Is Canned Fish like Sardines a “Superfood” for Dogs?

by admin on April 18, 2011

An article by a “canine nutritionist” hailing the attributes of canned sardines was recently posted on a raw feeders’ buying list I belong to.  It was followed by lots of accolades from other members about how informative and interesting it was.  Considering this list is peopled with mostly veteran raw feeders, I thought a more objective critique was called for.

To be fair, the article does have some interesting facts and info, notably how sardines got their name and how to pick out fresh fish.  But it does a major disservice to dog owners seeking to learn how to properly feed their dogs, because, among other mistakes, it makes no effort to distinguish raw from cooked.

Don’t Get Lost in the Information

It is typical for nutritionists to get so lost in the information they gather from analyzing and dissecting food down into its tiniest nutrient constituents that they fail to see the obvious damage that is done to it by the processing.  Ms. Jansey, for example, says that “fresh is great” but doesn’t even say the word “raw”, which means people could easily understand this to mean that they should buy the fish fresh and then go home and cook it.

Contrary to what the writer contends, canned fish absolutely cannot be used as a healthy replacement for raw fish.  The only thing canned fish could possibly be good for replacing is fish oils, and that’s only because the latter is even more harmful.  Raw fish is a fine dog food but if owners can’t get fresh or frozen raw fish (sardines or smelt included), then they should not, and need not, feed fish at all.  Everything that a dog needs is available in raw food sources that do not contain the harmful and indigestible substances in canned fish.  Canned fish may not be as overprocessed as fish oils, but if skinning, de-heading, gutting, cooking, disguising (flavoring), oiling, canning, salting and/or otherwise rendering a food “shelf stable” isn’t ‘overprocessing’, I don’t know what is.

Not All Canned Fish is Created Equal

Some types of canned fish are less processed and adulterated than others.  Some retain the skin and heads and even internal organs; others have harmful spices and chemical preservatives that have no place in a dog’s body.  They all have extremely high levels of sodium, unless the consumer goes to the trouble and expense of buying low or no-salt versions.  This is particularly true of the types of canned fish mentioned in the article that are packed in tomato sauce or oil.  The worst part, of course, is that all canned fish is cooked at very high temperatures, which fatally damages many nutrients and makes the fats and proteins much less usable by a dog’s body.

This article is the equivalent of saying if you can’t get a fresh orange, orange sherbet would do nicely.  Human nutritionists actually do say such silly things, so it’s no surprise to hear them from canine nutritionists too.

In the best interest of dogs,
Nora Lenz

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Karen July 7, 2011 at 1:33 am

It’s agreed that certain types of fish are toxic to dogs in the same way chocolate is. I am not sure about sardines, however, it is recommended highly for humans to ingest to get those heart healthy omega 3s.

If you are going to feed a dog canned sardines and you are cleared by your vet to do so but worried about salt content – All you have to do is soak them in water to dilute salts.

It’s nothing but pure logic but PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE contact a veterinarian before giving RAW fish to any animals….It may cost them a painful death due to worms unless you are feeding them sushi grade seafood – and who can afford that?

Bottom line for us purebred breeders is that dry food (in the bag) is the most recommended food by veterinarians simply because of the balance of proteins, roughage, vitamins, vital oils, carbs, etc. are formulated to completely satisfy a dog’s/cat’s requirements depending on age and needs. We usually add a cup of good canned dog food or equal amount of chicken to our dog bowls….just because it is a treat for dogs and does augment in protein for growing puppies as well as providing better immune system reliability.

If you have any questions about training, feed, etc., you can contact George at: 360-421-8624 (49 yrs experience as a AKC Rottweiller breeder)

admin July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I did not state that “certain types of fish are toxic to dogs in the same way that chocolate is”, or anything close to that. Please read the article again as you seem to have missed the point.

In addition, for many reasons, canned sardines are not a healthy food for either dogs or humans. Raw sardines are healthy for dogs, but are biologically inappropriate for humans.

The vet industry relies heavily on the belief that dogs can be fed any mish mash of leftover waste from the human food production industry and whatever diseases they suffer will be 1) unrelated to that; and 2) fixable. Unfortunately, it’s not true. If everyone knew the truth about commercial pet foods and started feeding their dogs properly, the vet industry as we know it would cease to exist. It is extremely naive to think that what is best for dogs plays any role in determining what goes into pet foods. What guides manufacturers to include certain foods and substances is primarily profit and expediency. The pet food industry is mainly used as the waste disposal arm of the human food industry. The foods that are cheap, plentiful and in need of disposal are the ones that are used in pet food, and anything that has value above what a bag of pet food will bring is reserved for the human market. Pet food companies’ first loyalty has to be to their bottom line and their stockholders, and this lies in direct conflict with what is best for dogs, because the foods that fulfill their nutritional needs are not cheap to produce.

Proper home feeding can be done affordably, but caring dog owners don’t choose which foods to feed their dogs based strictly on cost. That’s basically the difference between appropriate and commercial feeding: dog owners care about their dogs, and the dog food industry doesn’t. Although commercial pet food may seem like a bargain, the costs increase exponentially when vet care is factored in. Those dog owners who are willing to think independently and feed their dogs properly are enjoying freedom from dependency on the sick dog industry.

Thanks for commenting.

Sherri November 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Hi Nora – I learned of you from your articles in Dogs Naturally, and I truly enjoy what you have to say. However, your articles often leave me frustrated bc you will include a sentence or two in each on something that really intrigues me, but do not elaborate much. 🙂

In this article, I found this interesting, and would like to know more on the topic. “The only thing canned fish could possibly be good for replacing is fish oils, and that’s only because the latter is even more harmful.” Can you please point me in the direction of more quality information on this topic?


admin November 8, 2011 at 2:54 am

Hi Sherri,
Thanks for leaving your comments! Regarding your question about my statement about fish oils, I’m afraid there is a great dearth of information on the topic of how harmful it is to feed free oils to dogs. Almost everyone is on board with the idea that certain types of oil have health benefits, and I don’t know of anyone besides myself who’s even thinking critically on the subject. Dogs are only set up to digest fats in the normal context of their foods. There’s nothing in a dog’s biological history that would have allowed them to adapt the ability to digest something as stable (decomposition wise) and refined as oils, no matter what plant or critter they come from.

In humans, oil consumption is seen as good for the skin because in people whose bodies are already overwhelmed with the job of eliminating wastes (almost everyone), fatty wastes come through the skin as a secondary avenue and disguise the symptoms of dry skin. When people stop eating the conventional diet and also stop consuming oils, the symptom of dry skin appears. The best way to approach it is not to cover it up, but to allow the body to heal itself and recover its ability to keep the skin normally and properly lubricated.

If you have other questions about things I’ve written about, please feel free to post them.
Best wishes,

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