all of the benefits as the others, however, that is only if it’s cooked properly. Flounder is also one of the most popular types of fish found in dog food. If you’ve made the decision to prepare flounder for your dog at home, the most important thing you can do is use boneless fillets. You should also avoid using fish oil, grease, and butter. In addition, you should also avoid using seasonings such as salt, pepper, and especially garlic.

Fresh sardines. on a plate.

Just adding a few sardines to your dog’s regular meals once a week has many health benefits.

Sardines: The Healthiest Fish in the Sea

Sardines are often described as the healthiest fish in the sea. They can be great for your dog as well. When it comes to sardines, their small size makes them safe for your dog. In addition, they can be served with the skin still on and with the bones. Sardines have a rather simple diet: plankton. Due to this, they don’t have much exposure to toxins and heavy metals thus making them an optimal choice for your dog. 

Let’s Talk About Tilapia

Tilapia is another one of those that can be great for your dog but must be prepared properly. As you can probably guess, tilapia contains omega-3 fatty acids and can decrease inflammation. Additionally, tilapia is greatly beneficial for the brain, skin, fur, joints, and even the cardiovascular system. Tilapia also contains vitamin D, folate, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Tilapia may not be the healthiest fish in the sea but it can be great for your dog anyway. It’s important to remember the tips we’ve mentioned. Failure to do so may result in your dog becoming sick. There are certain types of fish you should avoid feeding your dog at all costs. There are also a few characteristics of fish that make them harmful in the first place.

The Harmful Traits of Fish

  • Parasites
  • Thaminase and vitamin B1
  • Mercury levels

Parasites and Fish

Despite the numerous health benefits, there are some downsides to serving fish to your dog. First and foremost, fish can be contaminated and filled with parasites. This is why you should always ensure that the fish is cooked thoroughly–like you would when feeding fish to your family. The heat that’s applied during the cooking process will kill the parasites. 

Remember Thaminase and Vitamin B1

One of the main reasons many DVMs are hesitant about giving dogs certain species of fish is because they contain an enzyme known as thaminase. This specific enzyme has a role. The role is to break down the vitamin B1 your dog consumes. However, when you properly cook your fish, the enzyme becomes completely useless. In addition, fish can also be high in sodium. This is because the majority of fish live in salty waters, thus, they absorb the salt.

Too much sodium in your dog’s diet can lead to a serious illness called hypernatremia. Hypernatremia is when the concentration of sodium in your dog’s body is too high. This can cause your dog to lose a significant amount of water via his gastrointestinal tract. Other symptoms of hypernatremia are similar to symptoms of your dog eating chocolate Cheerios:

  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low water intake
  • Coma
  • Confusion

The Problem With Fish and Mercury

This is the main reason that feeding fish to your dog had been debated by many health experts over the years. Certain types of fresh fish are known to contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury. They are known the have high levels of mercury–this is the problem. Salmon and tilapia are fine in this department. When it comes to tuna and mackerel, however, watch out. 

The problem with mercury can be traced back to industrial plants. These plants, for instance, pollute the environment with mercury. The mercury eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Once this mercury leak reaches the places fish call home, it can make its way into their tissues. Thus, the bigger the fish is and the longer they live, the more likely it is that they are infected with mercury.

This can translate to problems with your dog. If you happen to feed your dog fish with a high concentration of mercury, there is a possibility that he could become infected with mercury poisoning. This is obviously not what you want for your dog. At its best, mercury poisoning is not good. At its worst, it can kill your canine. The good news is that mercury poisoning comes with its signs and symptoms. They are as follows:

  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Blindness
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting blood
  • Kidney damage

After learning about the harmful traits that come with fish, you should also be aware of the certain types of fish that are harmful to your pup. We can break this down into two categories: What you should avoid giving your dog and what you should never give your dog.

What You Should Avoid Giving Your Dog

  • Canned fish
  • Tuna
  • Shellfish
  • Fish oil

Canned fish/Tuna

The reason canned fish isn’t good for your dog is the same reason it’s not particularly great for us: It contains additives and preservatives. This is even more true for canned tuna. Canned tuna takes the cake as far as ranking high up on the mercury contamination list. Tuna should be avoided in general due to its high levels of mercury. If your dog manages to contract mercury poisoning, the consequences can be deadly. 

Shellfish

When it comes to feeding your dog, you should avoid shellfish, specifically crab, lobster, and shrimp. Shellfish isn’t the worst thing you can give your dog, however, just make sure you only give it to him as an occasional treat. An important thing to remember is that dogs can only eat the meat of the shellfish. They need to be thoroughly cooked and cleaned of their shells before being served to your canine.

Capsules of cod liver oil arranged in a fish shape on white wooden background

Due to likely contamination from toxins, fish oil is not safe for dogs.

Why Fish Oil Should Be Avoided

Fish oil just recently began getting a bad reputation. This is after years of praise for its amino acids and omega-3 supplementation. The combination of dogs and fish oil, however, has been drastically declining. This is all due to the amount of pollution in our oceans.

It’s possible for fish oil to contain things like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. These elements have been shown to be the cause of cancer and irreparable damage to the nervous system. While the things you should avoid are okay for your dog in moderation, there are also things you should never give your pooch. They are as follows:

  • Raw and smoked salmon
  • Fish Bones
  • Shrimp tails and shells
  • Farmed fish

Never Give Your Dog Raw or Smoked Salmon

This has been mentioned already, however, it’s vitally important to remember this. Dogs are the only animals that are fatally affected by this…bears eat raw salmon all the time.

Say No To Fish Bones

Fish bones should also never be given to your dog. Fish bones can be hard to spot but can be extremely dangerous. This is because they can get stuck in your dog’s throat or stomach. This can cause choking or death.

Shrimp Tails and Shells

Unfortunately, here is another choking hazard. Shrimp tails and shells can cause your dog problems. When shells are broken down, they can turn into shards.

Farmed Fish is Never a Good Idea

Farmed fish could fall into the category of canned tuna. Farmed fish are often fed with the lowest quality of food that can be found. Farmed fish are also given large quantities of antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. These poor fish are also housed in the worst conditions imaginable. 

Wrap Up

Your dog may be getting tired of the same food he eats every day. Adding fish to his diet can be a great way to add a little spice to it. Feeding your dog fish is a great way to boost his immune system, give him a healthy coat, and ensure he receives all the nutrients needed for a balanced diet.

It’s important to remember that salmon, catfish, whitefish, flounder, sardines, and tilapia are the best way to go when feeding your dog fish. You should avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish, Albacore tuna, and king mackerel. If your dog is fed fish the right way, you may see changes for the better. A happy and healthy dog leads to a happier owner.

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.