Can Pets Eat Salmon?

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
safe for pets
Pets With Salmon

Story at-a-glance -

  • Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the most important nutrients found in wild-caught salmon
  • When feeding wild-caught salmon to pets, make sure to cook it gently before giving it to them. Poaching, roasting, boiling or grilling are good techniques. Avoid frying, as doing so may destroy the valuable nutrients in salmon
  • Raw salmon can be particularly dangerous to dogs, as they can be susceptible to salmon poisoning. This is a potentially fatal illness caused by the organism Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which embeds with Nanophyetus salmincola, a fluke present in raw fish

Many pets love fish, and when it comes to the best choices, organic wild-caught salmon is one of the most recommended varieties out there. Wild-caught salmon is a healthy protein source for humans, but can you feed it to pets as well? This article will help shed light on this popular marine food and how to safely feed it to your pets as a healthy treat.

Is Salmon Good for Pets?

Salmon is a human-grade fresh food that can be a fantastic treat for your pet. When given as a snack, it can constitute up to 10% of your dog's or cat's overall daily caloric intake. In fact, wild-caught Alaskan salmon has been dubbed as a nearly perfect food, mainly because of its nutrition profile.

Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)1 are the most important nutrients found in this food. These healthy dietary fats are recognized as essential for feline and canine diets, as they help:2

  • Maintain skin and coat health
  • Assist in absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Increase energy levels
  • Modulate inflammation
  • Work as a precursor to eicosanoids and prostaglandins
  • Build cell membranes
  • Support healthy growth and development

Other beneficial nutrients in salmon include B vitamins, magnesium and phosphorus. Astaxanthin is also an anti-inflammatory antioxidant found in this food.3

When feeding salmon to pets as a healthy treat, make sure to cook it gently first. Ideally, cook it at a low, regulated temperature that helps lock in the moisture and flavor of the food. Poaching, roasting, boiling or grilling are good techniques. Avoid frying, as doing so may destroy the valuable nutrients in the salmon.4

Make Sure to Choose Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon

The best type of salmon you can use to make pet treats is fresh, unprocessed salmon. While canned salmon may seem convenient, most brands often contain very high amounts of sodium, which is not safe for felines. Smoked salmon is equally problematic, since it's often cured with salt and has excessively high levels of sodium nitrate as well.5

But even more importantly, you should make sure to purchase salmon that is wild-caught, and not raised in fish farms. This is because farmed salmon carries many of the same problems posed by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on land. These animals are raised in crowded pens in the ocean, where their excrement and food residues are disrupting local marine life.

Farmed salmon is also high in pollutants. According to a global assessment published in the journal Science, cancer-causing PCB concentrations in farmed salmon were found to be significantly higher than in wild salmon.6

To easily spot wild Alaskan salmon from farmed varieties, observe it carefully. Wild sockeye salmon has a bright red flesh, thanks to its natural astaxanthin content. It's also very lean, so you'll see thinner fat marks, or the white stripes, in the meat. If you see salmon that is pale pink with wide fat marks, then it's likely farmed.

Is Salmon Safe for Dogs as Well?

Just like cats, dogs may also benefit from enjoying salmon as a healthy treat. According to the American Kennel Club:7

"Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the immune system, may decrease inflammation, and can keep your dog's coat looking shiny and healthy. It's also a good protein source. In fact, salmon is a common ingredient in high-quality dog foods. If your dog is allergic to more common sources of protein, like chicken, salmon may be a good alternative."

One important thing you should remember when giving salmon-based snacks or treats to dogs is to make sure the fish is thoroughly cooked. Raw salmon can be particularly dangerous to dogs, as they can be susceptible to salmon poisoning.

Why Is Raw Salmon Bad for Dogs?

Canids, aka canine, the species that includes domestic dogs, foxes and wolves, is the only animal family that is susceptible to salmon poisoning disease. This is a potentially fatal illness8 caused by the organism Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which embeds with Nanophyetus salmincola, a fluke present in raw fish. Despite its name, other types of fish like trout, lamprey and sturgeon can carry this illness.

When a dog consumes the infected fish raw (which usually happens during fishing or hiking trips), the larval flukes release the rickettsiae organisms. These organisms then travel through the bloodstream and go to the liver, lungs, brain and lymphoid tissues, where they can cause necrosis, hemorrhage and hyperplasia.

The FDA website states freezing the fish meat for seven days may help inactivate the pathogenic organisms, so if you really want to feed it to your dog as a raw treat, you should deep-freeze the salmon for at least seven days. But if you want to err on the side of caution, I recommend gently cooking the salmon before giving it to your pet.

Wild-Caught Salmon Is the Best Option for You and Your Pets

The sad reality is that most of the salmon sold in grocery stores today are farmed. They are raised in overcrowded fish pens and fed pellets that contain nonnative foods and synthetic ingredients — a very far cry from the natural, carotenoid-rich diet they consume in their natural habitat.

This is why wild-caught Alaskan salmon has a deep red flesh, while farmed salmon is more light pink. This difference in color shows their great gap in quality.9 If you truly care for your pet's health, always make sure to feed them wild-caught Alaskan salmon. This is a wonderful addition to their species-appropriate diet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Salmon for Pets

Q: How much salmon can you feed your cat as a treat?

A: You can give your cat salmon treats, but they should constitute only 10% of your cat's daily caloric intake.

Q: How can you distinguish wild-caught salmon from farmed salmon?

A: Wild-caught Alaskan salmon has a deep red flesh, while farmed salmon is more light pink. It's also leaner, so the fat marks are thinner, compared to the ones seen in farmed salmon. The best way to know is to ask before you buy it.