Is Fish in Dog Food Better than Meat? Comparing Your Protein Choices in Dog Foods

Is Fish in Dog Food Better than Meat?
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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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 meals are very protein-rich. In fact, when taking a look at the biological value of fish, which measures the number of available amino acids in 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 its 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 tend to be from 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 your dog's food choice if you’re concerned about any possible issues.

Can Dogs Eat Fish?

You may have noticed your dog looking longingly at the fish you eat. Since fish makes an excellent protein source, you may wonder whether you will offer it fish. The answer is yes, dogs can eat fish and it is perfectly okay to provide your canine with a bowl of fish. The species can be the center point of your dog's nutritious and healthy diet. You can serve cooked fish to your dog.

Fish is good for your dog

A wide number of fishes are perfectly safe for dogs. The list of commonly available fishes which you can unhesitatingly feed your dog includes herring, flounder, salmon pike, and ocean whitefish. You can steam, grill, or bake the fish before you give these to the dog. Do not include extras like seasoning. Your dog has no taste sensation for pepper and salt, and there is no compulsion to make the fish tastier for the canine's consumption. Do not add greasing options like oil sprays, butter, and oil. Keep the fish simple and plain. Always buy boneless fillets. No bones must be present in the fish which will be presented to your dog.

Long-lived fishes like swordfish and tuna fish have heavy metals accumulated in their bodies. These could lead to health concerns due to the specific presence of mercury. It is a wise decision not to give your dog any long-lived fish species. Provide only fishes having shorter life spans. If you are undecided as to whether you will give your dog raw fish or cooked ones, opt for the latter. There is a chance of parasites getting entry into the dog's body through eating raw fish. Other than the dog, such germs may negatively affect your health and other humans' health too.

Healthy and balanced meal choice

Fish can be excellent sustaining healthy meal and nutrition source for your dog. The corollary in this respect is that it must be cooked properly. The species makes for a superb protein-rich source, having abundant quantities of omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of fish will decrease inflammation. It is excellent for dogs suffering from food allergies.

Fish is not a common staple in standard canine food. It is an excellent alternative source of protein to turkey, chicken, and beef. Give your dogfish if it suffers from nutritional allergies. In case your veterinarian prescribes a fish diet, follow it exactly to the letter. Not doing so will result in multiple nutritional deficiencies. In case you cook the food yourself, make sure the recipe is in accordance with a board-certified nutritionist. Allow your dog to eat as much fish as it wants to consume. The fish makes a balanced and complete diet. Other than protein, you must also include ingredients having antioxidants and vitamins. This is why a balanced diet is needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is fish in dog food good for dogs?

Fish can be a healthy and beneficial ingredient in dog food for most dogs. Fish is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for a dog's overall health and well-being. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits, including supporting healthy skin and coat, reducing inflammation, and promoting brain development. However, it is important to note that not all dogs can tolerate fish in their diet. Some dogs may have a fish allergy, which can cause skin irritation, digestive upset, or other allergic reactions. Additionally, some types of fish may contain high levels of mercury or other contaminants, which can be harmful to dogs if consumed in large amounts over time. When selecting a dog food that contains fish, it is important to choose a high-quality brand that uses responsibly sourced ingredients and undergoes rigorous testing to ensure its safety and nutritional value. Additionally, if you are uncertain about whether your dog can tolerate fish, it is best to consult with your veterinarian before adding it to their diet.

Which is healthier, fish or meat?

Both fish and meat can be healthy for dogs, as they provide different nutritional benefits. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation, improve brain function, and support healthy skin and coat. Some types of fish, such as salmon, are also high in protein, vitamins, and minerals like vitamin D and selenium. Meat, on the other hand, is a good source of protein and essential amino acids that dogs need to build and repair muscle, bone, and other tissues. Meat also contains iron, zinc, and other important minerals that dogs need for overall health. It's important to note that not all types of fish and meat are created equal when it comes to nutritional value. Some types of fish, such as tuna, can be high in mercury, which can be harmful in large amounts. Similarly, some types of meat, such as processed meats like hot dogs or deli meat, can be high in salt and preservatives. Overall, a healthy and balanced diet for dogs should include a variety of protein sources, including both fish and meat, as well as fruits and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and minerals.

Can my dog eat fish every day?

While fish can be a healthy addition to a dog's diet, it may not be ideal for feeding fish every day. This is because some types of fish can be high in mercury, which can build up in a dog's system over time and lead to health problems. In addition, feeding the same type of protein every day may not provide all of the essential nutrients that a dog needs for optimal health. A varied diet that includes a variety of protein sources, including fish, meat, and plant-based proteins, can help ensure that a dog is getting a well-rounded balance of nutrients. In some cases, fish may be an important part of a dog's daily diet if they require a hypoallergenic, novel source of protein to manage medical conditions such as allergies, arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease. In these situations, a veterinarian may recommend a special diet that is formulated with a single source of protein, such as fish, to help identify and manage any food allergies or sensitivities. In some cases, a fish-based diet may be the only option for dogs with severe food allergies or intolerances.

What fish is not good for dogs?

Some types of fish can be harmful to dogs and should be avoided or fed in moderation. Raw fish, particularly salmon, can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause illness in dogs, such as salmon poisoning disease. Some types of fish, such as tuna, swordfish, and shark, can be high in mercury, which can be toxic to dogs in large amounts. Small, sharp bones in fish can pose a choking hazard or cause damage to a dog's digestive system if swallowed. Fried fish and fish prepared with added salt or seasonings can be high in fat and sodium, which can be harmful to dogs in large amounts. If you're unsure whether a particular type of fish is safe for your dog to eat, it's best to consult a veterinarian before feeding it to them.

Is fish hard to digest for dogs?

Fish is generally easy for dogs to digest, especially when it's cooked and served without bones. In fact, many commercial dog foods contain fish as a protein source because it is highly digestible and provides a good source of essential nutrients. Fish is often recommended as a protein source for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies because it has lower fat levels and less dense muscle fiber, which can make it easier to digest and more easily tolerated by dogs with digestive issues. Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in dogs with conditions such as arthritis, skin allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease. However, it's important to note that some dogs may be sensitive or allergic to certain types of fish or fish-based diets. In these cases, fish may be difficult to digest and can cause digestive upset or other health issues.

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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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