Does your dog beg for a taste of fish when you are cooking? Perhaps you have been tempted to toss your dog a bite of raw fish while you are preparing a meal. Fish is a common ingredient in dog foods and dogs often love the taste of it. It's high in healthy protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are essential to dogs. But is it safe for dogs to eat raw fish? The short answer is sometimes.
Is Raw Fish Safe for Dogs?
In general, it may be best to prevent your dog from eating any kind of raw fish--especially if it's raw fish that you wouldn't eat. Raw fish may contain harmful pathogens like bacteria and parasites. It may also contain dangerous heavy metals and bones. Any of these can make dogs and humans sick.
Even if your dog is unaffected by pathogens in raw fish, there is a possibility that cross-contamination will spread the pathogens to you or other people. Humans and dogs with weakened or compromised immune systems should stay away from raw fish. In addition, very young or very elderly humans and animals are at a greater risk of getting sick from the pathogens in raw fish.
Fish may contain potentially harmful bacteria like salmonella and listeria. Some dogs will not be affected by the bacteria. This is, in part, due to the dog's short digestive system. In addition, some of their immune systems are capable of protecting the dogs from the bacteria.
Raw fish may contain parasites. While some parasites are able to pass through a dog harmlessly, others will make a dog very sick. Salmon and other fish that swim upstream may have a deadly parasite, especially wild salmon caught in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA. Salmon poisoning may occur, leading to death if untreated.
Fish contains heavy metals like lead and mercury. Eating high amounts of raw or cooked fish can create a buildup of mercury in the body, possibly leading to toxicity or other health concerns down the road.
The small bones in fish can sometimes be chewed and digested by dogs, but there is also a risk of these tiny bones getting caught on the way to the stomach, A dog can choke on fish bones or suffer injuries to the esophagus and stomach. Once in the stomach, the bones are usually softened by gastric acids and then digested by the body. However, some dogs will experience difficulty with the digestion of fish bones.
How Much Raw Fish Can Dogs Eat?
If you want to be safe, it's best to only feed your dog small amounts of cooked fish with no added fat, sauce, or seasoning. However, if your dog has known food allergies or sensitivities, then it's best to completely avoid adding a new ingredient to your dog's diet.
If you wish to feed your dog raw fish, make sure it is cleaned and considered safe for human consumption. Avoid feeding raw wild-caught fish that swim upstream (like salmon) as it may contain a deadly parasite.
Raw fish preparations like sushi, sashimi, and poke bowls are not entirely safe. While plain, raw, sushi-grade fish is usually fine in small amounts, the other ingredients in these dishes may be harmful. Plain white rice is safe. Some fruits and veggies are safe in small amounts, but some foods are toxic to dogs. In addition, any parts of these dishes that you give your dog should be free of salt, seasoning, sauces, and added fats.
Whether cooked or raw, it's best to feed fish as a supplemental treat or part of a complete and balanced homemade diet. Remember that treats, even fish, should never make up more than 10 percent of a dog's regular diet.
What to Do If Your Dog Gets Sick From Raw Fish
Many dogs are able to tolerate raw fish, but some dogs will get sick. If your dog develops any signs of illness after eating raw fish, be sure to contact your veterinarian for advice.
If you believe your dog ate raw salmon from the Pacific Northwest, contact your vet even before your dog shows signs.
Raw or undercooked animal-source protein in cat and dog diets. American Veterinary Medical Foundation
Salmon Poisoning Disease. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
What every pet owner should know about food allergies. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University
What are safe and healthy treats for my pet? Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University