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Is Fish in Dog Food Better than Meat?

Comparing Your Protein Choices in Dog Foods

By Lauren Leonardi. February 08, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Is Fish in Dog Food Better than Meat?

Many dog owners have reservations about giving their pup food where the primary protein is derived from fish. How do they compare to meat based foods? There are a number of advantages, as well as potential disadvantages, to feeding your dog seafood based foods.

Dogs today certainly have a lot of choices when it comes to the food they eat. Just taking a look at your average supermarket pet aisle, you’ll see an amazing range of styles and flavors, everything from turkey with gravy, to beef and barley, to fish and sweet potato.

If you’re like many dog owners, you may be curious about seafood as the main protein and how these foods stack up against meat based foods. Are fish based dog foods the right choice for your pet?

In fact, there are a number of advantages, as well as potential disadvantages, to feeding your dog seafood based foods.

Advantages of Seafood-Based Dog Foods

To start with, fish and fish meal are very protein rich. In fact, when taking a look at the biological value of fish, which measures the amount of available amino acids in a food, we see that fish meal is very high on the scale, coming in at a value of around 92 out of 100.

As you likely know, amino acids are of utmost necessity in keeping a dog healthy, active, and long lived. Dogs that do not get enough of the essential amino acids in their diets can have a range of health problems, including impaired immune systems and problems with their skin and coats.

Fish, and fish-containing dog foods, can have an especially high level of omega-3 fatty acids, which is why people give fish oil to dogs and cats. These nutrients are key to your dog’s overall health and especially the health of their skin. Even if you do feed your dog a fish-based diet, you may want to supplement with additional omega-3s in the form of fish oil, to really see the health benefits of these fatty acids.

Disadvantages of Seafood Based Dog Foods

Despite these nutritional benefits, some dog experts and dog owners believe that the disadvantages of seafood-based foods are serious enough to question their value.

To begin with, although many dogs enjoy the taste of seafood flavored meals and although these meals are high in available protein, a dog cannot get all of their nutritional needs through fish alone. Make sure this “sea-faring” food does contain all of the needed vitamins and minerals by looking for a “complete and balanced” label approved by the AAFCO. Dog foods labeled “fish formula” or “fish recipe” will contain other meats and proteins besides fish, which is a good thing, unless your dog has a specific allergy you’re trying to avoid. The other protein sources help to make the food more nutritionally balanced.

A more serious charge against fish based meals is the possibility that the fish have high levels of heavy metals in their systems, which your dog then ingests. This is common in long lived fish like tuna, Mahi-Mahi, swordfish, and other top end predator fish. Short lived fish like jack mackerel, herring, or catfish do not accumulate these heavy metals to the same degree and are safer choices. Much of the fish meal used in dog foods tends to be from the shorter lived fish resources.

Some fish meals that end up in commercial dog foods are preserved with a chemical known as ethoxyquin. The amount of ethoxyquin used is likely of no harm to your pet in any way, but the negative connotations of synthetic preservatives turn some consumers away.

Of course, any fish that lives in the ocean will be exposed to some small amount of pollutants or heavy metals. Talk to your vet about you dog food choice if you’re concerned about any possible issues.

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered
Previous: Which Protein for Dogs is Best?
Next: Are Soy and Corn in Dog Food Okay?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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