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Can Dogs Eat Tilapia? Is Tilapia Safe for Dogs? Vet Approved Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Tilapia, when cooked and deboned, is considered safe for dogs to eat as an occasional snack. In fact, tilapia can be a healthy treat for your canine pal. However, there are several factors governing how you should feed this tasty white fish to your pup. For example, allowing your dog to eat raw fish or fish with the bones still intact is quite dangerous and harmful to your pooch.

In this article, we will go over how small portions of tilapia may benefit your dog’s health, in addition to how you can safely feed fish to your dog.

Before changing your dog’s diet or introducing new ingredients or supplements that they haven’t eaten before, make sure to consult your veterinarian. Every dog is different and requires an individual approach to nutrition, depending on their age, health, level of activity, and medical history. Guidelines offered in our article have been fact-checked and approved by a veterinarian, but should be used as a mere guide on food safety, rather than an individual nutrition plan.

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Health Benefits of Tilapia for Dogs

Lean Protein

Fish in general is an excellent source of lean protein for dogs. Protein is the building block of the body, consisting of amino acids that are responsible for repairing and maintaining healthy muscles, making up antibodies, hormones, and enzymes, transporting molecules, and transmitting signals between cells and tissues in the body. For many pups, the fattier meats may bother their stomachs or contribute to weight gain in the long term, but with tilapia and other lean meats, you don’t have to worry as much. Clean, quality fish, prepared appropriately, will help your dog stay strong and capable and will fuel their active lives.

Tilapia is rich in various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals like choline, niacin or vitamin B3, cobalamin or vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, and phosphorus. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. But keep in mind that the amount of these nutrients per fish will not be sufficient to be the main or only source for your dog, and should not be either way. A complete and balanced food formulated in accordance with the guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) in the United States will contain all the necessary nutrients for your pooch.

Tilapia as a source of additional nutrients should be given based on your vet’s advice, as an occasional snack, rather than a main food source. However, your pooch is still likely to benefit from these valuable vitamins and minerals, alongside their main food source.

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Fatty Acids

Tilapia contains healthy fatty acids, such as omega-3s, but in much lesser amounts than salmon and other “fatty” fish. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and some research has shown that they may support the canine cardiovascular system, joints, brain development in puppies, healthy skin, and fur. Fatty acids for the most part are a highly beneficial supplement that keeps dogs running, playing, and looking great!

However, an excess of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats could also lead to potential adverse effects in some dogs, such as altered platelet function, stomach upset, delayed wound healing, weight gain, changes in immune function, and others. Consult your vet about the safety of these fats for your pooch and the recommended amounts.

Tilapia also contains a higher proportion of omega-6 fatty acids. There is some controversy about the role of omega-6 fats in humans and whether they may have an inflammatory effect on the body. The exact link between the omega-3 and omega-6 fats also remains a mystery, and a different ratio of these fats is advised for dogs than humans. AAFCO suggests a ratio of 30:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in dog foods.

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Image credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Vitamin D and Vitamin B Group

Vitamin D is required for bone and muscle function and also works to regulate phosphorus and calcium absorption. The right amount of this essential vitamin will help your pup stay active and maintain a strong skeletal system.

Too much vitamin D can be toxic, so be sure to check with your vet about proper food sources for your pooch.

Niacin (or vitamin B3) helps with enzyme functions, the nervous system, the digestive system, and skin health, but some of the benefits have only been researched in people, so further studies in dogs are still warranted. Tilapia also contains vitamin B12 or cobalamin, which is essential for making red blood cells and DNA and helps with the function and development of brain and nerve cells.

Phosphorus and Potassium

Phosphorus works alongside calcium and is an important component for building and maintaining strong bones, teeth, and cell membranes, regulating normal nerve and muscle function, and serving as an important electrolyte essential for metabolic processes and a building block of the DNA and major energy molecules.

Potassium is another key support mineral and electrolyte that works with other nutrients to maintain fluid balance inside the cells, along with transmitting signals, balancing the body’s pH, helping maintain normal nerve signals and muscle contractions, and ensuring a healthy metabolism.

