March 25, 2021

Can Dogs Eat Fish? Vets explain how to feed fish safely

dog eating fish
Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Published by Emma Hughes

Vet Approved

Fish is a delicious and versatile food. It comes in many species and varieties, and it can be baked, broiled, steamed, or fried. For humans, many types of fish are considered healthy food that should definitely be included in the diet due to the health benefits that come along.

"Do dogs eat fish?" It's a common query we get. Is it safe for your dogs? What kinds of fish are dogs allowed to eat, and how should they be prepared to ensure it's a safe food?

Read on to discover what you should know about preparing and serving your dog fish to ensure their health and avoid any safety risks. 

Can Dogs Eat Fish?

Yes, dogs can eat fish. Fish contain proteins and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your dog. However, some species contain too much mercury and should not be fed to dogs. Also, follow our feeding guidelines as raw fish may contain bacteria and parasites, and fish bones can be a big health risk when swallowed.

Dogs can enjoy the taste and benefits of eating fish. That is as long as the fish is served correctly.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

You should always remember that 90% of your dog's diet should consist of vet-approved dog food. Fish can be included in the diet, but only as a small part and not as a daily staple.

That said, let's dig a little deeper.

The good news is that dogs can eat fish, but owners have to be careful about how it is prepared. Fish is included in many commercial dog foods and provides protein for canines that might be allergic to chicken or beef.

Raw fish for dogs is another issue altogether; it should be avoided at all costs. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that dogs of all ages should avoid eating raw fish; this includes puppies and pregnant dogs as well.

Raw fish may contain parasites like Flukes, Tapeworms, and Roundworms, which could get into the dog's internal organs or tissues and cause harm. Salmonella, clostridium, and listeria might be transmitted as well if undercooked fish is served.

Uncooked fish skin and bones are also to be avoided. Uncooked fish skin could be laden with bacteria, but dried skin can be offered so long as the scales are removed and there were no oils or seasonings used in preparing it.

Cooked fish is OK, but it should only be baked, broiled, or steamed and free of all seasonings, including salt. Plain is best.

Fried fish is a no-go. Although it is cooked at very hot temperatures that kill all bacteria, there is a risk of causing your dog GI issues like pancreatitis or diarrhea due to the high content of butter, oil, and seasonings used in frying fish.

The tail, bones, and head should usually not be fed. All large fish must be deboned, cleaned, and filleted (plus cooked) before you feed it to your pet. Fishbones can lead to injury and abrasions to the digestive system if swallowed with a piece of fish. In the worst case, organs may end up damaged.

If your dog swallows a fishbone, watch for signs like them pawing at their mouth or drooling a lot. If you notice this, seek veterinary care immediately.

Pregnant females and weaned pups can enjoy extra protein in cooked fish, in addition to their regular veterinarian recommended diets. It's OK to offer small pieces of fresh, cooked fish so long as it is properly scaled, deboned, and cooked and only offered in small portions as a treat or part of a specially made home-cooked diet.

Indeed, dogs like fish, and there are some great health benefits to offering your pup some. But when feeding fish, there are a few possible health risks you should be aware of and specific guidelines for preparing the fish to make it safe for your dog. We'll get to those in a minute, but first, let's talk about some of the amazing health benefits.

Health Benefits: Is Fish Good for Dogs?

So, what are the advantages of offering your pooch some fish? Here are a few:

Plenty of Protein

Some dogs are sensitive to common sources of protein, such as chicken, so they require something different to get the protein they need to build their muscles.

Fish is a good source of protein, and many types of fish are low in fat, so they can be a great source of energy for dogs that are overweight and need to lose some of that excess weight.

fish

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

One of the reasons your dog has a beautiful, shiny coat and healthy skin is because of the omega-3's contained in their regular dog food. And fish is one of the best sources of omegas-3's if you want to add some to your pet's diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids are great for eye health, heart health, and maintenance of healthy blood pressure levels and can even reduce inflammation. They also keep your dog's coat glossy and lustrous.

Full of vitamins and minerals

The myriad of vitamins and minerals found in fish, such as magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and iodine, are all great for your dog's immune system and overall good health.

By adding fish to your dog's diet, you're ensuring they get all the advantages that come with these nutrients.

