Fish is frequently used in all kinds of doggy dinners and tasty treats for our furry friends. We all know that oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are super nutritious and packed full of omega-3 which is fab brain food, helps ease arthritic joints, and makes silky hair and soft, supple skin.
So can dogs eat mackerel and does a fish dinner have the same positive benefits for our fur babies?
Yes, dogs can eat mackerel. This fatty, oily fish can provide a lot of important nutrients in your pooch’s diet. Whether it’s an ingredient in their dog food or a tasty treat you’re offering on the side, your pup can safely enjoy mackerel as part of a healthy balanced diet.
There are several ways you can cook mackerel, but baking preserves almost all of the vitamin D and doesn’t lose as many fatty acids as other methods of cooking, making it much better for you and the pooch.
Technically dogs can eat raw mackerel, but it isn’t advisable, and you should avoid feeding your pooch any raw fish. This is because of the risks of harmful pathogens like salmonella and parasites such as flukes and roundworms that can cause serious illness to you or your dog.
Sufficiently freezing or cooking mackerel should kill off anything harmful lurking inside it. Cooked fish is also easier for your dog to digest, so there’s less chance of it causing diarrhoea.
As long as there are no toxic ingredients in the tin, dogs can eat canned mackerel but it’s not as good as fresh or frozen fish. Canned mackerel usually has other additives which aren’t good for your dog, such as additional salt, olive oil, sauce, and spices.
Mackerel kept in olive oil or sunflower oil isn’t toxic, but it does make the fish even fattier. Too much fat in your pup’s diet can lead to obesity, which raises their risk of developing secondary conditions such as diabetes or cancer. Eating a lot of fat can also trigger pancreatitis, a serious condition that needs urgent veterinary care and lifelong dietary change if your pooch ever falls ill with it, so it’s always best to prevent it by avoiding fatty treats.
Canned mackerel comes with all sorts of sauces, from tomato to katsu or chilli. When it comes to a flavoured, saucy tin of mackerel it’s best not to feed it to your dog. Particularly spicy or curry flavours, as these are irritating and unappetising for your pup. Plus, the additional ingredients like salt and sugar aren’t good for them.
Ideally not, because the sauce contains additives that aren’t good for them. The sauce will contain extra salt and sugar which your dog is better off without. Also, some brands of tinned mackerel in tomato sauce contain nondescript “spices”, which you should be wary of as there’s no way of telling what exactly is in the tin and whether it’s safe for canine consumption, especially as many spices can make your pooch ill.
On the other hand, provided there are no toxic ingredients in the sauce, your dog can probably eat a little bit and be ok. That said, fresh, plain mackerel is much better for them.
Dogs shouldn’t eat smoked or cured mackerel because it's very high in salt, and some contain additional additives and spices like black pepper which irritate a dog’s stomach.
The main problem with smoked mackerel is the huge amounts of salt in it. A single serving contains 1.6g of salt, while an adult dog ideally should be eating less than 0.5g of salt per day. Eating too much salt can dehydrate your dog, but in severe cases, it can also poison them so it’s best to keep salty foods out of Fido’s bowl.
Dogs can eat mackerel skin as long as it’s thoroughly cooked and plain, and there aren’t any large, hard, or sharp scales on it. Mackerel skin is typically smooth, so it’s usually fine for dogs to eat as long as it’s cut up into bitesize pieces and fed in moderation.
Fish skin is potentially great for your furry friend because it’s packed full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, all those fatty acids do mean that the fish skin itself is very fatty, so eating too much can contribute to weight gain and raise their risk of suffering from pancreatitis.
No, your dog shouldn’t eat mackerel bones. If you’ve ever swallowed a fishbone, you’ll know just how irritating and painful it can be, and it’s no different for dogs! Swallowing a mackerel bone could irritate and injure their throat or gut and can be a choking risk.
You can buy boneless fillets of fish or you can remove the bones from a mackerel yourself. Since you need to cut the mackerel into bitesize chunks for your pooch to enjoy, it’s a good opportunity to double-check there are no pesky bones left in the meat.
When fed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, mackerel can be super good for your furry friend.
Mackerel has one of the highest EPA and DHA levels out of the common oily fish we eat, and it’s also really high in vitamin D.
EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid, and both are kinds of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 is important in your dog’s diet because they cannot make this nutrient within their body, and can only absorb it from what they eat.
Just like with humans, omega-3 is great for the health of your hound’s brain and body. It promotes healthy brain growth and function, improves their fur and skin, and helps to maintain a healthy heart. It also helps combat inflammation and improve the weight-bearing and wellbeing of dogs with arthritis.
Since it helps to combat achy joints and keeps their brains wired, it’s a great addition to an older dog’s diet as well as being brilliant brain food for a growing puppy!
Oily fish like mackerel is also a good source of another fatty acid, omega-6. Just like omega-3, omega-6 will help to improve your dog’s skin and fur but it’s also vital for the healthy growth and function of all the cells in their body.
Mackerel is also a brilliant source of protein, which should make up a big portion of your pup’s diet. Protein plays a big part in most of their body functions, from making new DNA right down to growing and healing muscles and other tissues. Dogs also get a lot of their energy from protein and fat, so having both in their diet means your pup can stay happy, healthy, and active.
There are some downsides to your dog eating mackerel though, the most immediate being if they eat it raw.
Raw mackerel can harbour nasty bacteria and parasites that can cause your pup serious harm. Although the risk is relatively small provided the fish is thoroughly frozen and handled correctly, the consequences of ingesting these pathogens are severe and can endanger your dog’s life.
Humans can also be made sick by the same nasties hidden in raw fish. However, simply freezing the fish thoroughly for at least a week or cooking it should be enough to kill off anything lurking in their supper.
Additionally, mackerel contains an enzyme called thiaminase which is used to break down thiamin, or vitamin B6. However, eating too much thiaminase can cause the breakdown of too much vitamin B6 and create a deficiency. Luckily, cooking your mackerel will basically render this enzyme useless, so there’s little chance of it causing your pup any problems provided they’re munching cooked mackerel.
Mackerel does contain some mercury, but unlike big long-living, carnivorous fish like tuna, it has much lower levels of this heavy metal inside the fish’s flesh.
Not all mackerel are made equal though. King mackerel has much higher levels of mercury and you should avoid feeding this to your dog. Instead, stick to smaller fish like Atlantic mackerel and always feed it to your pooch irregularly and in moderation to ensure there are no risks of mercury building up in their body and poisoning them.
Dogs can eat mackerel in moderation as long as it is cooked and plain. It has lots of important nutrients that’ll benefit your dog’s health and wellbeing, from silky fur and supple joints right up to boosting their brain health!
Any mackerel you serve your pup should be de-boned to prevent injury and free from any spices, seasonings or sauces that could irritate their stomach and make them unwell.
Tinned mackerel is too salty to make an ideal snack for Fido, but it is “safe” for dogs to eat as long as there are no toxic ingredients in the tin. If tinned is all you have, your dog will probably be okay eating a tiny bit.
Smoked mackerel is far too high in salt for your dog to eat safely though. So the best mackerel for your pooch to scoff is fresh or frozen fillets of whole fish, as natural as you can get it!
Mackerel is packed full of feel-good benefits, most importantly, the advantages the omega 3 fatty acids bring. Even though this is a great addition to your dog’s dinner to make sure they’ve got everything they need, a Pure plan tailored to your pooch is already jam-packed with omega 3s so they’re getting a complete, balanced meal every single time they eat. This saves you the hassle of adding any extras and you know your pup is getting all the nutrients they need in every single bite.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.