Can my dog eat salmon or salmon based dog food?
It’s a question that I’m hearing with increased frequency these days as pet parents become more concerned with what their dogs are eating.
The concern here, of course, is the amount of mercury found in salmon.
So, what gives?
There are warnings not to feed your dog salmon and then there are dog foods with salmon as the protein source…so which is it?
Can My Dog Eat Salmon?
Let’s begin by taking a look at salmon in general.
We have all heard that salmon can contain mercury, but are there stipulations to this statement?
In 2007 the EPA released a report that allowed for the classification of fish and seafood based on mercury content and you might be surprised to know that not all salmon falls into the same classification!
Both wild-caught Alaskan salmon and wild-caught Pacific salmon are extremely low in their mercury content.
Wild-caught Atlantic salmon, canned light tuna, and fresh/frozen Pacific tuna have higher levels of mercury content than those listed above, but they still fall into the “low” classification.
Albacore tuna, canned albacore tuna, and fresh/frozen Atlantic tuna are where things start to get really concerning as mercury levels increase to a moderate risk level.
Bluefin tuna is where mercury levels are highest.
What Causes Mercury Levels in Salmon?
You may be asking yourself what it is that causes mercury levels in salmon at all…
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is present in the environment. As human industrial activity increases, however, the levels of mercury in the environment are rising. This excess mercury finds its way into the water sources and eventually finds its way into our fish.
Now, the problem with mercury is that it is a bioaccumulative element, meaning that it builds up in the body over time. So, a fish that ingests mercury for 7 days is going to have 7 days worth of mercury buildup in their system.
So why salmon? Because salmon are a bigger fish, this means that they are consuming larger amounts of mercury per feeding and that mercury is building up over time.
So why are some salmon higher in mercury than others? Because of where the fish are found. Areas like Alaska are less contaminated with mercury content. Compare this to the Bluefin tuna which has a huge habitat, much of which borders on the coasts of developed countries, and you can see why the Bluefin has a higher mercury content.
Mercury in Wild Salmon Vs Farmed Salmon
So what’s the difference in mercury found in wild salmon and farmed salmon? If salmon is being farmed by us, it should be protected from mercury ingestion…right?
There is a belief that farmed salmon is much higher in mercury content, but this isn’t necessarily true.
While organically farmed salmon is very low in mercury content, other farmed salmon vary just as much as other salmon do. These levels are determined by where the fish are farmed, how they are farmed, as well as any other contaminants they come into contact with during the farming process.
But Can My Dog Eat Salmon?!
Can My Dog Eat Salmon Fish?
When it comes to real fish, your dog may eat small amounts of low mercury salmon when it’s COOKED. How much cooked real fish salmon can your dog eat? One small portion a maximum of once per week, but less is preferable!
Can My Dog Eat Raw Salmon?
Raw salmon is a big no-no because of the potential for salmon poisoning disease, an illness caused by a parasite living in the salmon. This can be a fatal illness.
Can My Dog Eat Canned Salmon?
When it comes to canned salmon, it’s best to avoid it, but if you want to treat your pup opt for a small amount of low-sodium salmon canned in water. Just don’t rely on this as a regular meal for your dog! How much canned salmon can your dog eat? Keep it to one small portion per week or less.
Can My Dog Eat Salmon Skin?
When it comes to salmon skin, your dog can eat the skin of salmon, however, it’s quite high in fat and often causes stomach upset so you may want to avoid it or minimize the skin to edible fish ratio.
Can My Dog Eat Salmon Bones?
When it comes to salmon bones, most dogs can eat smaller salmon bones as they are found in canned salmon. When feeding cooked real fish, however, be sure to remove the bones to prevent choking or bones causing problems in the digestive system.
So…What’s the Deal with Salmon Based Dog Food?
The fact is that MOST dog foods do not contain low mercury level salmon simply because it is cost prohibitive. If a food specifically labels their salmon source as one of the low mercury level fish species or as organically farmed, the chances are that it’s not a food to worry about.
Unfortunately, most dog foods simply list “salmon” in their ingredients and leave it at that. So how do you know where that salmon is sourced and whether it contains acceptable levels of mercury? You contact the company! Ask if their salmon is tested for mercury content. If their fish and fish based products are not tested for mercury, avoid that food completely. If they do test for mercury ask where you can view the results of that testing.
An article on Pet Food Industry’s website brings the concern of mercury contamination in pet food to the forefront in this article.
But how can pet food companies sell food if it’s not safe?
Pet food is regulated by the FDA. This “regulation” is done in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) which “requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.”
So how do these companies get away with selling food that has high mercury content?
They simply don’t test their foods for mercury content or heavy metal contamination.
So Can You Feed Your Dog Salmon Based Dog Food?
An interesting article by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM compares the bloodwork of dogs fed a fish-based diet and diet supplemented with fish oil versus a meat-based diet. His findings show that dogs that have fish incorporated into their diets have higher levels of mercury in their blood. No surprise there…but how dangerous are those levels? This really depends on the food you are feeding and how long your dog has been eating it.
In short, your dog can certainly benefit from salmon in their diet, but it’s best to feed foods that have been tested for mercury content and not to rely solely on fish-based foods (variety is good!)
What can you do to improve the safety of dog foods containing salmon? Susan Thixton wrote an article covering this on her blog: The Truth about Pet Food back in 2011 (Yes, 2011, changes have still not been put in place). Head over there and do your part to help improve the safety of our pet’s foods!