Health & Wellness
We know dogs love protein — the drool that pools around their paws while you’re cooking up a steak is a dead giveaway. But when you crack open a can of tuna, you may wonder if this protein is a healthy treat for your pup. The short answer is yes (in moderation when prepared correctly), but it’s important to know the potential risks before giving a spoonful of tuna to your dog.
Even though tuna is generally safe for your pet, you should always consult your vet before introducing a new food item to their diet. It’s always better to be safe and follow your vet’s orders than to end up with a sick pup on your hands.
Tuna is a good source of protein, and protein is certainly good for dogs. But that doesn’t mean tuna is automatically good for dogs.
“There are conflicting answers as to whether tuna is safe for dogs to eat or not,” Dr. Chyrle Bonk, DVM, a veterinary consultant for PetKeen, says. “Small amounts of tuna is OK for a dog, while larger amounts may pose some risk.”
Just as humans can experience mercury poisoning if they consume too much seafood, dogs run that risk as well.
You also need to be conscientious of the additional risks of uncooked tuna. Mainly, the potential for your dog to consume harmful parasites or microbes that could lead to gastrointestinal discomfort or other illnesses.
And even if you’re feeding your dog cooked tuna, if it’s from a fish filet (rather than a can), there’s always the risk that your dog could eat a fish spine if you haven’t done a good job of removing the bones.
“These can be a choking hazard and may cause digestive perforations,” Dr. Bonk says.
In other words, while small amounts of tuna aren’t strictly bad for dogs, you need to be careful about what types of tuna you feed your pup, making sure you opt for cooked, de-boned varieties.
Canned tuna is likely the most tempting way to feed your dog tuna since you probably have a couple of cans sitting in your pantry, and you know it’s already cooked and de-boned. While canned tuna technically is OK to feed your dog, there are a few things to consider.
“Keep an eye on the salt content in case more is added for preservation purposes,” Dr. Bonk says. “Choose a low-sodium variety, if possible.”
Canned tuna also may have added preservatives and oils that should be avoided.
“Added oils to your dog’s diet can cause gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis,” Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital, says. For these reasons, if you’re going to serve your dog canned tuna, it’s important to only use versions packed in water, and those with low salt and preservative content.
As good as your homemade tuna salad probably tastes, it’s best not to share it with your furry friend. This remains true even if you’re careful to use dog-approved canned tuna to whip up the meal.
“No tuna salad,” Dr. Bonk says. “While most ingredients are safe for dogs, they just don’t need the additional calories that things like mayonnaise bring. Also, seasonings like salt, onion and garlic can be toxic or harmful if consumed in large enough amounts.”
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Tuna fish is found in many commercial dog foods, so it’s easy to assume that it’s on the “good list” when it comes to dog-safe human foods. And to be fair, it’s not on the “bad list” either, it’s just a food you need to exercise some caution around.
“If adding additional tuna to your dog’s diet, give it as a treat. You may place small amounts with food to entice eating or to increase a dog’s omega-3 fatty acid intake. You could also give them a bite or two as a snack,” Dr. Bonk says.
While small amounts of tuna in your dog’s diet is unlikely to be a problem, what could happen if your dog snags several large tuna filets off your counter when you’re not looking? Probably nothing more than an upset stomach, but there’s always a small risk of mercury poisoning, so it’s important to keep an eye on your pup if it happens.
“Eating large amounts, especially frequently, can lead to mercury poisoning. Watch for signs of vomiting blood, tremors, loss of coordination, anxiety, hair loss and blindness. See your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs,” Dr. Bonk says.
Tuna may be OK from time-to-time, but if you’re looking for alternatives you can serve your pup as a more regular treat, Dr. Ochoa suggests (with your vet’s permission) plain, unseasoned chicken, fully cooked, plain and deboned white fish or white, unseasoned turkey meat. These are all lean, lower-calorie, high-protein options that can fit into a well-balanced canine diet.
The next time you’re grilling up tuna filets, go ahead and throw your pup a small, unseasoned piece or two (just don’t throw them any pieces with bones!). Your dog will love the treat, and you can feel good knowing that a little bit is perfectly healthy.
We’re confident tuna isn’t the only human food your dog would love to sink their teeth into (cue the drool). Check out our series “Can dogs eat” to learn more about which human foods are off-limits and what’s fair game.
The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.
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