Including seafood in your dog’s diet can have health benefits. So dogs can eat seafood, but you need to know what’s good and what to avoid … and why.
Like anything, moderation is key, since too much of anything in your dog’s diet can cause nutritional imbalances. And with seafood, there are environmental and toxicity concerns as well.
Here’s what you need to know.
Can Dogs Eat Seafood?
Yes, they can. Fish provide beneficial nutrients and are a great source of protein, calcium, selenium, niacin and omega-3 fatty acids for your dog.
Oily fish like salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, smelt, sardines, and anchovies can be fed raw to your dog. You don’t want to add extra oils or seasoning … just let the nutrients stand on their own.
But the danger of seafood is that many of them contain a dangerous heavy metal … mercury. Small amounts of mercury are present in most foods and don’t pose a big problem. But if your dog eats too many foods with high mercury content, mercury can accumulate in his body.
Here’s what you need to know about mercury in seafood.
Mercury Poisoning In Seafood
Mercury toxicity is increasing. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage nerves and affect brain function. Methylmercury is the type of mercury found in fish that can accumulate in the body. The Environmental Defense Fund explains that mercury occurs naturally but industrial pollution has caused it to rise.
Industrial waste contains mercury and that run-off flows into lakes, rivers and the ocean … to contaminate fish. It’s found at high levels in larger predator fish higher up the food chain, as they accumulate higher amounts of mercury from eating smaller sea creatures. This is known as bioaccumulation. And they spend more time in these waters as it takes longer to grow to their larger size.
Heavy metal poisoning in seafood depends on the amount of pollution in the environment and the species of fish (1). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports these issues that can arise from mercury poisoning:
- Nervous system disorders
- Neurological dysfunction
- Endocrine issues
- Reproductive problems
- Accelerated aging
- Damage to the gastrointestinal tract
- Kidney disease
In the US, the EPA and Food And Drug Administration (FDA) give the highest allowable mercury concentration in fish per serving as 0.15 ppm (parts per million) when eating 3 servings a week. That’s a maximum recommended limit of 0.5 ppm a week … for a human. So you’ll want to give your dog less than that amount. This chart offers an extensive list of seafood types and their mercury levels.
King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna all contain high levels of mercury above 0.5 ppm.
So if you want to feed your dog fish, look for others that are lowrt in mercury. And it’s safest to limit feeding seafood to once a week.
Another good reason to limit how much seafood you feed is the overfishing that’s depleting fish populations … catching them faster than they can replenish. Industrial fishing techniques destroy a lot more ocean-dwellers by suctioning fish they don’t need, or catching animals like sea turtles in nets, And it’s not just the fish we catch and eat (or turn into fish oil) that are threatened … but other sea creatures that depend on fish for food and survival.
Demands for seafood have doubled in the past century and are unsustainable.
So while it’s good for your dog to eat some fish … it’s not good for the planet and its ocean life. Keep the environment in mind when you choose your dog’s food as well as your own.
The Best Seafood For Dogs
Your dog can eat these regularly.
Green Lipped Mussels
Green lipped mussels are a rich source of omega fatty acids and minerals, vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants and enzymes. They’re harvested from New Zealand waters where they’re sustainably grown..
Green lipped mussels support joint mobility, cartilage maintenance, cardiovascular health and healthy skin. They’re a natural source of glycosaminoglycans (GAGS), which are components of cartilage and synovial fluid found in joints. They’ve been shown to relieve discomfort and inflammation in dogs with arthritis.
Green lipped mussels are available in powder form for dogs. It should be cold extracted as heat processing destroys nutrients. Give about 15 mg of powder per lb of your dog’s weight daily. For dogs with severe inflammation, you can double the dose for the first two weeks and then reduce to the recommended level.
You can also buy freeze-dried or frozen green lipped mussels and feed 2 mussels for every 10 lbs of weight daily.
Small Oily Fish
These include sardines, smelts, herring, mackerel, anchovies … fed whole. Feeding whole fish is a better way to give your dog omega-3 fatty acids than fish oil. Fish oil is unstable and can easily become rancid.
Larger fish that are higher on the food chain take longer to grow, putting them in longer contact with toxins like mercury and PCBs (carcinogenic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls). It’s best to avoid them and look for smaller fatty fish instead. Freeze them for two weeks before feeding, to avoid parasites that some fish may have.
Try to buy wild-caught fish and give your dog these fish whole and raw a couple of times a week. Your dog can have these frozen or thawed. Canned sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies (packed in water without added salt) are also good for your dog. A 40-50 lb dog can have a quarter of a 3.75 oz can per day along with the rest of his meal.
FOUR LEAF ROVER RECOMMENDED: Safe Sea green lipped mussel oil, with astaxanthin and ahiflower oil. it’s a sustainable source of omega fatty acids. Buy Safe Sea Now.
Other Seafood For Dogs
Here are some other types of seafood dog owners ask about when they’re wondering can dogs eat seafood …
Can Dogs Eat Shellfish?
There should be no problem with feeding your dog shellfish like shrimp, clams, mussels or oysters. They live in mineral-rich waters so they are naturally nutrient-dense.
First let’s focus more closely on shrimp …
Can Dogs Eat Shrimp?
Yes they can. Fresh, wild shrimp (including the shells, heads and tails) will provide your dog with a low-calorie protein. Shrimp has all of these valuable nutrients:
- Glucosamine from shrimp shells and tails. It supports joint health and repairs cartilage. As dogs get older, they produce less glucosamine so adding it is a great way to support mobility.