Digests Easy

One good thing about fish is that it digests more easily than some other forms of protein like beef. So if your dog has a sensitive digestive system and has a hard time digesting food, fish may be the perfect source of protein for their diet. It rarely upsets a dog's stomach and gives them indigestion when offered in moderation.

Fish Skin Makes an Excellent Snack for Senior Dogs

There is collagen found in the skin of fish, which is why it is fantastic for the skin and bone health of older, senior-aged dogs. The skin should be descaled and dried first, but after that, it can make a nutritious and exciting snack for your senior dog.

Health Risks: Is Fish Bad for Dogs?

So now that we've seen fish is a good source of protein, easily digestible, and full of nutrients, you may be wondering why we warned you about some health risks in the beginning. After all, doesn't it sound like fish is something you should absolutely feed your dog?

You must be very careful about your fish preparation and ensure it is cooked thoroughly.

Of course, you should keep in mind that not all species of fish are edible – to humans and dogs alike. But we'll talk about that later. Now, let's find out what you need to know to ensure you're feeding fish responsibly and safely.

Fishbones Present A Danger

Fishbones, including the bony parts of the animal such as the head, plus the tail, should never be fed to your dog. If you catch a fish, be sure they are deboned and cleaned carefully before you feed them to your pet.

Should your dog swallow a bone, it may abrade the digestive tract lining or even penetrate it, causing damage to their organs as well. Dogs may also choke on a fishbone, or they can get stuck between the teeth or in the soft palate behind the teeth.

So always only offer your dog fish that has been deboned carefully to prevent a bone from lodging itself in the mouth, throat, stomach, or intestines. If your dog accidentally swallows a fishbone, you may notice signs like:

  • Trying to cough something up
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pulling their mouths with their front paw
  • Discomfort
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

If you suspect that your dog did gobble up a piece of fish with bones in it, contact a vet immediately. It can be life-threatening if the bone punctures the intestinal tract or an organ.

Parasites and Bacteria Are Found in Undercooked Fish

You must be very careful about your fish preparation and ensure it is cooked thoroughly. Undercooked or uncooked fish could transmit bacteria and parasites to your pet, so make sure the fish is fully cooked before it is served.

Some of the most common bacteria in raw fish are salmonella and listeria. Symptoms of an infection in dogs include:

  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • fever
  • vomiting

Parasites are not as common as bacteria in uncooked fish, but feeding raw fish stills risks catching parasites like tapeworms or roundworms, so it's better not to risk it and carefully cook the fish. Again, signs of listeria or salmonella infection include:

  • weight loss
  • lethargy
  • distended belly
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dull coat

Of course, you may also find visual evidence of the worm when picking up your dog's poo. As always, if your suspect a health issue with your dog, we recommend contacting a vet for more advice and an assessment of the situation.

tuna steak

Mercury Poisoning Is A Threat

Avoid fish such as king mackerel, albacore tuna, tilefish, shark, and swordfish. These species tend to have high levels of mercury in their tissues because they feed on smaller fish already polluted by it. Thus, they develop high levels of it in their bodies the longer they live.

Mercury poisoning may damage the kidneys of your dog, and therefore it is important that fish that may contain mercury are not fed in large quantities or too often.

The same species of fish we mentioned above are also known for having large numbers of parasites in their muscle tissues, internal organs, and skin. As a result, make sure you avoid them when it comes to choosing fish for your dog.

Fish Is Not A Staple Food

Too much fish isn't good for your pet! Yes, fish can be found in many commercial dog foods. But it's not the only thing those foods include- many of them incorporate fruits, veggies, and whole grains as well.

The point here is that fish is to be part of a balanced diet that consists of clean water and dog food recommended by your vet. Feeding too much of any food will cause your pet to eat less of other nutritious foods, which may lead to a nutritionally lacking diet and malnutrition.

Feeding Guidelines: Fish for Dogs

How Much Fish Can My Dog Eat?

This is going to depend on your dog's overall health and individual nutritional requirements. You might offer it as a special treat once in a while or as part of a healthy diet several times during the week.

Fish could be a daily part of your pet's diet if they are not able to take regular sources of protein such as chicken or because they have dietary needs that anti-inflammatory foods can help (such as inflammatory bowel disease).

