Can Dogs Eat Tilapia?

Can dogs have tilapia? ¹

If you’re looking to add some variety to your dog’s menu you may be wondering about fish.

It is supposed to be good for us humans, but what about dogs? And what kind of fish can you offer your pet?

Can dogs eat tilapia for instance? It’s a fairly popular type of fish so if you’re making tilapia for the family can you also feed it to your pet who is cooking you in the kitchen with a very keen eye?

The good news is that tilapia is generally safe for dogs, but you must take certain precautions, and only feed it in moderation.

Here are a few tips on why tilapia might be good for your dog, what risks you need to keep in mind and how to cook fish for your pet. 

What exactly is tilapia?

Tilapia is widely consumed in the United States and many European countries, because it has a mild taste and it’s quite affordable. However, few people ever wonder where this type of fish comes from.

Tilapia is a fish that is native to Africa and the Middle East. The tilapia at your local supermarket probably comes from a fish farm in China or Taiwan. Tilapia is very easy to farm which makes it highly-profitable. It adapts well to various conditions and thrives even in polluted waters contaminated with all sorts of pathogens. That doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? 

If you want to keep your dog (and your family) safe, you should look for tilapia raised in farms carrying the label of the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, which are certified to use green fish farming methods and provide good quality fish. 

What are the nutritional values of tilapia?

One regular 100g serving of tilapia provides just 129 calories, which makes this fish a good option if your dog is at risk of becoming overweight. According to the USDA, a regular serving packs 25 grams of protein, which is around 52% of the daily recommended value for a normal person. For a dog the same serving represents more than 100% of the protein he needs in one day. 

In terms of fat, tilapia is better than many other fish. One regular serving has only 4% fat, or 2.7 grams. 

It lacks dietary fiber, but it doesn’t contain any carbs either.

What are the benefits of eating tilapia for dogs?

Besides providing much needed protein to your dog, tilapia also contains plenty of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.

For instance, tilapia is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids which is important for heart health. Also, this type of unsaturated fat is known to lower cholesterol levels and keep blood pressure under control.

This type of fish is also rich in vitamin B12, which protects the nervous system and supports red blood cell formation.

Your dog can also get a good amount of vitamin D (37% RDA for humans), which strengthens the immune system. As you probably know, only a few foods can provide vitamin D so you should take advantage of this cheap and widely-available source.

Tilapia also contains calcium, which is essential for strong bones, as well as magnesium and phosphorus. It provides a good dose of selenium, which protects against cognitive decline, fights heart and thyroid disease and has been touted to have cancer-prevention qualities. 

Why might tilapia be bad for your dog?

As mentioned above you cannot be certain where that fish comes from and in what conditions it was farmed. There’s always the risk that it might be contaminated with salmonella and other types of parasites so you should never serve tilapia raw to your dog. If it’s thoroughly cooked, all the pathogens it might have contained will be destroyed.

At the same time, you should make sure the fish is thoroughly deboned when you present it to your pet. Depending on its species, tilapia can vary between 37 cm in length (Mozambique tilapia) and 60 cm (Nile tilapia). This means the fish can have pretty long bones, not to mention very sharp. As you cannot expect your dog to pick out the bones and leave them on the side of his bowl, you need to make sure there aren’t any in his fillet. If a fish bone gets stuck in his throat it will cause a lot of pain and it’s a major choking hazard. If the bone makes it to the stomach it can puncture the internal lining and you might be looking at an emergency trip to the vet.

One way to avoid such risks would be to buy deboned fillets, but check them out for the odd bone nevertheless. 

As far as the skin is concerned, that is safe for your dog, provided that it is well cooked first. 

How should I cook tilapia for my dog?

If you want your dog to make the most of this type of food, you should steam or bake a tilapia fillet for him. You can also fry it, but remember that too much fat can cause a lot of health issues.

When you cook tilapia, or any other fish for that matter, forget about all the seasoning that you normally use for the family meal. Dogs don’t need added salt, while garlic and onions are downright toxic for them. 

You can add some vegetables instead. Sweet potatoes, green beans, cauliflower and broccoli are all rich in fiber and would make a wonderful side dish for the tilapia fillet. For a dog with a sensitive stomach you can try a bland meal of steamed tilapia and plain cooked rice. 

If your dog is a picky eater and doesn’t like the new brand of dog food you just bought, you can cut a tilapia fillet in small pieces and mix it with his kibble. 

Many dogs go crazy for fish so you can use tilapia as a special treat. You can use it during training sessions to reward good behavior, or you can hide whatever medications your pet needs to take in a bit of fish. 

How much tilapia can my dog eat?

As long as it’s well-cooked there’s no particular reason your dog shouldn’t get tilapia every day. It won’t harm him. However, you need to keep your dog’s nutritional needs in mind. This type of fish provides no fiber and this might affect his digestive system. Also, a dog needs some carbs in his diet to keep his energy up. 

To make sure your dog gets all the vitamins and minerals that he needs, try to offer various types of food, not just one, no matter how healthy it might be. 

The best thing is to aim for moderation, so if you serve him tilapia fillets twice a week it will be just perfect. 

When you’re feeding tilapia to your dog for the first time, make sure to offer just a bite. Fish allergies are quite rare in dogs, but you need to make sure tilapia agrees with his stomach. If your dog doesn’t get a tummy ache, double the size of the serving the next time.  

What fish is best for dogs?

Experts recommend offering your dog fish a few times a week, as a treat or a full meal.

The best fish for dogs are

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Whitefish
  • Flounder
  • Catfish
  • Herring
  • Tuna (as in canned light tuna)

Make sure the fish is deboned and well-cooked, so your dog doesn’t get any nasty parasites. Another thing to keep in mind is that many types of fish have high mercury levels in their meat and bones. Generally, small fish with a short life span have lower mercury levels than large fish. 

As far as tilapia is concerned, it probably doesn’t come from our heavily-polluted oceans, but from a farm. It probably didn’t get a chance to ingest as much mercury as fish caught in the wild. On the other hand, farmed fish can contain high levels of antibiotics in their meat, bones and skin.

What fish are bad for dogs?

The main problem with fish is what contaminants it might contain. Mercury should be your main concern, which is why experts say the following types of fish are not recommended for dogs:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Albacore tuna
  • King mackerel

These have been shown to contain high levels of mercury so steer clear of them. 

Closing Thoughts:

Fish is very healthy for dogs, provided that you choose the right type, low in fats and also mercury-free (or as free as possible). Tilapia is safe for dogs and much appreciated by them. You should only serve your dog tilapia fillets as the bones pose a serious choking hazard. The skin is OK, though. 

Also, always cook the fish well. Steam it or bake it in the oven, and throw in a few vegetables if you like. If your dog doesn’t like vegetables, mixing them with fish such as tilapia is a good way to trick him into eating some.

Photo credits

¹ Photo by Thomas Kriese on Flickr