I’m guessing that if you’re browsing here, you enjoy fish.
I’ll bet your cat likes fish, too.
But did you know that your dog might be a fan?
Fish often pleases dogs, which is great news, because much of the human health benefit of the omega-3 fatty acids so plentiful in fish applies to dog health as well. To test your dog’s palate - and help your dog stay slim and healthy - you might start by mixing canned salmon or sardines into the familiar kibble. Should you see an empty bowl and vigorous wag, you’re in luck.
Why Fish Is Good For Dogs
Domestic dogs’ evolutionary path forked from wolves roughly 33,000 years ago. Since then, dogs' brains and digestive tracts have evolved in ways similar to the brains and guts of humans – probably because we’ve been sharing food for that long (Pappas, 2013).
That suggests the same foods that nourish and heal us, nourish and heal them. Given that many early humans were probably coast-dwellers, fish and shellfish were probably on our mutual menu from the start of our relationship.
So these days, you might notice that Gracie’s slower to get onto her feet on winter mornings and isn’t as active. These are possible signs of arthritis, which affects about one in five dogs. The Canine Arthritis Resources and Education Center, founded by a vet specializing in arthritis, suggests feeding her sardines or anchovies (Canine Arthritis Resources and Education, 2020).
Arthritic or not, Gracie may have succumbed to the lure of the couch. More than half of all dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, according to a survey in which veterinary clinics reviewed their records for 1,560 dogs (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 2018). They’re typical Americans in that way, alas. Fish is a leaner, lower-calorie substitute for beef. Also, its omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, working against the inflammation created by too many fat cells.
Commercial dog foods specifically for weight-loss tend to rely on chicken, though at least one is based on pollock (Solid Gold Fit and Fabulous) (Dog Food Advisor, 2020). However, you can find many dog foods that contain fish, if you’re prepared to pay more.
Consider fish an investment in your dog’s future: Inflammation causes a range of issues like arthritis in humans and animals. Beyond fighting inflammation, the omega-3s in fish protect the heart, fight cancer, and can prevent or treat high blood pressure, kidney trouble, and joint and skin problems in dogs (Bauer et al.,2011; Lennox et al., 2013).
For example, dogs were used in early research for the benefit of humans on the effect of omega-3s on heart arrhythmia. In a study of boxer-breed dogs with naturally occurring arrhythmias, fish oil supplements reduced the occurrence of the arrhythmia after six weeks (Freeman et al., 2010).
If Your Dog Has A Problem
Fish oil supplements might seem easier than feeding your fish to your dog, or your veterinarian may prescribe them to treat a disease.
Just be aware that an overdose puts your dog at risk of problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, and more (Lennox and Bauer, 2013). So you must speak with your vet before you treat your dog on your own. However, feeding your dog fish is unlikely to cause an omega-3 overdose.
Commercial dog foods designed for certain health problems pose different risks as a way to give your dog omega-3s. They may include more omega-3s than ordinary, less expensive food. But often the omega-3 dose is too low. Also, the label may tout “omega-3” but your dog will be getting flaxseed or canola oil rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which she can’t convert well enough to get the fatty acids she actually needs, EPA and DHA (Lenox and Bauer, 2013).
(By the way, this applies to humans, too. We are generally extremely inefficient converters of plant-based oils to omega-3s.)
The best move, veterinarians say, is to carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions for a fish-oil supplement or prescription dog food. Note the brand as well as the dose or quantities. Ask about adding fish to the menu; you might be able to use less of the prescription item. You can protect your dogs upfront by feeding them fish when they’re healthy.
Make Your Own
To maximize your dog’s fish consumption, consider making your own dog food. You’ll find lots of cookbooks. Barbara Taylor-Laino, the author of The Healthy Homemade Pet Food Cookbook, offers recipes combining pumpkin seeds, vegetables, canned pink salmon or other fish, and either chicken or beef liver. An organic farmer, Taylor-Laino says she’s sent her recipes to be tested for adherence to the Association of American Feed Control Officials' standards (Recipes for Dogs, 2015).
Most recipes rely on canned fish, which can be an excellent choice. Never feed fish raw to a pet! Although raw dog food is a trend, raw fish, especially inexpensive varieties in the grocery store, poses the risk of parasites and infection, and dogs can be more susceptible to these than people are.
And if fish for a dog seems a bit extravagant, remember that dogs are not choosy – they are just as happy with cheaper fish that you cook right in the oven next to your choice salmon.
Another option: if you are not a salmon-skin fan, peel it from your fillet after cooking, snip it up with kitchen shears and mix that into the regular food. Skin is a concentrated source of omega-3 fats.
Perhaps you’re no cook, even for adorable ever-loyal Gracie. It’s simple to add canned salmon or sardines to her usual rations. Bone appétit!
Bauer JE. Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. J Am Vet Med Assoc. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22087720/ Published Dec 1, 2011.
Do You Love Fish? For Dogs, It Can Be A Slimming Treat! Care.com. https://www.care.com/c/stories/6334/do-you-love-fish-for-dogs-it-can-be-a-slimm/ Published June 13, 2017.
Fish Oil for Dogs. Canine Arthritis Resources and Education https://caninearthritis.org/article/how-much-omega-3-fatty-acids-should-i-give-my-dog/#:~:text=Dogs%20specifically%20need%20EPA%20and,high%20levels%20of%20fish%20oil. Published January 21, 2020
Freeman LM. Beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular disease. J Small Anim Pract. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20673293/ Published July 29, 2010.
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How and Why to Cook Your Dog's Food. https://thebark.com/content/how-and-why-cook-your-dogs-food Published September 25, 2015.
Lenox CE, Bauer JE. Potential adverse effects of omega-3 Fatty acids in dogs and cats. J Vet Intern Med. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23323770/ Published 2013.
Pappas, S. (2013, March 06). Dogs Domesticated 33,000 Years Ago, Skull Suggests. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.livescience.com/27691-dogs-domesticated-oldest-skull.html
Recipes For Dogs: Barbara Laino's Homemade Dog Food. https://thebark.com/content/recipes-dogs-barbara-lainos-homemade-dog-food Published September 16, 2015.
The Best Dog Food For Weight Loss. Dog Food Adviser. https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/best-dog-foods/weight-loss-dog-foods/ Published April 1, 2020.
U.S. Pet Obesity Rates Plateau and Nutritional Confusion Grows. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. https://petobesityprevention.org/20182018.