Sardines, also called pilchards, are small, reddish-brown, oily fish from the herring family. Most of us are familiar with sardines used as bait while fishing or from tins of sardines purchased in the grocery store. They are also caught to be grilled, pickled, or smoked or can be used to create fish oil.
Many dog parents are looking for natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids may reduce body inflammation or help in managing specific medical conditions such as arthritis. But can adding sardines to a dog’s diet make an impact?
In this article we will examine whether sardines are good for your dog, the risks of feeding sardines, and the best way to determine how many sardines to feed your dog.
Are Sardines Good For Dogs?
Sardines have positive nutritional value for your dog. Sardines, like other fish, are a great protein source for dogs and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids—such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Sardines are also rich in Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, and the antioxidant selenium.
But although sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they still cannot reach the same levels of EPA and DHA as fortified diets and supplements.
Pet owners may want to consider an omega-3 supplement rather than directly feeding fish like sardines. Supplements contain less calories and fat, while providing more omega-3 benefits. Ask your veterinarian before giving supplements to your dog.
Are Sardines Safe for Dogs?
If your dog does not have or is not predisposed to certain conditions such as diabetes, obesity, pancreatitis, or kidney disease, sardines are generally a safe treat to give your dog in small quantities.
In addition to concerns around overfeeding sardines to dogs, some of the largest safety concerns involve the substance the fish are packed in, whether pet owners need to worry about bones, and if there are any risks of mercury poisoning or toxicity.
Can Dogs Eat Sardines in Olive Oil?
Many sardines are packed in olive oil. In general, olive oil is excellent for the skin and fur coat of dogs, but feeding dogs sardines packed in olive oil is not recommended. Since sardines are already a high-fat food, we don’t want to be adding additional fat to the treat.
Consider purchasing sardines packed in water if you plan on feeding them to your dog.
If you happen to purchase sardines in olive oil, take the sardines out of the tin and let the olive oil drain out of the fish pieces for several hours on a paper towel, rotating occasionally to allow optimum drainage. This method will not get all the olive oil out, but will help to minimize the amount of olive oil on the piece of fish before feeding it to your dog.
Can Dogs Eat Sardines With Bones?
Some sardines come with bones still inside the fish pieces. These are generally small bones, and may look harmless, but they have the potential to cause problems if ingested by dogs.
Sardine bones may cause stomach irritation or can even puncture the intestines, creating a life-threatening emergency.
To be safe, remove all bones before feeding sardines to your dog.
Should I Worry About Mercury in Sardines?
Generally, no, pet parents who are interested in feeding their dogs sardines do not have to worry about mercury poisoning.
As bait fish, sardines are pretty low on the food chain and do not live long enough to accumulate significant quantities of mercury.
Risks of Feeding Dogs Sardines
Sardines are a high-fat food for dogs. Many articles and studies claim that sardines are low in saturated fat—which is true. But saturated fat is only one kind of fat. When it is added to the other forms of fat, sardines wind up being a high-fat food for our canine companions.
Since feeding sardines means feeding a high-fat food, you want to be cautious in how many sardines you are giving your dog and the fat level of their regular food.
If their normal dog food is also moderate-to-high in fat, or if you are feeding too many sardines, you could be inadvertently setting your dog up for vomiting, diarrhea, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, or pancreatitis.
If your dog already has a sensitive stomach, gets diarrhea easily, is already overweight (or is at risk of becoming overweight), has diabetes, has had pancreatitis, or is a breed predisposed to developing pancreatitis, then consider another treat for your dog.
How to Feed Dogs Sardines
If you have decided to feed your dog sardines, work with your veterinarian or a nutritionist to determine the right amount for your dog based on body weight, energy level and dietary needs. Only 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories should come from additives or treats.
If you have determined that you can safely feed a certain number of sardines per day, then take 1/4 of that amount and feed as a treat or mix it into your dog’s food. It’s important to start with a small amount of sardines, given with food, to make sure your dog’s body tolerates the fat content well.
If you do not see any throwing up, unwillingness to eat, or diarrhea, then you can increase the amount given slowly, up to the maximum number you calculated above.
Be very mindful of your pet’s weight after adding sardines to your dog’s diet. If they start to gain weight, decrease the number of sardines fed, increase the amount of exercise your pet gets on a daily basis, or talk to your veterinarian about some weight loss strategies.