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Can Dogs Eat Shellfish? Is Shellfish Safe for Dogs?

Emma Stenhouse Profile Picture

By Emma Stenhouse

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If you’ve just polished off a delicious shellfish dinner but couldn’t quite finish those last few mouthfuls, is it okay to give the leftovers to your dog (who, let’s be honest, has probably been staring at you hungrily as you eat!)?

The short answer is yes, dogs can eat shellfish occasionally. It does need to be properly cooked and shouldn’t ever make up a major percentage of their diet. Let’s find out a little more about this food and help you decide if it’s something you want to feed your dog and, if so, how to prepare it safely.

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What’s good about shellfish for dogs?

Dog Eating Snail_shutterstock_Yekatseryna Netuk
Image Credit: Yekatseryna Netuk, Shutterstock

Shellfish includes seafood like shrimp, oysters, mussels, lobster, scallops, clams, and crab.

Shrimp is low in fat but high in protein. They taste great to your dog, so they can be used as a pill pocket to help disguise medication.

Bivalve shellfish like clams, mussels, and oysters are high in protein, and contain plenty of beneficial ingredients like iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Because these shellfish sit low on the food chain, they generally contain less heavy metal contamination than some other seafood like tuna.

Many of us have seen green-lipped mussels listed in the ingredients of some high-quality dog foods and treats. This particular strain of mussel contains a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can keep your dog’s coat and skin in great condition. They can also reduce joint pain and mobility issues because they’re a natural source of chondroitin and glucosamine.

What’s bad about shellfish for dogs?

Uncooked shellfish can contain bacteria E.coli, salmonella, listeria, and vibrio. Feeding your dog raw shellfish could put them at high risk of developing serious gastrointestinal upset.

Bivalve shellfish feeds by filtering seafood through their shells. This means they can sometimes absorb toxins from algae. These toxins can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) if you or your dog eat incorrectly cooked shellfish containing this neurotoxin. Selecting your shellfish from a supplier who tests for this contamination is therefore very important!

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Shrimp can be intensively farmed, and often disinfectants, antibiotics, and pesticides are used to help farmers reduce diseases so they can increase their yield. Farmed shellfish isn’t always clearly labeled, so it’s worth asking whoever you buy your shrimp from if they can verify it’s wild raised.

Lobster is high in fat and sodium, neither of which are going to do your dog any good. Crabmeat can be very high in iodine (another nutrient your dog doesn’t need excessive amounts of).

Can dogs be allergic to shellfish?

Shellfish isn’t one of the main allergens for dogs. According to the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, those are chicken, beef, dairy, and egg. Allergies to shellfish are extremely rare in dogs, but that doesn’t mean that your dog can’t suffer an allergic reaction to shellfish.

Signs to look out for include: itchy or inflamed skin and gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea.

How to prepare shellfish for your dog

It’s extremely important to thoroughly cook any shellfish before giving it to your dog. As we’ve mentioned, raw shellfish can contain bacteria like E.coli, salmonella, listeria, and vibrio.

If you’re thinking about feeding your dog some table scraps, any shellfish that’s been seasoned using oil, salt, pepper, or other spices really isn’t the best option.

When feeding your dog cooked shrimp, crab, or lobster, make sure the shell, legs, and tail are all completely removed. These can have sharp edges that may irritate your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

Image Credit: Pxhere

For shellfish like mussels, clams, or scallops, thoroughly cook the shellfish and feed a small portion to your dog. We humans usually eat oysters raw but don’t be tempted to do the same for your dog. Unless you want to cook the oysters thoroughly, we recommend skipping this particular shellfish completely.

You should never feed your dog any shellfish that’s been pickled or otherwise preserved in cans or jars.

How much shellfish should you feed your dog?

Your dog doesn’t need shellfish to add any nutrients to their diet, so if you do want to feed some cooked shellfish as a special treat, keep the portions very small.

One shrimp or mussel or a small piece of crabmeat is enough as the occasional treat. Watch your dog closely for 24 hours afterward to make sure they don’t suffer from an allergic reaction or any gastrointestinal issues.

The best way to feed your dog shellfish is by buying dog-specific treats or food that include it as an ingredient. You can buy whole green-lipped mussels that have been freeze dried, and feed these to your dog instead of going to the bother of preparing them yourself!

Or select a dog food like the Gentle Giants dog food, which contains a whole host of high-quality ingredients, including green-lipped mussels. You can also buy supplements like the Super Snouts Joint Powder Supplement that can be added to your dog’s existing food.

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Wrapping it up

Shellfish isn’t a necessary part of your dog’s diet, but it won’t do them any harm if they eat a piece of cooked shellfish that’s been dropped on the floor. If you choose to feed your dog shellfish, make sure you buy it from a reputable source, cook it thoroughly, and only feed small amounts.

The one exception is green-lipped mussels, which contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as chondroitin and glucosamine. This can be a great addition to your dog’s diet, especially if they suffer from painful, inflamed joints, or your vet has recommended adding something to their diet to improve the condition of their coat and skin. The good news is you can buy treats, food supplements, or dog food all containing green-lipped mussels.

We reckon this is the safest way to feed your dog shellfish and while also feeling confident about the fact that it’s been safely prepared and will be helping your dog look and feel great from the inside out!

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