Can Dogs Eat Fish?
Protein is an important component of any dog food diet, and this is usually sourced from traditional animal protein sources such as beef, pork, and poultry meat. Another common animal protein source seen in many commercial dog food diets is fish. Some diets have it as the sole protein ingredient, others have fish as an additional protein source on top of other animal protein ingredients. This means putting dogs on a fish diet should be safe, right? The answer is a little complicated than most would think. Fish diets, while generally safe, can have health risks that dog owners need to be aware of. We’ll discuss in detail how fish diets affect a dog’s health and determine if dogs can really eat fish.
The Health Benefits of Feeding Your Dog Fish
Commercially available dog food often comes in many varieties, from holistic grain-free formulations to single-protein diets. Dog’s nutritional requirements highly vary depending on their breed type, age, the extent of their physical activity at home, and health conditions. The variation between different types of commercially available dog food helps cater to the different nutritional needs of dogs.
Fish is a popular alternative protein source for diets in dogs. It’s usually the go-to protein diet if the dog has shown allergic reactions to traditional pork, beef, and poultry-based dog food. Fish meat has high protein digestibility, making it a good source of quality protein for our canine friends.
Aside from its high protein content, fish is known for having high concentrations of omega fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial nutrients that help keep a dog’s skin and coat healthy. They can even help in managing different dermatological conditions in dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to help reduce various inflammatory processes in the body and can help treat and manage conditions like osteoarthritis.
These nutritional benefits from fish meat only strengthen the case that they’re safe to give and an ideal diet alternative for dogs. However, giving fish to dogs also come with a few health hazards, some of which can be fatal. Dog owners need to familiarize themselves with these risks before deciding if a fish diet is the right one for their pets.
The Health Hazards of Giving Your Dog Fish
Though a great source of protein and essential fatty acids, there are cases where giving fish to your dog can cause more harm than good. Despite being highly nutritious, there are situations where giving a fish diet or mixing in home-cooked fish meat can cause health problems in a dog.
The most commonly encountered health problem associated with feeding fish to dogs is allergic dermatitis. This might come as a surprise since the common understanding is fish meat or fish-based diets are the go-to alternative if dogs have confirmed allergic reactions to more common and more popular protein sources like pork or poultry.
A food allergy happens when the dog’s body mounts an immune response against an ingested allergen from their diet. This usually results in a varying degree of dermatological signs or gastrointestinal symptoms depending on how severe the immune reaction is. Fish protein may be lower in line as a potential food allergen in dogs, but it is still included in the top 10 food allergens in dogs based on reported cases.
Another commonly reported health hazard when dogs are put on a fish diet has to do with the fish bones. In general, ingestion of any kind of bones is hazardous in dogs as it can cause a wide range of gastrointestinal problems, from simple stomach upset to complete intestinal obstruction. With fish bone, the likelihood of intestinal obstructions is relatively low given their size, but most fish bones are sharp and pointed and ingestion can lead to significant irritation of the intestines.
Small fish bones can puncture the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or intestine, causing inflammation and irritation. Larger fish bones may cause bigger lacerations that can cause intestinal bleeding in dogs. Some can even cause perforations and result in intestinal contents leaking out, causing peritonitis, a serious medical condition that can be fatal if not treated immediately.
A practice that’s becoming popular among pet owners is raw feeding. Raw feeding of fish to dogs increases the risk of Salmonellosis exponentially. Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by ingested Salmonella strains, often from raw or undercooked meat. It causes serious health problems and is one of the few conditions that a dog can pass to humans.
Lastly, heavy metal toxicities have been reported in dogs that have eaten certain species of fish. This is more commonly associated with species like sharks, swordfish, and king mackerel - fish that are usually harvested when they’re relatively older and larger. These fish contain mercury in their skin and meat that increases in concentration as they get older. By the time they’re harvested, the levels of heavy metal in their meat and skin are already toxic to dogs.
Mercury toxicity in dogs causes kidney insufficiency and symptoms include decreased appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and urination problems. Kidney disease in dogs can progress to a critical condition and can be fatal if not managed or treated properly.
The Best Way to Add Fish to Your Dog’s Diet
Given the health hazards and benefits associated with feeding fish to dogs, it’s safe to assume that a fish diet is relatively safe provided that certain precautions are taken. Dog’s require more than just protein to sustain their nutritional needs, so putting them on a fish diet alone is not usually recommended. Mixing fish meat with other food ingredients is ideal to meet their daily nutritional needs.
It’s highly recommended that the fish bone be removed from the meat before giving it to dogs. This will eliminate the risks of intestinal irritation, laceration, perforation, and obstruction. It’s also best to avoid giving fish that can have high concentrations of mercury to avoid toxicity.
As previously mentioned, it is not recommended to give raw fish to dogs due to the risks of Salmonellosis. In cooking fish meat, it is best to not use any salt or spice to prevent any health problems. Steaming or boiling fish meat is the ideal way to prepare them for dogs.
If you start to observe signs of allergic reaction in your dog after being on a fish diet, stop giving fish immediately and consult with your vet. Discussing your dog’s diet with your vet will help them come up with a sound plan for transitioning your dog to a fish-based diet or alternative protein sources if allergy symptoms arise.
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