Can I Give My Dog Tuna?

As you’re browsing the dog food selection at your local pet store, you’ve probably noticed how many different ingredients are used in dog food. Lamb, fish, wild boar, duck, and bison are just a few of the protein sources tucked inside premium dog food brands. With such a variety, it leaves you wondering what kind of natural protein sources are good for your dog. If you’ve been considering a fish-based source of protein to treat your dog with on occasion, feeding your dog tuna has most likely crossed your mind.

Is Tuna Safe for Dogs?

Fish is a great source of protein for dogs with finicky digestive systems. Many dog food blends for sensitive stomachs are made with fish because it’s easy to digest and unlikely to cause any digestive upset. While you probably don’t have fancier fish like mackerel or salmon on hand at any given time, you might have canned tuna in your pantry. Canned tuna is safe for dogs as long as it doesn’t have any additional seasonings, particularly onions and garlic, and it isn’t canned in oil. Oil found in canned tuna can cause unpleasant stomach upset in dogs, while onions and garlic are toxic to dogs. Canned varieties of tuna are okay to feed to your dog on occasion, but because of the high levels of mercury and sodium, it’s best kept as a rare treat.

Tuna steaks are also fine, but they should be cooked thoroughly. You can never be too sure about how well tuna fish has been stored prior to your purchase, and undercooked fish could cause a major bout of diarrhea, vomiting or worse, parasites.

Health Benefits of Feeding Tuna to Dogs

Fish has a lot of health benefits to carnivorous animals such as dogs. Fish, including tuna, is full of omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fat (fish oils) are incredibly good for the skin, coat, and especially the heart. They prevent irregular heart rhythms, blood clots, and improve cholesterol levels. A dog with a genetic predisposition to heart conditions benefits greatly from healthy doses of omega-3 fatty acids, as can dogs with a current heart condition. Of course, a heart condition shouldn’t be treated with diet alone, but a good diet will help keep a dog healthy as they live with a heart condition.

How Much Tuna is Too Much for Dogs?

Moderation is the key to balanced health, and that goes for dogs, too. If you’ve decided to give your dog tuna, don’t go overboard with it. Remember that canned tuna has high amounts of sodium, and dogs don’t need very much sodium to have a nutritionally sound diet. Too much salt can cause pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. Salt will also dehydrate your dog, causing them to significantly increase their water intake. It’s rare, but sometimes when a dog gulps water, their stomach can bloat with air and then twist. This condition is known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), or bloat, and it’s deadly if it isn’t treated surgically.

The Best Way to Feed Tuna to Your Dog

If you decide to give your dog tuna as a treat, keep it simple. Canned tuna should be canned in water with no additional seasonings. Don’t give them a lot of the juice from the can; skipping it altogether is best. If you buy tuna steaks and choose to cook them yourself, you don’t need to season them. Dogs find meat delicious even if you think it might be bland. Skip salt, garlic, oil, or marinades on the fish and either bake or broil it. Don’t ever give your dog fish that still have the bones in it. While they won’t choke as easily as a child would, the bones can still get lodged in their throat.

Flaky fish will get stuck in the teeth, too, so if you don’t care for the overwhelming fish smell that will linger, give your dog some dry kibble or a biscuit to help scrape the leftover fish out of their teeth.

Whatever kind of fish you choose to feed your dog, be sure you talk to your veterinarian before you start doling it out. While most kinds are safe such as tuna, there are always reasons to avoid certain foods depending on your dog’s health status. If your vet gives you the go-ahead, watch how you prepare your dog’s fish and watch them reap the benefits of their new treat.