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This blog post was originally published in 2014. It has been updated with new information.

Learn why I add sardines to my dogs' raw diet, other fish that I feed my dogs, and alternatives to fish for dogs that have a sensitivity.

I feeding sardines to my dogs long before I switched to kibble. Like other pet parents, I added scrambled eggs, cooked ground meat, and canned sardines to my dogs' kibble regularly because it sounded like a good idea.

Over the years, I've sourced sardines (and other fish) from various places, allowing me to add variety to the dogs' diet while keeping my budget under control.

I did go through a period of adding fish oil, but found that it's a lot easier, and more affordable, to just add fish to the bowl. So my dogs are getting their Omega 3 fatty acids straight from a whole food source instead of through an expensive supplement.

The Health Benefits of Sardines for Dogs

“Sardines are a great protein source that provides significant Vitamin B3, B12 and D, selenium, and healthy omega-3 Fatty acids. Sardines are also a good source of phosphorus and calcium.” ~ Dr. Cathy Alinovi, HealthyPawsibilities

I like the idea of adding whole foods to the diet instead of supplements whenever possible. The nutrients in whole foods are more bioavailable and easier to absorb and, in many cases, whole foods are more affordable than supplements.

My dogs regularly enjoy sardines, mackerel, and trout. Sometimes, I add in a white fish/salmon recipe from Northwest Naturals for more variety. I add fish to my dogs' diet because it's

  • great for the skin and coat
  • great for dogs with allergies (even severe allergies)
  • acts as an anti-inflammatory making it beneficial for dogs with arthritis
  • great for the brain – making it a perfect item for growing/developing puppies and senior dogs too

I used to be afraid to feed whole sardines and mackerel to my dogs because of the fish bones. I remember getting a salmon bone lodged in my throat and it didn't feel great and I worried that something similar would happen to my dogs. But after seeing videos of dogs eating whole sardines, I gave it a try.

At first, my dogs weren't interested. The second time I tried, they ate the fish without an issue and I've been feeding them whole since. Alternating with grinding the fish if I have limited freezer space (whole fish takes up a lot of space). And thank heavens, because I tried deboning sardines and, yeah, I don't have the touch.

Sardines and Other Seafood I Feed to My Dogs

As I said above, there are a few fish and seafood options in my dogs' diet. I slowly learned what I could feed to my dogs by paying attention to what others are feeding their dogs and why. The main reason we add fish to our dogs' diet is for the Omega 3 fatty acids, which support skin and coat health, brain health, heart health, joint health, and gut health.

But this is only one reason to add fish to the bowl.

1 – Fresh Sardines

Besides Omega 3 fatty acids, sardines are also a great source of…

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12 (promotes healthy cells)
  • Vitamin D (promotes bone health)
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

And sardines are low in mercury, which is a concern when feeding seafood to our dogs. I source my sardines through a local raw food co-op and from local ethnic markets.

2 – Canned Sardines

The canned sardines are significantly smaller than whole sardines. While I can give my dogs one whole sardine or mackerel weekly (sometimes twice), when I feed canned sardines, I usually give each of my dogs a full can twice weekly. The canned fish tends to be more expensive than the fresh fish, but it's also easier to store since they don't take up freezer space, so I can stock up with bulk orders (saving a little bit of money).

Canned Sardines in Olive Oil (Costco)

I source these from Costco when they go on sale for $7 for a 6-pack. This makes them a little more than $1 each, which is the best price where I live. Some pet parents may have concerns about feeding the olive oil, but I have checked with several veterinarians and was assured that the amount of olive oil in a can isn't enough to cause an issue. This isn't something I feed daily and I drain the bulk of the olive oil away to reduce the calories add to the diet.

Canned Sardines in Water, No Salt Added (Walmart)

I buy these from Costco. Each tin of sardines is less than $2. Although the can states “no salt added,” that doesn't mean that there isn't sodium in the tin. Salt (sodium) has received a bad wrap; it's an important part of our dogs' diet (and our diet) and promotes healthy nerve and muscle cell functions.

3 – Fresh Mackerel

I don't buy canned mackerel because it's insanely expensive. So I order mackerel through my local raw food co-op (alternating with fresh sardines). Besides Omega 3 fatty acids, mackerel are also a great source of…

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Selenium (regulates thyroid, boosts the immune system, reduces oxidative stress)

And mackerel is low in mercury, supports heart health, and may improve cognitive health as well.

4 – Trout (Northwest Naturals)

This year, I started adding trout to the diet to share things up. This isn't something that my dogs get regularly because it comes from a brand and with prices rising, I've slowed down on ordering commercial brands unless I can get them at a discount. I order this through a local raw food co-op.

The Northwest Naturals trout is a complete diet, so I can feed it as a full meal, but I mostly add a large spoonful (up to a 1/4 cup) to the bowl along with whatever regular meal they're eating that week.

