Can dogs eat fish? Yes, they can. Fish is an excellent source of proteins for dogs, with high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
But you can buy wild-caught fish or farmed fish. So … does it matter where your dog’s fish comes from? Yes, it does. Dogs should only eat fish from wild-caught sources.
Here’s what you need to know about wild caught vs farmed fish.
What Is Wild-Caught Fish?
Wild-caught fish are raised and fished in their natural habitats of rivers, lakes and oceans. They feed on food sources in those environments. And those sources are more diverse than what’s fed fish raised in captivity.
Wild seafood is usually more expensive than farmed. There’s growing demand for wild-caught fish as consumers learn to choose wild fish over farmed fish for its healthier nutrition profile.
Are Wild-Caught Fish Organic?
It’s difficult to have organic fish as you’d need to control the habitat … the river, lake or ocean … and that isn’t possible.
So, can dogs still eat fish and get nutritional benefits?
Benefits Of Wild-Caught Fish For Dogs
Fish offers great nutritional benefits for your dog. Wild fish eat foods like kelp, algae, seaweed or smaller fish. Because of this diverse diet, wild fish have more vitamins and minerals than farmed fish. Depending on the species, fish provide protein and vitamins A, D and B2 (riboflavin). And they have moderate to small amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, copper and iodine.
But the biggest benefit is the high omega-3 fatty acid content.
High Source Of Omega-3s
Fish are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And the omega-3 content has led to high consumer demand for fish and fish oil. These fats are essential in brain, eye, heart and immune health in people as well as pets. Omega-3s are also anti-inflammatory.
Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, lake trout and herring are the best sources of omega-3 fats. Salmon oil is the popular go-to fish oil for those looking to feed their dogs omega-3 fats. But most consumer salmon is from fish farms, making it one of the most toxic foods fed to dogs. Let’s look at this a bit later.
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon has a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and fewer toxins. So if you want to feed fish or fish oil to your dog, be sure it comes from wild-caught fish.
And don’t be influenced by fish from seemingly acceptable places. “Norwegian salmon” sounds like it’s probably wild … bu tin fact it’s usually farmed. Any place can have fish farming operations.
Can Dogs Eat Raw Fish?
Yes, it’s fine for dogs to eat raw fish … but some fish can carry parasites, so in most cases you’ll want to freeze it first. Click on the link below to learn more about safely feeding raw fish to dogs.
RELATED: Can dogs eat raw fish?
Can Dogs Eat Wild-Caught Fish?
Yes, they can for the benefits listed. But you need to know a few things.
As reported in Live Science in 2009, global statistics show that 50% of the world’s seafood comes from wild sources and fish farming operations. And the farmed fishing industry is on the increase. And that’s a problem.
As well as consumer demand, there’s increasing demand for wild fish from the fish farming industry. Wild fish are fed to farmed fish. This increasing demand for farmed fish threatens the sustainability of wild fish.
That can lead to environmental issues such as overfishing and bycatch. Bycatch is when unintended fish and creatures get caught in the nets, and get destroyed or discarded.
Hatcheries spawn, hatch and monitor fish, to supplement depleted supplies. They transfer fish to fish farms or release them into the wild. You might think that raising fish in hatcheries and releasing them into the wild is a good thing. But it’s not. It’s an unnatural increase in numbers. By sheer volume these fish compete with wild fish for their habitat and food. Fish in hatcheries are also more contaminated than wild fish, just like their farmed cousins
Larger, older fish in the wild contain higher levels of mercury accumulated from the smaller fish they eat. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, orange roughy, tilefish and fresh and frozen tuna have the highest accumulation and pose the most risk. But when fed to your dog in moderation on a monthly basis, the benefits can outweigh the risks.
You’ll want to avoid feeding your dog wild-caught fish from the Pacific ocean. Research shows that Pacific salmon now contain radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Now let’s look at farmed fish.
What Are Farmed Fish?
Farmed fish are commercially raised in enclosures (tanks, pens or netted areas) within lakes, rivers and oceans. There are varying degrees of farmed fish. Some “wild” seafood and fish begin life in a hatchery and get released into the wild. Other farmed fish begin life in the wild and are caught and put in pens.
Is Farmed Fish Good For Dogs?
