Can Dogs Eat Salmon? A Pet Nutrition Expert Weighs In
People eat it. Cats eat it. But can dogs eat salmon, too? Before adding this popular fish to your pooch's diet, here's how to decide if it's the right treat to share with your pup.
Is Salmon Ok for Dogs To Eat?
"Nutritionally, dogs are considered to be omnivores just like people. That means they can eat all kinds of meat, including fish," says Robert C. Backus, MS, DVM, Ph.D., Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Missouri, and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
But Should Dogs Eat Salmon?
While salmon isn't toxic or particularly harmful for dogs in small quantities, that doesn't necessarily mean you should be swapping your current bag of dog food for a pescatarian diet anytime soon, according to Backus. "Dogs need a complete, balanced diet and most commercially available pet foods already provide that," he says. "So adding salmon to your dog's diet must be done carefully to maintain this balance."
How Much Salmon Can Dogs Eat?
Backus notes that feeding your dog a little bit of salmon every day is likely ok, if it's given as a dietary addition. But what is a little? "If you're adding salmon on top of a complete, balanced diet, follow the 10 percent rule," Backus says. "Refrain from adding more than 10 percent of your dog's total daily calories. For example, if you have a golden retriever with a 1,000 daily caloric requirement, don't add more than another 100 calories."
He also says that calories for dogs are calculated in the same way as for humans, and suggests using an online calculator, like the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, to look up calories by weight for different foods, including salmon.
Nutritional Benefits of Salmon to Dogs
"Salmon contain essential fatty acids that deliver the same type of benefits to dogs as to humans," Backus says. "Some of these fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help dogs with dry skin problems."
There are vitamins and supplements specially formulated for dogs that can provide those extra omega-3s, however, rather than heading to the expensive fish counter for you pup.
Health Risks of Salmon to Dogs
"However, some dogs don't need extra fatty acids or the extra vitamin D which is also found in salmon," Backus says. "That's why it's best to check with a veterinarian about your dog's specific requirements, and the merits of supplemental foods before adding salmon to his diet."
Also, dogs should never eat raw or undercooked salmon. It may contain bacteria and parasites that can cause salmon poisoning disease (a.k.a. fish disease). Common symptoms of salmon poisoning include lack of appetite, vomiting, fever and diarrhea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes. Salmon poisoning is treatable if caught in time. But if untreated, 90 percent of dogs showing symptoms die—usually within 14 days of eating the infected fish.
What Type of Salmon Is Best For Dogs?
Fresh, canned, frozen, wild-caught, farm-raised—there are more variations of salmon to pick from than your pooch can shake a stick at. But which type is best for your dog's health?
"If you decide to add salmon to your dog's diet, select fish from the northern or southern latitudes," Backus says. "Salmon from cold water marine environments contain the most beneficial fatty acids because of the type of plankton consumed in their food chain." He says that as long as the salmon purchased is from one of these latitudes, it can be wild-caught or farm-raised, and fresh, canned or frozen. It's the origin of the fish that matters most.
How To Cook Salmon Safely for Your Dog
Salmon must be thoroughly cooked to be safe for your dog. It should reach an internal minimum temperature of 145 degrees, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
When preparing salmon for your dog, keep it simple. "Prior to cooking, completely debone the fish filet, and then poach, steam, or broil it. Remove salmon skin before serving because it's extra fatty and adds calories," Backus says. He also recommends that no oil, butter, salt, pepper, garlic, onions, or other seasonings be added. These ingredients can cause health issues and aren't needed for this naturally tasty fish to impress your dog. He adds, "Remember, dogs aren't as discriminating as we are. At least most aren't!"