Dog food proteins come in many varieties. The conventional options usually come in chicken, beef, lamb, and pork. There are also novel proteins like duck, buffalo, kangaroo, wild boar, elk, and bison — most of which are typically used in elimination diets to treat canine allergies.
Then there are seafood proteins like fish (e.g. tuna, tilapia, herring, halibut, etc.). When you ‘re wondering if your pooch can eat fish, you’ve likely thought of giving her tuna since it’s commonly available in the market. It’s also a great human source of healthy fats, but is it the same for dogs?
Is Tuna Good for Dogs?
Recommended foods for dogs with sensitive stomachs usually have fish proteins for ingredients because they tend to be easier to digest. Hence, tuna is generally a safe fish protein for dogs. Also, if you are ever going to feed tuna, make sure that you remove the fish bones as these can damage your dog’s internal organs.
Although tuna is not necessarily poisonous to dogs, most experts recommend avoiding it entirely as a source of protein and then go for other fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel). It may not be the healthiest fish meal for dogs due to the size and longevity of most species of tuna.
The Case Against Tuna
Compared to tilapia and salmon, tuna has a much higher mercury content. This is why even humans are advised not to eat it too often. But where does the mercury come from?
Mercury is produced by industrial activities in factories and this industrial waste ends up in our water systems (e.g. rivers, lakes, oceans). In the fish that live in these waters, mercury accumulates over time. Within their environments, of course, larger fish with longer lives are expected to produce more mercury.
As tuna grows big and lives long, the mercury content of their meat will be high. Therefore, veterinarians and canine nutritionists suggest that if you really want to feed some fish in your pooch, it’s better to choose a fish with a lower content of mercury.
So, Should I Stay Away from Tuna Completely?
Your dog will be able to handle a small amount of tuna just fine. The risk of eating tuna — for both humans and dogs — is mercury poisoning. Listed below are some notable symptoms of canine mercury poisoning:
- Kidney damage
- Hair loss
- Bloody diarrhea
- Bloody vomit
- Loss of coordination
- Numbness in paws
If you realized that your dog has just eaten tuna and is displaying any of these symptoms, go to your veterinarian ASAP. Urgent action is necessary to have a fighting chance of reversing the damage.
What Can They Eat: Raw or Cooked Tuna?
Do not feed your dog (or raw fish in general) with raw tuna, please, as it is very dangerous. Raw fish are often filled with bacteria and worms, which are usually killed by cooking. Just as we discourage unhealthy food preparation, we must also apply the same concerns about the homemade food of our dogs.
Although dogs are carnivores because of their ancestry, they can technically eat raw food, in the end, it is better to be safe than sorry. Let’s not try to test for the sake of novelty how big their stomachs are. If you’re cooking the wrong tuna meal for your pet, and your dog doesn’t seem to be allergic to it, she should be okay with that.
Which Types of Tuna are Good for Dogs?
Around 15 species of tuna fish currently exist, but those that are usually eaten by humans are yellowfin, bluefin, skipjack, albacore, and bigeye. For our canine companions, only 2 of these 5 species will be recommended.
These are the skipjack and the albacore tunas, which are relatively small compared to the bluefin, yellowfin, and bigeyes. To illustrate their size differences, here are their relative lengths and weights in adulthood:
- Skipjack tuna: 3.6 ft. / 42 lbs.
- Albacore tuna: 4.6 ft. / 72 lbs.
- Bigeye tuna: 8.2 ft. / 265 lbs.
- Yellowfin tuna (aka Ahi): 6.8 ft. / 400 lbs.
- Bluefin tuna: 12.0+ ft. / 1,000 lbs. or more
As we discussed earlier, bigger fish tend to have higher mercury content. Hence, if you wish to experiment with tuna for your dog, go for the skipjack and albacore varieties.
Benefits of Feeding Tuna to Your Pooch
Despite the case against tuna feeding, here are a few reasons why some dog owners still consider giving tuna to their dogs from time to time:
- Good source of lean protein: Since tuna has low amounts of fats, dogs seem to have a healthy protein choice. If you are searching for protein sources while your dog is on a weight loss journey, daily tuna treats can be helpful.
- Packed with essential vitamins and minerals: Tuna is filled with B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium — all essential to the health and vitality of your dog
- Packed with omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are helpful in maintaining heart health, improving skin and coat conditions, reducing inflammation, and regulating cholesterol levels.
In addition, dogs find that tuna delicious, so any tuna meal you give her is likely to be eaten before you know it. Of course, don’t forget to follow recipes made especially for dogs because you don’t want to put ingredients at risk.
Can Dogs Eat Canned Tuna?
You can feed your pooch with canned tuna as long as it’s the plain variant This means that you should only offer the variant “flakes in water” and totally ignore the “flakes in oil” and flavored variants. Normally the oil can cause bad stomach upsets, but you never know exactly what’s in the flavored ones. It may have dog-toxic ingredients, such as garlic and onion.