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Selenium (regulates thyroid, boosts the immune system, reduces oxidative stress)
  • Potassium (regulates blood pressure, fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals)

And trout is low in mercury.

5 – Canned Oysters (Walmart)

And there are the oysters, which I began adding to my dogs' diet because I saw a video by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker and became convinced that my dogs' diet didn't have a source of zinc. I was wrong, my dogs had plenty of zinc in their diet. But I got another source of Omega 3 fatty acids for them. Yay!

I purchase canned oysters from Walmart, stopping by to clear the shelves every few months.

  • Protein
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron (for blood production)
  • Selenium (regulates thyroid, boosts the immune system, reduces oxidative stress)
  • Zinc (supports the immune system, metabolism, and cell growth)

And, I learned that oysters are a powerful antioxidant and support liver health. I've never fed raw oysters to my dogs, but I have baked oysters for the crew.

6 – Squid / Calamari

In 2021, I had an opportunity to feed squid. I got a killer freezer dump of goose and squid and I thought “why not?” after a quick Google search to make sure it wouldn't kill them. Squid is a low calorie and no carb food and adds the following nutrients to the bowl:

  • protein
  • Vitamins B12 and B6
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin E

I ground the squid and a bit of the ink was included. The ink has a crazy list of benefits that surprised me. According to WebMD, squid ink has amino acids, some “antibacterial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other healing properties.”

What About Green-Lipped Mussels?

While many people can source green-lipped mussels, I have only recently found a source. I've been using GLM powder for years, adding it to my meal prep on occasion. Personally, I haven't seen the benefits most people talk about and only add it as another source of Omega-3 fatty acids. I learned quickly that once a dog starts showing signs of arthritis or joint pain, then GLM powder doesn't work well enough (or fast enough) for me. So I reach for a trusted joint supplement and CBD oil for my dogs.

But, this is just my experience. Many others will share that they had an amazing experience with green lipped mussels or GLM powder.

Other than the GLM powder, I like to give my dogs and cat freeze-dried or dehydrated green-lipped mussel pet treats. There are several brands that make GLM treats and my dogs have enjoyed the following:

My cat loves them.

Food Energetics for Common Seafoods

I'm not really big into food energetics but I enjoy the topic because it's so fascinating to think that common health issues could be resolved by choosing the right foods. For instance, Rodrigo is classified as a “hot” dog – he seeks cool places to relax, he pants year round no matter the temperature, and he has several food sensitivities. So, I save the hot proteins (lamb, venison) for cooler days and the winter.

Neutral Seafoods

  • Carp
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

Cooling Seafoods

  • Whitefish

Warming Seafoods

  • Mussels
  • Prawns (I get these through Real.Dog in our monthly subscription)

Hot Seafoods

  • Trout (some lists label trout as a warming protein)

How Often I Feed Seafood to My Dogs

I don't have a set routine for feeding seafood. I usually have something seafood-related thawed in the freezer. Right now, I'm alternating between trout or whitefish/salmon recipe by Northwest Naturals, fermented fish stock, and ground mackerel. And I have several tins of sardines and oysters.

When I'm feeding fresh food, I add it daily until I empty a container of fish. When I don't have fresh fish, I add canned sardines to their meals – one full tin each, twice weekly. And I usually add one can of oysters to every 8-quart bowl of raw food. But sometimes, I'll split a can of oysters between four dogs once a week.

There is zero science behind what I'm doing; this just works for my dogs. Remember, feed the dog in front of you.

Alternatives to Fish for Omega 3 Fatty Acids

There are dogs that are highly allergic to fish, so how do they get their Omega 3 fatty acids? A friend who sends me very long, detailed emails helped me out with this because she has a dog that is allergic to fish and has had to work hard to find alternatives and when she shared some ideas with me, I was blown away!

The first thought is to give dogs plant-based sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, but these are usually ALA and our dogs need DHA/EPA. Dogs only convert about 2% of the ALA to EPA and barely any is converted to DHA. So while hemp seeds and chia seeds are an option, they're not the best options.

I've read that a 50-pound dog requires 2-3.2 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids daily. Fish is the fastest way to get here, but if you can't feed fish, try a combination of the following:

  • grass-fed, pasture raised beef liver – 234 mg per 100 grams
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs – 225 mg per egg
  • pork brains – 224 mg per ounce
  • grass-fed, pasture-raised beef – 80 mg per 3.5 ounce

If you have a dog that is allergic to seafood, working with a qualified, certified animal nutritionist and meal formulator will help identify which foods will best meet your dog's nutritional needs.

Learn why I add sardines to my dogs' raw diet, other fish that I feed my dogs, and alternatives to fish for dogs that have a sensitivity.

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