Adding fish into your dog’s diet

Words By Gemma Sheehy

March 11, 2020

📷 Photographer: Grier Morris-Obst

Dogs love fish! And what’s not to love? For people and doggos alike, fish is full of flavour, nutrition, and benefits. Add fish to your dog’s diet and you’ll start to see the benefits reflected in their skin, coat and general health.

Unless you’re a fish foodie, you might be seeking more information before diving into feeding your dog (more) fish. It’s not just why fish is such a winning addition to your dog’s diet, but how you can start using its goods for your dog.

What are benefits in feeding your dog fish?

Where to begin? Fish is like the holy grail of seafood, with more benefits than we can shake a stick at (and then throw it). While every breed and type of fish shares a slightly unique nutrient profile, they all share some of the same key benefits that make fish so good for your dog.

WAG fish tail treats

They might at first look fishy, but Fish Tails are swimming with benefits. 📷 Photographer: Amy Whitfield

The benefits are numerous, but chiefly they span nutrition, taste and stomach sensitivities.

Nutritious

Fish might be small, but its nutritional benefits are mighty. Fish are absolutely jam-packed full of Omega-3 fatty acids – EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). These acids are essential components of your doggo’s daily diet and boast some expansive health benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are renowned for being anti-inflammatory, meaning they benefit dogs that experience inflammatory conditions like joint pain, arthritis, or irritable bowel issues. They are a key part of brain and vision development in dogs and are particularly essential for the healthy development of immune function in puppies.

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats and they can turn your dog’s coat from drab to fabulous. Improved skin condition, glossy fur, and reduced irritation are some of the things you can expect when feeding your dog fish.

Palatable for picky dogs

You don’t need us to tell you that fish can be stinky.

Fish is a unique meat, due its particularly pungent smell and flavour. Interestingly, fish don’t smell any worse than other meat until they’re out of the sea. When they’re alive and living in the ocean, fish rely on a chemical called trimethylamine oxide (or TMAO) to maintain fluid balance, and to counter the extreme saltiness of the sea. But when they die, this chemical is converted to trimethylamine (or TMA), which is where their recognisably fishy scent comes from.

When you’re plating up fish for your doggo, it’s almost guaranteed to smell strong. This isn’t always so pleasant for us, but it’s practically heaven for our dogs.

Why do dogs love the smell of fish?

A dog’s ability to taste is very weak compared to humans. Their taste buds are just not designed to the same complexity that ours are. But their sense of smell is millions of times stronger than any humans.

Because smell and taste are so closely related, it’s this super-power of a smelling ability that allows dogs to taste flavours more intensely. And as you might have deduced, the smellier a food, the more a dog is able to taste it.

We wrinkle our nose in disdain at the characteristic odour of fish, but our dogs are doing the opposite. Tempt your dog with the pungent scent of fish – it might be exactly what they need to dig in.

Fish are hypoallergenic

We’ve spoken before about how food allergies develop in dogs. But if you’re looking for a recap:

Food allergies can develop at random and often take a long time to fully develop. A food your dog once enjoyed could suddenly cause an allergic reaction. If your dog hasn’t encountered a food, it’s nearly impossible for them to have a pre-existing allergy.

Some foods contain ingredients that are more sensitive than others. They’re less likely to contribute to a food allergy even if your doggo has eaten it regularly. Fish is one of them, because of its relative rarity in diet and its sensitive nature. It’s definitely suited to dogs that struggle with allergies or food sensitivity.

The best ways to add fish to your dog’s diet

How does one pick fish for their pooch? Should you choose the tuna in a can? The mackerel from the deli, the basa from the frozen section? And how much does it matter, anyway?

Dog eating shark cartilage on grass

Sourced ethically, shark is one of the tip-top treats to give your dog for coat health and shine. 📷 Photographer: Amy Whitfield

There’s no limit to the ways you can include fish in your dog’s daily meal. Add it in with treats or breakfast and dinner, from fresh to cooked and more. Fish is fantastic on its own or as a way to spice up a kibble diet.

When making additions to your dog’s diet, it’s important to keep those additions at 15% or under of your dog’s daily serving. This will prevent you disturbing the balance of their meal, ensuring you are adding to their health rather than reducing it.

Consider mercury levels when you’re adding fish to your dog’s diet

Keep mercury content in mind when feeding fish. As a general rule, the smaller the fish, the smaller the dose of mercury. The larger the fish, the larger the mercury content. So to maintain a safe and healthy balance of mercury, it’s wise to feed smaller fish more regularly, and spread apart meals that feature large species of fish.

Too much mercury in a diet can actually lead to mercury poisoning. In rare cases, it can even be fatal.

Fresh fish

If fresh fish is something you can regularly access, it’s a tip-top way to bring your dog’s dinner from silver to gold-standard. Fish can be fed both cooked or raw – provided it has been stored safely in the refrigerator and not at risk of carrying harmful bacteria or contaminants.

The very best kinds of fresh fish to feed are:

  • salmon
  • whitefish
  • whiting
  • salmon
  • tuna

When buying canned fish, ensure it’s always packed in water – not oil – and keep it totally free of any seasonings or additional ingredients.

Dehydrated fish

If you’re not down with the slippery, slimy and pungent nature of fresh fish, dehydrated fish might be just what you’re looking for. Fish is a short-living meat and won’t last long in your fridge, but dehydrated fish can be shelf stable for months or even years.

We’ve helpfully put together a list of the best fish dog treats you can confidently give your dog. An unconventional choice of “fish” – more seafood, really – might be the superfood hero, green lipped mussels. Especially good for a dose of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.

When dehydrated, there’s no need to deal with the goop or gunk that comes with handling, cutting and portioning up fresh fish. They come pre-packaged and pre-prepared, perfect for the time-poor pet owner. Sourcing dehydrated snacks means you can get your hands on less common fish and seafood treats, like shark skin, cartilage, mussels and more. Each with just as enormous health benefits.

Fish oil

Fish is ultra-beneficial in its raw form. But if you’re looking for those bottled health benefits, fish oil is what you want.

When buying fish oil, you’re buying pure DHA and EPA (the Omega-3 fatty acid mentioned) that have been extracted from whole fish. Fish oil is convenient as you can buy it bottled or jarred, and it generally has an impressive shelf life. If you’re ultra-sensitive to the smell of fish, but still want your dog to reap the benefits, you can even buy fish oil that is completely scentless.

According to the Canine & Conditioning Rehabilitation Group, supplementing a dog’s diet with fish oil doesn’t enrich their overall health enough. For the best results, they recommend calculating your doggo’s daily usage of 20mg per 400g of body weight.

Add more fish to your dog’s diet with gusto

Now you know exactly what makes fish a winning food. Feel confident knowing how and why giving your dog fish will only improve their health and happiness.

Author

Gemma Sheehy

If there's one thing Gemma's passionate about in life, it's dogs. When she's not writing about them at WAG she's living, breathing, walking and snuggling with her own. Besides dog shows and sporting events on the weekends, Gemma is partial to cooking (sometimes) healthy meals, watching horror movies and making records for time spent in pyjamas.