Remember, don’t spill the tuna juice into your dog’s meat. Their food may seem bland compared to human standards, but dogs find it yummy nonetheless. Therefore, because bits of canned tuna are already flaked, the fragments of food may be trapped in their teeth. If you don’t want to get fishy-smelling doggy kisses, make sure you brush your dog’s teeth thoroughly!
It should also be remembered that canned tuna contains small amounts of sodium, and we know sodium is not a good product for dogs. It can make your pooch excessively hungry, or worse, it can lead to stomach being bloated and twisted. If not treated immediately, this will be a huge health issue.
Hence, if you are going to use canned tuna for your doggy treats, make sure that you only give it to your dog occasionally. Even humans don’t eat canned tuna every day for health reasons, so your pooch also shouldn’t.
Tuna Feeding Recommendations
You must stick to a relatively small amount because there are a variety of precautions when it comes to feeding tuna. Sure, if done correctly, tuna can be a good dog health supplement, but if you become reckless, it could quickly lead to a health problem.
Cook thoroughly the tuna and do not add any seasoning. Tuna steaks are great, but as we’re not sure how long the steak cuts have been on the market, make sure you cook the food properly. Uncooked fish is known to cause vomiting and diarrhea, and can even lead to an infestation of parasites at its worst.
You probably have seen dogs munch on fish leftovers even if the bones are still there. Although dogs can eat those boned scraps without any problems, these bones might still get stuck in their throats. Just to be safe, it’s better to debone any fish that you’ll feed to your dog so she can just enjoy her meal.
Feeding Amounts and Frequency
Feeding tuna should only be done rarely and with very little amounts. Carefully observe how your dog reacts so you can be sure that it’s safe to keep on feeding tuna to your dog. Apart from the mercury poisoning effects, some pooches may have an allergic reaction because tuna has a high protein content.
Other dogs may also become gassy due to the fat content. Even “good fats” can be bad when not given in moderation.
Every now and then, as an addition to their kibbles, you can give your dog about 1 to 2 pieces of tuna or you can create tuna-based treats. Just to be on the safe side, if you only do it once a week or at most twice a week, maybe it’s for the better.
Tuna Treats for Dogs
If you’ve been feeding your dog a small amount of tuna before, and she didn’t seem to have any adverse reactions, you might try to make some special tuna treats for her. Here are a few options that you can experiment with:
1. Tuna Casserole
- 6 oz. tuna flakes in water (without the juice)
- 1 cup cooked egg noodles
- ½ cup milk or half & half
- ¼ cup thawed green peas
- 2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
- Heat the cup of half & half or milk over medium heat.
- Pour tuna onto the saucepan.
- Add noodles, cheese, and peas.
- Let it cool before serving.
2. Tuna Doggy Treats
- 6 oz. tuna flakes in water
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour or oat flour
- 1 egg
- Preheat your oven to 350 ºF.
- Put flour in your food processor container. Add the egg and the tuna.
- Blend until the mixture becomes smooth.
- Check the mixture. Add water if the mixture seems too dry. Add more flour if smoother consistency is needed.
- Once satisfied, roll your dough on a flat and floured surface.
- Cut dough into squares or use cutely-shaped cookie cutters.
- Put some cooking spray on a cookie sheet. Put your treats on the sheet and make sure they have enough space between them.
- Bake the treats for 20 to 25 minutes until they turn golden brown. To cook evenly, turn the pieces over at least once.
- Once baked, let it cool before feeding.
3. Tuna Roll
- 6 oz. tuna flakes in water
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stick
- 4 tbsp. cottage cheese
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- Chop or dice carrot and celery stick.
- Mix everything together, making sure that the lemon juice is added last.
- Mold the mixture to create a tuna roll.
- Once chilled, divide the roll into smaller pieces.
- Feed one piece of tuna roll to your dog once a week. You can give it to her directly as a treat, or you can mix it with her regular dog food.
4. Tuna and Greens
- 6 oz. tuna flakes in water
- ½ cup cooked brown rice
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp. sprouts (clover or alfalfa)
- ½ tsp. nutritional yeast
- Chop sprouts until very fine.
- In a bowl, mix the sprouts with the yolk and nutritional yeast.
- Add the tuna to the bowl.
- Add the well-blended mixture to brown rice.
- This serving is good enough for one meal if a dog’s size is around 20 to 25 lbs. You can adjust accordingly depending on your dog’s weight.
Conclusion: Feed Tuna in Moderation!
Some types of fish are going to be fine for your pooch to eat, and the relatively safe list includes tuna. You can, of course, always seek advice from your veterinarian to make sure that your dog can handle it well.
In addition, letting your vet know will help them think faster about a treatment plan if any problems arise. Besides, you wouldn’t sometimes know if your dog is allergic to something unless she gets an opportunity to eat it.
If the vet agrees with your tuna feeding program, follow their guidelines to completely reap your dog’s health benefits from tuna treats.