No, it’s not. There’s a parallel between factory-farmed animals and farmed fish. It’s mostly because of the inferior food they’re fed and how they’re raised. Here are the problems.
Large amounts of antibiotics are placed in the water to prevent disease. If your dog eats farmed fish, he’s eating antibiotics.
The diet of farmed fish is very similar to the diet of factory-farmed animals like cows. And it’s completely different than the food a wild fish eats. Farmed fish get fed monocrops such as soy, corn and canola, so it’s a restricted and inflammatory diet. And that brings us to GMOs …
The grains and soy fed are among the top GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops. GM plants get “modified” to be resistant to insects, viruses and weeds. But many food sensitivities and inflammation gets traced back to GMOs. By genetically modifying a plant, it affects a food’s nutritional value and can have a toxic or allergic effect.
Studies have found GMOs have been found to cause damage to liver, kidney, pancreas, reproductive organs, and the immune system. So GMOs are in the grains fed to the animal or fish, where they settle in their meat. Additionally, grains are inflammatory so any animal eating them retains the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that get passed to your dog in his food.
A study by de Vendemois et al compared the effects of feeding three different types of GMO corn to rats. It took place for just 90 days. The rats developed toxicity … primarily in the liver and kidneys.
And if you buy salmon, the fish themselves may be genetically modified.
Genetically modified, farmed salmon is FDA approved. Scientists modified Atlantic salmon so that they would be hungry year-round. This helps farmers grow the fish to market size much quicker.
GMO salmon is supposedly safe but there isn’t any research showing the long term effects of eating it. And studies show that other GM foods can lead to organ damage, digestive issues and allergies.
There’s no labeling required for GM salmon, so you don’t even know you’re buying it.
Farmed fish live in crowded conditions that cause stress and illness (leading to more antibiotics!). Lack of exercise also results in higher levels of fat vs lean protein. And it means farmed fish contain fewer vitamins and minerals.
Farmed fish have a higher fat content. With more total fat, they have a higher level of omega-3s. But they have an even higher level of omega-6s because of the inflammatory, GMO grains. So the fats aren’t balanced. So you’re not really giving your dog the benefits of omega-3 fats.
Check The Source
Most salmon oil (especially from Canada and Norway) comes from farmed salmon. Farmed fish are much higher in toxins than wild fish … and they have a lot more omega-6 fats.
Farmed fish eat pellets made of grains and fish meal from other fish. Then fish oils get added to the mix. This is the method used to achieve rapid growth. They’re fed a lot over a short period of time so the toxins accumulate in the fish. Other chemicals from farming also pollute the waters so fish may contain carcinogens like PCBs, dioxins and even banned insecticides.
Farmed salmon, especially, contains dangerous levels of PCBs and dioxins as well as insecticides like dieldrin and toxaphene. PCBs are banned but they still exist in the environment. And dioxins are carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines say that one meal of farmed salmon a month can pose unacceptable risks to cancer.
A 2004 Harvard study looked at PCBs in farm-raised salmon from feed made from smaller fish like herring and anchovies. This study found the PCB concentrations in farm-raised salmon were almost eight times higher than the concentrations in wild salmon (36.63 parts per billion vs. 4.75).
So this concentration of toxins passes to your dog if he’s fed farmed fish or processed food.
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How Can You Tell Wild Fish From Farmed Fish?
The best way to tell the difference is from the color. But even that can be deceotuve. Farmed fish like salmon are gray in color … not that recognizable deep, reddish orange color known as salmon pink. So producers cheat and add natural and artificial colorants to the fish meal they feed. So then your dog’s eating farmed fish as well as artificial colorings!
The flesh of farmed fish has a lot more fatty marbling. You’ll see wavy white lines since they aren’t burning fat by fighting against upstream currents as they would in the wild.
Fish is an excellent source of protein for your dog … but you need to feed wild-caught fish and even then, shop carefully.
Vendomois, JS, et al. A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci. 2009; 5(7): 706–726.
Chen J, Cooke MW, Mercier JF, Trudel M, Kellogg J, Cullen JT. 210Po in Pacific Salmon from the West Coast of Canada and its Contribution to Dose by Ingestion. Health Phys. 2019 Sep;117(3):248-253.
Au, W. (2009). Aquaculture: Environmental, toxicological, and health issues. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 212(4), pp.369-377.