Can Dogs Eat Fish?

Key takeaway

Dogs can eat and benefit from fish whether it is a part of their regular diet or fed to them as treats. Fish contains many nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B2, iron, and zinc that promote joint health, skin health, and heart health in dogs. Certain types of fish should not be fed to dogs as they can contain high levels of mercury and residual dyes, toxins, and antibiotics from farming and processing.

Unlike cats that are obligate carnivores, dogs are omnivores that benefit from a wide variety of foods. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, the dry food nutrient requirements for an adult dog at maintenance include a number of essential vitamins and minerals, 5% fat, and 18% protein per kilogram of dog food.1 When browsing pet food isles, chicken and beef are by far the most common proteins included in dog food, but fish-based food can also be found. Is fish good for dogs? Can dogs eat any type of fish? 

Dogs can eat fish, and in general, fish is very beneficial for the health of dogs. It is a good source of high-quality protein, low in saturated fats, and contains numerous vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that support canine health. As a relatively less commonly used protein in dog food, it can even act as a novel ingredient in prescription diets for dogs that have food allergies and intolerances.2 

However, not all types of fish can be safely consumed. Certain types of fish can contain high levels of mercury, antibiotics, dyes, and toxins, which can negatively impact your dog’s health. If you plan to cook fish at home for your dog to eat, you must also ensure that it is prepared properly. Continue reading to find out which types of fish dogs can eat, how much fish they can eat, and how to safely cook fish for canine consumption. 

If you wish to add fish into your dog’s diet but aren’t sure how to start, consult a trusted veterinarian or canine dietician to come up with a plan that suits your pup.

How Can Dogs Benefit From Eating Fish?

Essential nutrients in fish beneficial to dogs

Fish is a great source of protein and can be fed to dogs both as a snack or a part of their daily diets. Fish is filled with a variety of fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that maintain your dog’s health, some of which include:

  • Long chain omega-3 fatty acids: These fatty acids are most commonly found in fatty fish like salmon and herring. They are shown to reduce inflammation, support joint health and arthritis, and promote healthy skin and coat in dogs.3 
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D bolsters bone growth in dogs. It is an essential nutrient that regulates the balance and retention of calcium and phosphorus in the body.4
  • Vitamin B2: Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B2 helps facilitate enzyme function in dogs.5 
  • Iron: Iron is used to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lung to the rest of the body. It also produces myoglobin, a protein that supplies oxygen to the muscles. 
  • Zinc: Zinc supports the immune system of dogs, preventing infections. It also has a hand in thyroid function.  

Fish can also be a favorable protein choice for dogs that are allergic to more common proteins such as chicken, turkey, and beef. If you suspect your dog to have a food allergy or intolerance, contact a veterinarian for an elimination diet trial to get an accurate diagnosis. 

Are There Risks To Feeding Dogs Fish?

Like with any food, if you are introducing fish into your dog’s diet for the first time, there is the possibility that their digestive system will react negatively. The best way to prevent this is by gradually introducing the fish, whether it is home cooked, kibble, wet food, or a treat. Look out for signs of an upset stomach, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Low mood
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drinking less water
  • Looking uncomfortable
  • More frequent stretching
  • Excessive licking
  • Gulping

In most cases, these symptoms will resolve on their own, but if you notice them worsening, call a veterinarian. Persistent vomiting or diarrhea always requires a trip to the animal hospital. 

Commercial dog food, especially high-quality dog food, tends to be well regulated and tested. It is when fish is prepared at home that issues can arise. Not only is it our responsibility as pet parents to make sure our pups are eating a safe variety of fish, but we also have to make sure that the fish we give them is properly cooked. Some issues to look out for include:

  • Raw: Raw fish can contain bacteria like salmonella and listeria and even parasites. It is not safe for dogs to consume. Make sure any fish you give to your dog is fully cooked. 
  • Too oily: Dogs should never eat fried fish or any fish that is cooked in a lot of oil. Oily foods can lead to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. 
  • Too salty: Fish seasoned with too much salt or fish preserved in salt are extremely unhealthy for dogs. In serious cases, too much salt can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and even seizures.6
  • Herbs and spices: Many herbs and spices that we love are toxic to dogs, so it is best to not season the fish you make for your dog at all. Garlic, onion, leek, and chive are all unsafe for dogs to consume. 
  • Not deboned: Fish bones are small, sharp, and brittle. They can easily cause damage by getting stuck in your dog’s mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines. The fish you feed your dog should always be cleaned and deboned. You should also avoid feeding your dog the fish head, fins, and tail.

What Types Of Fish Can Dogs Eat?

Fish safe for canine consumption

All fish and shellfish contain mercury, a toxic metal that can adversely affect the nervous, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and reproductive systems if consumed in large amounts.7 Although dogs are not likely to get mercury poisoning from eating fish, it is still a concern that we should keep in mind for the sake of their health. Fish that contain less mercury are considered safer for dogs to eat. 

