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Is There Mercury In Dog Food? Diet & Health Facts, FAQs & Advice

Visnja Radosavljevic

By Visnja Radosavljevic

labrador retriever eating dog food from a bowl

We all want to provide our dogs with the best possible care, which includes healthy meals that will keep our dogs full and active throughout the day. While there are excellent dog food recipes that meet all nutritional and quality standards, some recipes can contain ingredients your canine doesn’t need.

Is mercury one of them?

Not all dog food recipes contain mercury. However, salmon, tuna, and other fish-based foods contain mercury, which is potentially harmful to your furry friend. Keep reading to learn more about mercury in dog food and if this ingredient is a red flag or not.

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What Is Mercury?

Mercury is a widespread chemical element, also known as quicksilver. It can be organic (including methylmercury) or inorganic. Mainly, you can find mercury in:

  • Thermometers
  • Barometers
  • Manometers
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Electric switches
  • Float valves

However, as mercury is toxic, many of these products now use different substances such as alcohol and galinstan. Because of its toxicity, mercury exposure can lead to several health issues in both humans and dogs.

Depending on the type and the amount of mercury your dog consumes, it could suffer from kidney and liver failure and issues with the nervous and immune systems.

Dog Food and Mercury

senior beagle dog eating food from the bowl
Image Credit: Przemek Iciak, Shutterstock

Fish-based dog food recipes contain mercury, and while not all recipes are dangerous, some could be. Typically, dog foods containing mercury will have tuna, salmon, and crab listed among the main ingredients, which is how you can recognize the possibility of high mercury amounts in the recipe.

While there are no precise standards for the allowed amount of this substance in dog food, the advisable amount for small mammals is 70 nanograms per gram of mercury.

Most fish-based dog foods are safe for daily consumption as the amount of mercury is not high enough to cause mercury poisoning. However, some studies show that the mercury levels in some dog foods are higher than they should be.

The University of Nevada did a study on the amount of mercury in pet food,1 and their results weren’t satisfactory. Per their research, out of 10 foods they tested, four dog foods had alarming mercury levels.

Still, another study by the University of California states that the concentrations of mercury they detected through their testing are unlikely to cause health risks to adult dogs.2

Should Mercury In Dog Food Worry You?

Now that you know that mercury in dog food could be dangerous for your canine, you’re probably wondering if you should be worried or not. Opinions are divided, and each study has come to a different conclusion, making it hard to know if the amount of mercury in dog food is really harmful or not.

Our advice would be to avoid or at least minimize the use of fish-based dog food. However, if your dog loves fish recipes, you can look for products that include fish but are not among the main ingredients. If your dog is allergic to other foods, it might be best to consult your vet for advice on appropriate food options you can try.

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The Effect of Mercury on Dogs

sick dog laying in bed
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

If your dog consumes foods with mercury every once in a while, likely, it won’t have any reactions. Mercury doesn’t cause issues immediately, and it takes daily consumption to showcase symptoms of mercury poisoning.

As mercury builds up in your dog’s body, over time, it will develop issues that could be lethal. This is not a required mineral, meaning there’s no need for it inside dog food like other necessary minerals.

As there are two different types of mercury, they can cause different effects on your dog.

Inorganic Mercury Effects On Dogs
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Dermatitis
  • Headaches
  • Muscle twitches
  • Lowered brain functions
  • Kidney failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Death
Organic Mercury Effects On Dogs
  • Issues with vision
  • Coordination loss
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia
  • Death

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Mercury Poisoning In Dogs

Mercury poisoning is not uncommon and was frequent in the past, but with discoveries of replacement materials, mercury poisoning has drastically decreased. Still, your dog could get mercury poisoning from eating contaminated food, especially if it’s something your dog consumes for every meal.


Your dog can experience mercury poisoning when it digests large amounts of mercury for extended periods of time. Besides food, there are a few different causes that could lead to mercury poisoning:

  • Exposure to contaminated soil
  • Breathing toxic fumes from trash or burning oil
  • Consuming latex paint, button batteries, glass thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs

The symptoms will only occur if your dog consumes these items or is exposed to contaminated soil and fumes for a long time.

One of the most significant issues of mercury poisoning in dogs is that it often takes a lot of time for the first symptoms to show up. That said, it can be hard to give a diagnosis until multiple symptoms occur simultaneously.


Vet specialist examination sick dog
Image Credit: didesign021, Shutterstock

As it’s hard to get the diagnosis, you’ll first need to take your canine to the vet, explaining all the symptoms you noticed. You’ll also need to provide details about how long the symptoms have been occurring and what you think is the source of the issue.

Your vet will perform all the required examinations, including checking vitals and reflexes, and a kidney biopsy. Usually, your dog will also go through MRI, X-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound to observe the condition of its organs.

If your dog gets diagnosed with mercury poisoning, it will need hospitalization. The vet will typically give your beloved pet antibiotics, IV fluids, and anti-inflammatory medication. While these medications will help your dog, many mercury poisoning symptoms are irreversible.

Should I Feed My Dog With Fish-Based Foods?

Fish makes an excellent source of protein for dogs, but you shouldn’t forget that many fish dog food recipes contain mercury (possibly in large amounts.) Although you don’t have to completely remove fish-based products from your dog’s diet, it would be best to steer away from them and choose other food options if you’re worried.

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Final Thoughts

Although not all dog foods contain mercury, fish-based products like salmon typically do, and the amounts can be higher than they should be. While there’s no need to panic, you should try to lower the usage of fish-based products, especially the ones containing tuna among the first ingredients.

Featured Image Credit: Mumemories, Shutterstock

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