A vet can provide sound advice on how much fish your dog should have, as it is based on height, weight, and age, as well as their individual medical needs.

How Often Can I Feed My Dog Fish?

This is going to depend on the individual dog. Most dogs should enjoy it once or twice a week in small amounts as part of a balanced diet. After all, it makes a delicious and healthy treat. Other dogs are going to need it more often each week due to not being able to take protein from common protein sources most dogs enjoy.

How to Prepare Fish for Dogs?

The same way you shop for your fish is the same way you should shop for fish you will serve your dog.

  1. Firstly, take note of the "unsafe fish" in this article, and avoid them while at the supermarket or fish market.
  2. Once you have your fish home, it's best to descale, debone, and fillet it even if you do not plan on serving it that day. That way, you can check it over once again before you prepare it to ensure all bones and scales have been removed.
  3. Most fishmongers will be happy to fillet the fish for you. Do this if you can; these employees are skilled at making sure the fish is ready to eat. Even so, you must double-check it before you begin to cook the fish.
  4. Once you are sure the fish is safe and free of bones, cook it! You can broil, steam, or bake the fish.
  5. Remember, no oils, spices, seasonings, or butter should be used if the fish is going to be fed to your dog.
  6. Lastly, make sure the fish is cooked to a temp of 145F, the safe temp as per the USDA.
  7. Then, cut up small pieces after the fish was cooled and let your dog enjoy.

Which fish species can dogs eat?

Remember that just like with humans, not all species of fish are edible and safe for your dog. Always check first before feeding.

Edible fish that are not likely to have high levels of bacteria, parasites, or mercury include:

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

Sardines are also safe, and due to their small size, they can be consumed whole – skin and bones included. Just make sure if the sardines are canned, they do not contain any added salt because it's not healthy for your pup.

Tilapia is also safe if it is skinned and deboned carefully, and you only offer boneless fillets that have been cooked properly.

Anchovies are also OK, as long as they are not the canned type with added oils, salt, or seasonings. Because the bones are small and digestible, anchovies can be fed as whole – head and tail included.

Light tuna fish (Skipjack or Yellowfin tuna) is on the list of OK choices when fed in moderation and without salt or seasoning. However, Albacore tuna usually contains too much mercury and should be avoided. Even light tuna fish is not the best choice for dogs, but fine as an occasional treat.

As mentioned before, some of the types of fish you should definitely AVOID are:

  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Albacore tuna (canned)

Nutrition Facts

When it comes to nutritional content, different species of fish can vary a lot. Others contain more fat, while others contain less. However, all types of fish contain a lot of protein and helpful minerals and vitamins such as:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B2
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Iodine

Summing up – Can Dogs Have Fish?

Yes, dogs can enjoy fish, but as part of a balanced diet. Fish is not a staple food, except for dogs with very specific medical needs.

Your best bet is to feed your dog a healthy diet of food recommended by your vet and provide plenty of clean water. This, combined with the occasional treat like fish, can help your pet live a healthy, long life.

FAQ

Can dogs eat fish sticks?

Yes, dogs can eat fish sticks, as there is nothing unsafe in them. Still,  fish sticks are not good for dogs because they contain a small amount of actual fish meat. Plus, they are buttered and scrolled in bread crumbs which makes them unsuitable for doggy digestion. However, if you run out of dog food, you can scrape the coating off, and instead of frying, boil the sticks. This is an emergency case alternative, and it should not be a habit.

Vet's Comment

Although we more commonly associate fish with cats, dogs can also enjoy the taste and benefits of eating fish. That is as long as the fish is served correctly and they actually like fishy-tasting meals. As with any other animal-sourced food, it goes without saying that fish must never be offered raw.

The canine-friendly way of preparing fish is boiling, and the healthy way of serving fish is plain – no salt, no spices, no sauces, and no condiments.

If using fish as a staple food or frequent addition to regular meals, make sure you buy wild-raised fish as farm-raised varieties often contain potentially harmful drugs like growth hormones and antibiotics.

- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM

Ivana Crnec doctor of veterinary medicine

Vet-Approved by
Dr. Ivana Crnec

DVM

Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.

NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your dog's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.

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