Smaller, wild-caught species of fish that have short lifespans typically contain less mercury. Some good choices are:

  • Ocean whitefish
  • Lake whitefish
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Herring
  • Walleye
  • Flounder
  • Arctic char8

Types of Fish to Avoid Giving Your Dog

Large predator fish bioaccumulate mercury from their dietary sources, so they usually have the highest mercury levels.7 Because of this, they are not as safe for dogs to eat. Some examples include:

  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • Bigeye tuna
  • Ahi tuna
  • Marlin
  • King mackerel
  • Orange roughy2

It is also important to keep in mind that some farm-raised fish may have residual harmful toxins, antibiotics, and dyes even after they are processed. It is best to avoid feeding this type of fish to your dog.

How Much Fish Can Dogs Eat?

How much fish your dog can eat depends on many factors. It is crucial to consider your dog’s age, size, health, medical history, and nutritional needs. If you want to add fish into your dog’s diet or have more questions about whether dogs can eat fish, consult a veterinarian or canine dietician. They can help you get started in determining if fish is suitable for your dog, how much fish you should feed them, and how often you should feed them fish. They can also recommend the best brand of fish-based food for your dog.

You can feed your dog fish as a treat from time to time or make fish the main protein they eat on a day to day basis. Treats should only take up 10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake. If you only plan to feed your dog fish treats, remember to control the portion and feed in moderation so they have room in their stomach for their regular nutritionally balanced and complete meals. 

Fish is also the basis for many prescription foods. As a protein that is less commonly used in commercial dog food, especially when compared to chicken, turkey, and beef, it is considered a novel ingredient, or an ingredient that your dog likely has not been exposed to. Along with other proteins like kangaroo, rabbit, venison, and duck, fish is often used to manage food allergies and intolerances in dogs. 

Fish is often used as a novel ingredient in prescription diets for dogs that have food allergies and intolerances

Can Dogs Eat Fish?: Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of food allergies in dogs?

The most common symptoms of food allergies in dogs include itchy skin and gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, excessive gas and diarrhea. Lethargy, hives, and skin and ear infections can also affect dogs with food allergies. There is no cure for dog food allergies. The only way to ease these symptoms is to completely avoid the allergen. It is difficult to figure out what your dog is allergic to on your own. Contact a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis, so your pup can get the help they need as soon as possible.

Can dogs eat fish skin?

Yes, generally fish skin is considered safe for dogs to eat. However, raw fish skin can carry bacteria and parasites, so avoid giving it to your dog. There are many types of fish skin dog treats on the market. They are low in fat and high in protein. If your dog likes the taste of fish, consider feeding them fish skin as a reward.

Can dogs eat fish daily?

If your dog needs to eat a hypoallergenic diet due to their food allergies and intolerances, they may have to eat fish, or another novel ingredient, on a daily basis. If you plan on giving your dog fish as a treat, keep a close eye on how much fish you are feeding them. Treats should only take up 10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake. If you want to use fish in homemade meals for your dog, make sure you are safely preparing the fish. Raw fish can expose your dog to the risk of bacteria and parasites and overly oily fish can cause health issues like pancreatitis. 

Dog swimming with a fish in their mouth

Final Notes

For dogs, eating fish can have many benefits, including promoting bone and joint health and supporting the immune system. If you want to feed your dog fish, make sure you are purchasing a high-quality commercial food or that you are properly preparing a dog-safe species of fish. 

If you have more questions about your dog’s diet or food allergies, Dutch is here to help. Connect with our team of licensed veterinarians, dieticians, and behaviorists to find the answer you need on topics such as raw diets for dogs, probiotics for dogs, how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on dogs, and more. 

References

  1. "AAFCO Nutrient Requirements for Dogs." Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/multimedia/table/aafco-nutrient-requirements-for-dogs

  2. Gillette, Leslie. "Can Dogs Eat Fish?" PetMD, 30 Jun. 2020, https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_can-dogs-eat-fish

  3. Arford, Kaitlyn. "Fish Oil for DOgs." American Kennel Club, 29 May 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/fish-oil-for-dogs/

  4. "Vitamin D Toxicity in Dogs." U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 7 Jul. 2022, https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/vitamin-d-toxicity-dogs

  5. Burke, Anna. "7 Vitamins Your Dog Needs for a Healthy Life." American Kennel Club, 4 May 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/vitamins-dogs-need-healthy-lifestyle/

  6. Thompson, Larry J. "Salt Toxicosis in Animals." Merck Veterinary Manual, Jun 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/salt-toxicosis/salt-toxicosis-in-animals

  7. Blakley, Barry R. "Mercury Poisoning in Animals." Merck Veterinary Manual, Jul 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/mercury-poisoning/mercury-poisoning-in-animals

  8. "Advice about Eating Fish." U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 28 Sep. 2022, https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish