Can Dogs Have Seafood?
Most people have one or two beef-, chicken-, or pork-based dishes that they absolutely love, but fans of seafood cling to their favorite cuisine with the intriguing, slightly intimidating ferocity of a hardcore science fiction nerd. True seafood lovers will indulge in lobster, shrimp, or sushi the way that the rest of us treat ourselves with cupcakes, cookies, and French fries—and they will do it with an air of moral superiority, because they can argue that the meat of ocean-dwelling creatures is far more nutritious than a slice of triple chocolate cake.
Even if you do not consider yourself a seafood enthusiast, you probably have some types of seafood in your house from time to time. This poses a bit of a problem for pet parents: is it alright to share this type of food with your beloved canine companion? Many of us do not worry about the health implications of giving our dogs a bit of chicken from time to time, but seafood seems like a riskier food, and not too many dog food brands boast about their tuna or shrimp content. So, is seafood a suitable type of meat for dogs to enjoy? Can you give your dog seafood?
The short answer is yes, dogs can eat fully cooked seafood in moderation, but it is not without risk. Most of the seafood we consume—whether it falls into the category of finfish or shellfish—is not poisonous to our pets, which means that they are not at any risk of toxicity if you toss them a couple of shelled, cooked shrimp as a treat. Most dogs who eat small quantities of seafood will suffer no negative health effects. It is always important, however, to exercise caution when giving your dog most kinds of seafood, because there is always a chance that the meat is contaminated with pathogens or pollutants. Lastly, if your pet has any health problems, such as high cholesterol, they may be better off without fish.
Seafood is often touted as a healthy alternative to the meats that come from land animals (particularly beef and other types of red meat). If it is carefully prepared, some types of seafood may offer small health benefits for healthy, active adult dogs. Because seafood is such a broad category of food, it is helpful to consider each ‘type’ on an individual basis. Some foods are much safer than others.
The two healthiest foods that come out of the ocean are probably kelp and other types of seaweed. Kelp, which tends to grow in cold water (it’s that stuff you find rotting on the beaches in northern California), is loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and several essential amino acids. It is commonly used as a dietary supplement—nobody gobbles up kelp by the leaf—and some pet parents report that it improves their dogs’ skin and coat health.
All types of seaweed, including kelp, are also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that may be helpful in treating or preventing inflammatory diseases. Dogs who consume anti-inflammatory foods may experience a decrease in joint inflammation and swelling, which can reduce pain while improving joint mobility. Kelp is also loaded with iodine, which is essential for thyroid health—however, if your dog has a thyroid condition, you should probably ask a vet before adding iodine-rich foods in to their diet.
Fish, which is the far more popular type of seafood, can have some health benefits, too. Small fish, like herring, anchovies, and sardines, are among the safest types of fish you can give your dog. Like their larger counterpart, they are chock full of protein (which provides all of the essential amino acids your pooch needs to build and maintain a healthy body), Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain, heart, and nervous system health.
Giving your dog whole fish is a much healthier alternative to the popular Omega-3 supplement known as fish oil. The general consensus is that healthy adult dogs can safely eat small quantities of these small, oily fish two or three times a week. With small fish, it is important to be aware of the sodium content—canned sardines and anchovies are often packed in salt, which can cause hypernatremia. If possible, always buy fresh fish. If you give your pooch canned fish, make sure to rinse it thoroughly before serving, and give your pooch plenty of water to wash it down.
Shellfish are much the same as small fin fish, in that they are safe when properly prepared. Make sure to cook all clams, shrimp, scallops, and prawns thoroughly, and remove their shells before serving.
Larger fish, like salmon and tuna, offer many of the same health benefits as small fish, but, because they are higher up the food chain, they are also more likely to be contaminated with pollutants like heavy metals. In order to limit your dog’s exposure to these pollutants, you should limit the amount of salmon and tuna you feed them.
Things to Consider
It is crucial that pet parents thoroughly cook all meat they feed to their dogs—even if it’s seafood. Sushi and other raw fish is not safe for canine consumption. Fish flesh is often contaminated with bacteria and parasites that can make your dog seriously ill. Raw salmon is especially dangerous; eating raw salmon can result in something called Salmon Poisoning Disease, which, if left untreated, regularly kills dogs within two weeks. If your pooch seems at all ‘off’ after consuming seafood, it would be wise to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Overall, most cooked seafood is safe for dogs in small quantities, but some types are safer than others. Small fish provide as much vitamins, minerals, and protein as large fish, but they are also much safer in terms of heavy metal content. Lastly, any seafood you give your dog should be free of added flavors and seasonings. While a couple of plain shrimp will not hurt them, shrimp that have been rolled in butter and spices can cause upset stomach and other unpleasant symptoms. When it comes to canines, plain food is the best option.