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Can Tilapia Be Bad for Dogs?

While there are a host of health benefits to feeding your dog a little bit of cooked tilapia meat occasionally, take some time to familiarize yourself with how it can be harmful before adding it to their diet.

Parasites and Bacteria

Raw or undercooked fish can be host to many dangerous parasites and bacteria. Listeria, Salmonella, and anisakid nematodes, roundworms, and tapeworms are just a few. Some of the specific fish parasites will not be able to finish their cycle in the dog but may still lead to signs of an upset stomach, damage of the stomach and intestinal lining, and discomfort.

Ingesting bacteria from raw or undercooked fish is, at best, very uncomfortable for a dog. Many respond to these foreign germs like food poisoning and experience intense bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that lead to dehydration and require veterinary attention.

There is concern for people as well when handling raw fish and coming in contact with these bacteria and parasites. As much as people love to consume some types of raw fish, especially sushi, this is not something that dogs can have and is actually very harmful to them.

Remember, your dog is very different from you, and although some foods are classed as safe or appropriate for humans, that certainly does not apply to your pooch.

cooked tilapia
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Never feed your dog cooked tilapia that still has the bones inside. Fish bones are dangerously brittle and sharp. They can easily become lodged in the throat, esophagus, or gastrointestinal tract and cause choking, serious internal damage, perforation of the organs, and life-threatening illness.

Stuck fish bones in the mouth, stomach, or intestine are incredibly painful and can even be fatal. The surgical procedures required to remove them are incredibly expensive and invasive, with possible complications for the long-term health of your dog.

Fried and Seasoned Food

Even though your pup may beg for your mouth-watering fried tilapia, you shouldn’t give in to those puppy dog eyes. Excessive oils, spices, and seasonings can give your dog an upset tummy or uncomfortable digestive issues. Many dogs may throw up or experience diarrhea when they’ve eaten food seasoned to a human’s tastes.

And don’t forget, alliums like garlic and onions are toxic to dogs! Any fish that has been cooked with toxic or harmful ingredients should obviously be off-limits as well. Again, be mindful that your dog has different nutritional needs than you, and consult your vet when considering new food sources and treats.

fresh raw tilapia fish fillet
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Other Considerations

Most tilapia in the world are farm-raised, selectively bred, and generally thought to contain low amounts of mercury or other chemical contaminants. Make sure you buy tilapia from a verified source, as in the past decade, there have been reports of some farms in China that were feeding the fish animal manure. PetMD recommends buying brands whose labels carry the certification of either the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and fish harvested from Ecuador and Peru, which tend to be “greener.”

How to Feed Tilapia to Your Dogs

Tilapia is a tasty, healthy occasional treat that you can give to your pup in small amounts. Most vets advise keeping treats at or below 10% of your dog’s food for the day. Moderation is the key to any healthy diet, and you should chat with your vet to make sure you are giving them the right kind and portion size.

If you want to serve up some tilapia for your pup, first you should make sure that it is skinned, deboned, and cleaned. Cook it thoroughly to kill any lingering bacteria or parasites and serve without further preparation. Remove the skin or cook it well, as many harmful germs can be present there as well.

Never season or fry fish for your dog. Dogs have a low tolerance for oils, salt, sugars, and spices. If you give your pup heavily seasoned fish, curry, or a super buttery dish you may have some emergency bathroom situations and carpet cleaning in your future! Not to mention, the poor pooch will feel very ill and uncomfortable and may need to see the vet.

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Final Thoughts on Feeding Tilapia to Your Dog

In short, yes, tilapia is safe and non-toxic for dogs, when prepared adequately and offered in moderation. In proper portions, it can even be a healthy occasional supplement to a well-balanced diet.

However, as the Greek poet Hesiod said, “moderation is best in all things.” A bit of cooked, unseasoned tilapia on occasion? Yes. Your dog will be delighted? We can almost guarantee it. But raw, poorly cleaned tilapia, with bones or in large quantities? No thanks!

It’s best to talk to a veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions regarding your dog’s dietary health, but we hope this quick read has put your heart at ease.

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