While there’s no shortage of fishy foods and treats available on store shelves for canines, many dog owners often wonder if those products are safe for eating. For concerned pet parents, we’ve put together a list of the benefits and dangers that can come from feeding fish to your dog, as well as strategies for minimizing some of the risks of fish consumption.
Protein—Fish offers an alternative form of protein that is less commonly found in most manufactured dog foods and canine diets, which usually contain poultry, beef, or lamb. For dogs that are allergic to some of the protein typically found in dog foods, fish can be a viable alternative source of the essential nutrient.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids—These fatty acids can have a great impact on a dog’s health, and they are considered essential because your dog’s body does not produce them naturally can only acquire these fatty acids by consuming foods that contain them. Omega 3s are associated with healthy coats, healthy skin, and decreased inflammation in dogs. Fortunately, fish is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids available to dogs.
Parasites—If you plan to feed your dog fresh-caught fish, it’s important to remember that fish can be hosts to a wide variety of parasites. Tapeworms, flukes, Neorickettsia helminthoeca (responsible for salmon poisoning disease), and roundworms are commonly found in fish, and if a fish is not properly prepared, they can be transferred to the dog (or person) eating the affected fish. So, if you plan to supplement your dog’s diet with fresh fish, be sure to cook the fish well to kill any parasites that might still be living in the fish.
However, some owners prefer to feed their dogs raw food for nutritional reasons. Dana Scott at Dogs Naturally Magazine suggests freezing any fish for at least a week before giving it to your dog. This will ensure that any parasites living in the fish will die, eliminating the risk of exposure to your pet. Also, if you plan to feed your dog fish, remember to remove any bones beforehand (unless the fish is exceptionally small and the bones can be eaten easily, like a sardine). If a fish bone becomes lodged in a dog’s throat, it can lead to a variety of health problems very quickly—even death.
Ethoxyquin—Many manufactured dog foods containing fish meal also include an antioxidant called ethoxyquin, which is used as a preservative. Although antioxidants are typically seen as beneficial to health-minded people, ethoxyquin is recognized as a possible mutagen and genotoxic substance, and its use in human foods is fairly limited. However, many companies include ethoxyquin in their fish-containing foods and treats as a preservative, which should be a cause for concern. Remember, if you are going to give your dog manufactured treats and foods, make sure to do your due diligence and research the quality of the ingredients.
Heavy Metals—Fish can often absorb heavy metals, concentrating those metals into their bodies and then transferring them to any dogs (or humans) that eat them. Mercury is a toxic metal often found in fish, and the longer a fish lives, the more mercury it absorbs over time. One way to protect your dog from eating fish with a high-concentration of heavy metals is to stick with smaller fish. Those fish, such as sardines (only buy wild cat, packaged in water) don’t live as long as the larger fish, and their bodies are too small to accumulate large amounts of heavy metals, so the metal content of these fish should be significantly lower than that of larger fish.
Fish boasts some considerable benefits for dogs, but like most things, the key to success is moderation. It can be a great supplement to a healthy diet when chosen and prepared properly, but because of the dangers that fish consumption can present for dogs, it should be used as a treat or supplement and not a primary food source. Ultimately, it is always wisest to ask a veterinarian or a professional canine nutritionist for help determining the feeding schedule and portions that will be best-suited for your dog.