Somewhere, we started to think of dogs as only eating meat, usually beef, sometimes chicken or lamb. Occasionally, we think of dogs eating bacon, but in general, our dogs have a pretty pedestrian, meat-based diet. Which is strange, because wolves, the dog’s ancestor, was a hunter/scavenger, who was not known for being picky, and dogs evolved by eating the scraps of a human's meal. In fact, dogs on the street, or just left attended near human food for very long, will scavenge what they can, including things they shouldn’t eat, and by all conventional wisdom, shouldn’t even want to eat. So why does it seem unusual for dog food to include fish?
The Root of the Behavior
The consumption of fish dates back at least 40,000 years, long before our relationship with wolves began. Fish are not only tasty but nutritious as well. In fact, it’s theorized that the consumption of fish allowed humanity to expand into new territory, allowing us to grow more as a species. The consumption of animal protein in general, and fish in specific, that we consumed on a regular basis, allowed our brains to grow larger. If you’ve ever heard the only saying that “Fish is brain food,” you should know there is more than a little truth. When wolves first realized that it was smart and advantageous to hang out with humans, they would have begun eating fish, too, if not sooner. In some societies, people still eat primarily a fish-based diet, and scrap-eating dogs still eat the leftovers. A study of fish consumption through time can be done by examining the pelts of Husky dogs dating back to 780 CE. The fur of Husky dogs show how common the consumption of fish has been, a practice that has persisted into the modern era. One of the most startling findings is the shockingly rapid rate of mercury contamination in the last 100 years.
When you think about it, the kind of fish that is available in the cold waters near the arctic circle would be especially appealing to dogs, who naturally enjoy richer, fatty foods. Fish like salmon, cod, and herring would especially appeal to dogs, and not so coincidentally, also to their humans. Of course, the kind of fat in arctic fish is unsaturated, or good fat, and the flesh has such nutrients as vitamin D, potassium, and Omega 3. Dogs have evolved to crave foods that have strong scents and flavors. This will hardly come as news to anyone who has ever had to clean up the kitchen after their fur baby got at the trash. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that dogs like fish.
Encouraging the Behavior
It has become increasingly common for dog foods to have fish included. Again, fish is an excellent source of Omega 3 and vitamins such as iron, potassium, and calcium. Including fish in dog food is a great way to add tasty nutrition for your dog. But you don’t have to rely on dog food manufacturers to provide this to your dog. When you make fish for yourself, you can, and should, give some to your dog. It can be a healthy, welcome treat.
Fish is naturally appealing to dogs, but it’s important to make sure that when you serve it to your dog, it doesn’t have any bones. The bones can really be an irritant to their stomachs, and in some cases, may actually pose a threat to their health. It’s better to just be very careful. Likewise, it’s important to pay attention to the preparation of the fish they eat. Dogs like fat, but too much of a good thing is, well, too much. Fried fish is as bad for dogs as it is for people. If you’re going to share fish with your dog, be sure to steam, grill, bake, or poach the fish with a minimum of seasonings. You should make a special, small serving for your pooch.
Other Solutions and Considerations
One thing to keep in mind is that longer-lived fish, like swordfish or tuna, have higher levels of mercury. It is better to serve your dog certain fish like herring, salmon, tilapia, and cod. However, it’s important not to serve your dog canned fish. Canned fish is often cooked with bones and skin, in oil, salt, and other seasonings that really aren’t good for dogs.
When it comes to shellfish, it’s extremely important to be cautious. Many shellfish are cooked in rich sauces, which are not going to be at all healthy for your dog. Likewise, fried shellfish, like clams or oysters, are not at all good for dogs. If you’re going to give your dog any shellfish, make sure that it is a small serving, without any shells or tails, in the case of shrimp, and served completely cooked. Raw oysters are too much of a risk for your dog. And, if you’re having crab or lobster, make sure that the shells are completely away from any scavenging your dog might be tempted to try.
It can be fun and satisfying to share food with your dog, even food that not everyone would think a dog would be interested in. With a little precaution, there’s no reason you cannot give your dog a break from the beef/chicken monotony. Fish is healthy and tasty. It can be a good treat for your pup. And anyway, why should cats have all the fun?