- Astaxanthin – a powerful antioxidant … and it’s also the reason shrimp are pink. It fights free radicals, reduces inflammation and boosts the immune system.
- Taurine, an amino acid that supports the heart, eyes, brain and immune system.
- Vitamin D3 (supports immune function), B12 (gastrointestinal health), B3 (Niacin) (energy production, blood circulation and enzyme function), phosphorus (healing).
Unfortunately, most grocery stores import farm-raised shrimp from various countries … and most packaging doesn’t list the country of origin. The problem with this is that shrimp farmers use antibiotics, disinfectants and pesticides to prevent shrimp disease and that means they contain harmful chemicals and toxins. Find trustworthy “clean” sources to be sure your shrimp is wild-caught.
Can Dogs Eat Mussels?
Yes, dogs can eat mussels. Bivalves like mussels, oysters and clams are rich in vitamin B12, protein, iron, zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus and selenium, as well as omega-3 fats. They are low on the food chain, so they have a lower risk of heavy metal contamination.
But they are filter feeders, so they can take in toxins from toxic microalgae such as dinoflagellates – tiny organisms that “bloom” in the summer. They produce a neurotoxin that affects muscle function and can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Temperate waters and seasons from late spring to early fall produce weather conditions that can affect the level of toxins in seafood. This is the reason you should only eat (or feed) raw oysters when there’s an “r” in the month.
Before feeding bivalves to your dog, you need to ensure they come from clean, cool waters and suppliers that do testing for contamination. You’ll need to remove them from the shells, or feed frozen shelled products if you can find them. Canned products are available but make sure they’re not smoked … or packaged in poor quality oil like soybean oil
Can Dogs Eat Salmon?
Fresh, raw salmon can provide your dog with omega-3s, vitamin D, protein and minerals like magnesium, potassium and iron. Salmon can benefit your dog’s skin, coat, immune system, cognitive function … and it’s got anti-inflammatory effects.
Like all seafood, you need to avoid farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is dosed with antibiotics … plus it’s been shown that they contain high levels of contaminants like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), known to be cancer-causing. And now genetically modified (GMO) salmon is being produced.
The FDA states GMO salmon is safe, but there are no studies on the long-term effects of eating GMO salmon. And it’s not labeled so you might not know. But generally those going to the effort of producing non-GMO salmon or wild-caught will state that on their labels.
You do need to be aware of salmon poisoning from the Neorickettsia helminthoeca parasite. It’s typically found in Pacific salmon. Bears or raccoons don’t seem to have a problem with it but it can make dogs ill and is even fatal. Freeing salmon for two weeks before feeding it to your dog should eliminate this parasite.
Don’t Feed These Seafoods
These foods can often be toxic or contaminated … so they’re not the best option for your dog.
Tilapia And Other Farmed Fish
Tilapia’s the fourth most consumed seafood in the US after shrimp, tuna and salmon. It’s popular for its mild taste … and it’s also the world’s second most farmed fish (after carp). And that’s not good because farmed fish is usually fed GMO corn and soy meal diets. Tilapia is low in omega-3s because farmed fish don’t eat omega-rich phytoplankton and other aquatic plants that provide these fats … and it’s high in omega-6s that can lead to inflammation.
Another concern with tilapia is that they’re are usually farmed with high levels of pesticides and antibiotics. Much of the world’s farmed tilapia comes from China where poor quality feeds are used and fish are grown in overcrowded muddy ponds. But the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) reports tilapia’s a safe choice in terms of mercury contamination.
If you feed tilapia, find out if it has an Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) seal. The ASC certifies tilapia farms have appropriate production standards. Unfortunately, only about 15% of tilapia sold in the US has this seal.
As noted earlier, large fish like tuna, walleye, marlin, swordfish, shark, sturgeon and bluefish should be avoided because they’re prone to high levels of mercury. Plus any species with a long lifespan, like tuna or swordfish can collect large amounts of heavy metals in their meat.
Albacore canned tuna is almost three times higher in mercury than skipjack tuna, used in most canned light tuna. But canned salmon from Alaska is low in contaminants.
Giving your dog imitation crab meat or fish sticks as a part of their regular diet offers no benefits. They’re made with poor quality ingredients along with fillers, sugar, sodium and binders that could cause concern in the long run.
Beware Of Allergies
As with any food, dogs can have an allergic reaction or a sensitivity to seafood.
The difference is that an allergic reaction will be immediate … usually in the form of a rash or swelling or even something more serious like heavy panting or trouble breathing. That’s your cue to avoid that food in the future.
But if it’s a sensitivity to these foods, it can take place over time so it might not be immediately noticeable. You may see signs like itching anywhere throughout the body, chewing or diarrhea. Stop feeding the new food and monitor whether it stops the symptoms.
What kind of seafood can dogs eat?
The best kind of seafood for dogs is small oily fish like sardines or mackerel, fed raw. They can also eat shellfish like shrimp or bivalves like mussels.
What seafood is bad for dogs?
Seafood that’s bad for dogs includes larger fish high on the food chain. They accumulate toxins like mercury by eating other fish and living longer lives. Farmed fish that are fed GMO corn and soy meals as well as antibiotics are also bad for dogs.
What happens if my dog ate seafood?
If your dog snagged some seafood off the counter, don’t worry, even if it’s seafood that’s not good for dogs. One meal won’t hurt him.
So it’s definitely worthwhile to feed your dog fish and seafood for the many nutritional benefits. Just choose your sources wisely to avoid farmed fish and fish with high mercury content. Keep in mind the environmental impact of feeding fish and don’t give it too often.