Can dogs eat fish? It’s a question that veterinarians get asked all the time. “Fish is a great protein source for dogs—not just cats,” says veterinarian Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, Ph.D., an associate professor in clinical nutrition at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have health benefits such as decreasing inflammation in older dogs and helping with brain and vision development in puppies. If you’d like for your dog to reel in some of these healthy compounds, check out the following pet nutrition tips:
Be Cautious About Fresh Fish
While fish protein in packaged dog treats or food is safe for your pooch, a fresh catch may not be. Raw fish may have bacteria or parasites that cause food poisoning. If you want to serve your dog fresh fish, be sure to fully cook it and make sure it’s boneless—dogs can choke on the bones. So no sushi, okay? Another caveat: Don’t add seasonings (even salt and pepper), oil or cooking spray because they may lead to stomach upset.
Consider the Type of Fish in the Food
Salmon, mackerel, whitefish, herring, flounder and walleye are common types of fish found in packaged dog food and cat food. They’re a good bet for dog nutrition because these fish are less likely to contain mercury, a heavy metal that could cause health problems for pets and humans. Just like you shouldn’t be eating too much swordfish or certain kinds of tuna, neither should your pet.
Look for Allergy-Friendly Options
Fish is an especially good alternative for dogs who are allergic to chicken, beef or another common protein, says Dr. Wakshlag. If that’s the main reason you’re eager to incorporate fish into your pet’s nutrition, look for a brand of pet food made specifically for dogs on restricted diets. Some good options include Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Adult Salmon & Lentils Recipe and Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Salmon & Potato Formula, which are formulated to minimize food sensitivities.
Factor in Sustainability
Do you avoid eating some species of fish because they’re over farmed? Then, by all means, hold your pet’s food to the same standards. “Marine stewardship is an important factor to consider when buying a fish protein source for your pet,” says Dr. Wakshlag. Consider opting for pet foods that promote sustainability when using “wild-caught” fish, like Tender & True Sustainable Seafood Ocean Whitefish & Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food.
Fortunately, dogs love the smell of fish and may be eager to dig in. But don’t go overboard; gradually introduce seafood to your dog’s nutrition plan to make sure the new food doesn’t upset his stomach or trigger an allergy. Starting with a small bag of a freeze-dried option like Merrick Backcountry Free-Dried Real Salmon Grain-Free is a way to limit your initial investment. (If you have cats too, freeze-dried options like Stella & Chewy’s Sea-licious Salmon & Cod Dinner Cat Food are popular.) Bottom line: Not only can dogs eat fish, but it’ll be a smart idea to get them hooked early on!