Cats may be stereotyped as the household pets that enjoy eating fish, but what about dogs? Is it safe for dogs to eat seafood? And if so, what kind? Ann Hohenhaus, DVM and staff veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, provides guidelines for feeding your dog seafood below.
Can Dogs Have Seafood?
In short, dogs can have seafood. If you suspect your pet has a food allergy, a fish-based diet can be a good protein source. And, because fish is low in fat, feeding your dog fish can be a good option if your pet needs to lose weight.
“It is OK for dogs to have seafood,” says Hohenhaus. “Fish is a good source of protein. It’s rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which have health benefits like decreasing inflammation.”
Can Dogs Have Shrimp?
In addition to fish, dogs can also eat shrimp. Hohenhaus says shrimp can be a good source of protein in a dog’s diet and is low in fat (and tastes good!). Shrimp can also be used as a natural pill pocket, says Hohenhaus. Simply open the shrimp and slide the pill inside. One of biggest drawbacks to feeding your dog shrimp? It can be expensive, so if you’re cost-conscience, it may not be the best option.
How to Prepare Seafood
With all seafood, and shrimp especially, you’ll want to ensure that you cook it properly before feeding it to your pet. A Consumer Reports study released in 2015 found that 60 percent of 342 frozen shrimp samples intended for human consumption tested were contaminated with bacteria like salmonella, vibrio, listeria, and E. coli.
“We cook meat and fish to kill disease-causing microorganisms,” says Hohenhaus. “These organisms commonly cause gastrointestinal signs in humans who eat undercooked seafood or shellfish and the same is true for your pet. Severe infections can land your pet in the ER.”
When cooking seafood for your dog, skip the seasoning (it can also upset your stomach) and try steaming it to keep it low in calories.
Can Dogs Be Allergic to Shellfish?
“Dogs, at least in theory, could become allergic to seafood,” Hohenhaus says. “When people and animals are having [food] allergies, it’s almost always to the protein source.”
However, Hohenhaus says that she has never seen a dog who was allergic to seafood. In order to be allergic to a protein, you have to be exposed to it, and many dogs are not fed seafood. With a food allergy, the dog’s immune system recognizes the protein as foreign and reacts, says Hohenhaus. Signs of a dog who has food allergies include an upset stomach or itchy skin.
Tips on Introducing Seafood Into Your Dog’s Diet
If you’re thinking of introducing your dog to seafood, go slow. An abrupt change in diet can cause an upset stomach. Your dog also might not like the fish either. Experiment with small portions and see if your dog eats it.
Hohenhaus suggests starting with cheaper fish. She recommends using canned tuna or salmon (these fish are already cooked, so you don’t need to prepare it. The bones in canned salmon are high in calcium. Mash them up before your feed the bones to your dog to prevent choking), cod, tilapia or canned sardines. Unless you’re making it yourself, Hohenhuas recommends avoiding fish jerky since jerky can cause kidney problems in dogs.
You’ll also want to stay away from fish that could potentially be laced with heavy metals like mercury. “The heavy metals accumulate in fish that live a long time, like tuna and swordfish,” she says.
Dietary Concerns of a Fish-Based Diet
“Home cooked diets for pets are not without their risks,” she says. “Commercially prepared diets are complete and balanced for what scientists know the needs of dogs are.”
If you’re considering feeing your dogs a seafood-based diet, Hohenhaus recommends consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure the diet is nutritionally sound. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving your dog a diet that’s deficient in calcium or other key nutrients.
Additionally, if you decide to buy your pet a commercial, fish-based dog food to help with food allergies, she suggests double checking the label to ensure there’s no beef, turkey or chicken in it, as those proteins may have caused your pet allergy’s in the first place.
“When people and animals are having allergies, it’s almost always to the protein source,” says Hohenhaus.
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.