Can My Dog Eat Fish?
Most dogs love the smell and taste of fish (unlike me 🤢), so it’s a great addition to their dinner. And even better, fish is one of the best ways to add “good” fats to their diet, which improves skin and coat condition - and so much more!
Fish is a nutrient dense food containing a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but most importantly it’s an excellent source of Omega-3. With most dog foods being not containing enough Omega-3 (or worse, containing rancid or oxidised fats..) fresh fish is an excellent addition to your dogs diet.
Health Benefits Of Fish
Fish is a great source of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), in particular DHA and EPA which form part of what we refer to as “Omega-3”. These fats are essential to a healthy coat and skin, as well as improving cognitive function and reducing inflammation in the body.
EFA’s also impact your dogs “mood” or behaviour! One study shows that dogs with aggressions issues had lower levels of DHA and a higher level of Omega-6 than dogs without aggression issues.
Deficiencies in EFA’s can lead to poor immune function, skin and coat conditions, vision difficulties and other serious health problems. So it’s vital to have a good source of Omega-3 in your dogs diet.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
ALA - α-linolenic acid
EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid
DHA - docosahexaenoic acid
ALA is typically found in plant matter (like flaxseed), while EPA and DHA are found in marine animals. While your dog is able to synthesis EPA and DHA from ALA, it is only in limited amounts. This is why the NRC nutritional guidelines list EPA and DHA as dietary requirements. As there aren’t many other food sources of EPA + DHA, feeding fish can be a really important addition to your dogs diet.
Ensuring the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is balanced is critical to your dog’s health. The ideal balance we are looking for is between 6:1 and 3:1. It’s important to note that providing the full spectrum of fats is really important - we need a dietary source of DHA and EPA, not just ALA.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is fish!
Diets containing Omega-3 from ALA only (so plant matter, with no fish) are less effective at modifying inflammatory and immune responses. One study showed that diets containing fish outperformed diet containing flaxseed with the same Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio. So if your dog is able to eat fish it should absolutely be a part of their diet.
HOW TO FEED
If the food you are feeding your dog does not contain fresh fish, you can still add it to their diet. The easiest way to do this is to feed tinned sardines or mackerel, available from your local supermarket. Try to get the fish in spring water if possible, as oil it will contain high amounts of Omega-6. You can also get fresh sardines at your local fish monger. When feeding fresh fish be mindful of small bones, and grind or mince the fish if needed.
Whether you feed canned or fresh, the type of fish you feed is important. You want to feed a small, oily fish to avoid heavy metal buildup and to make sure you get all the benefits from the fats. Avoid farmed fish like salmon (which seems to be the only type you can easily get in Australia), and larger fish like tuna.
We use two types of fish in our Whoa Nelly Dog Food: WA sardines and Moreton Bay mullet. Both are sustainably caught, oily fish with different fat profiles. We are rotating through both based on availability to provide the best fat profile we possibly can, and the make sure there is lots of EPA + DHA in our food.
If supplementing, the optimal amount to feed depends on many factors. This includes the age of your dog and their current diet.
Dogs fed a kibble based diet will likely need more fish to help reduce the inflammatory effects of processed food high in Omega-6. One recommendation is to aim for 50 to 75mg of EPA + DHA combined per kg of body weight. That works out (roughly) to 100g of tinned sardines per 7kg of bodyweight. This of course is a general guideline and there are many factors at play. Even adding even one tin of sardines a week will make an enormous difference to their health and wellbeing. If you are feeding a dry food diet, please add fish to their
For advice specific to your dogs needs you can contact me here to arrange a nutrition consultation.
WHAT ABOUT FISH OIL?
Fish oil can be handy as it is a concentrated form of fish, and can help promote the health benefits we have discussed. The issue with fish oils is that they oxidise quickly when exposed to air - which is the second you open the bottle. This oxidation causes the fats to go rancid, and negates much of the benefits we are trying to achieve through adding high quality Omega-3 fats to the diet. For this reason I do not recommend supplementing with fish oil - feed fresh fish instead!