Looking for something a little different to spice up your dog’s treat selection? Need a new treat stuffed with nutrients and flavour to entice your fussy hound? Well, fish jerky might be just the treat you were looking for. A short-duration chew, fish jerky provides an instant treat with loads of health benefits. They are even safe for some puppies too!
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the benefits of fish jerky and whether there are any hidden risks you need to look out for.
Fish jerky snacks are a great option if your dog’s stomach is sensitive to traditional protein sources such as chicken and beef.
Fish products are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These have many health benefits, including keeping your dog’s joints, skin and immune system in tip-top condition.
Many fish jerky products are responsibly sourced – check the label to ensure the product you are buying is sustainable.
What is Fish Jerky?
Fish jerky has various names and forms; fish skins, cubes, flatties, twists, fingers, sticks and sea jerky– to name but a few. Essentially all these products are made from fish skins which are hot air-dried or baked. The dehydrated skins are then compressed and moulded into various novel shapes. As a result, some fish jerky treats take longer to chew than others.
Fish jerky is generally derived from the skin of white fish, decreasing their fat content compared to oily fish products. Common fishy ingredients include cod, pollock and tilapia. More niche products contain salmon and tuna, sometimes combined with other protein sources. These are different nutritionally, so make sure you pick the right product for your pup.
Fish jerky is purely fish skins. Don’t get caught out by-products with additional salt; it’s not necessary. Check the ingredients; there should be no flavours or additives. This is what makes fish jerky such a great natural treat for your dog.
Raw versions that are air-dried at cooler temperatures or fresh frozen are also available from some raw food suppliers. Smaller fish, such as sprats, may be available whole in frozen or dried forms too.
Lately, people are becoming more clued up on the fishing industry’s impact on smaller fishing communities, ecosystems and the wider marine environment. Ideally, selecting fish species under less pressure from fishing, wild-caught on a smaller scale and as local as possible is ideal. This means that the fish is responsibly sourced – the product’s labelling should guide you.
In recent years there has been speculation linking jerky treats produced in China to illness in dogs. This included digestive upsets and kidney disease (jerky-induced Fanconi syndrome). Whilst investigations remain inconclusive, eating large numbers of jerky treats does appear to pose a risk. For this reason, it is essential to purchase products manufactured to meet the Food Standards Agency’s criteria for pet food products and to feed any jerky-based treats in moderation.
If you are raw feeding your dog, it’s best to introduce fish gradually once your dog’s raw diet is well established. This is to avoid tummy upsets and diarrhoea. You should also be aware of the risks of parasites, including flukes and roundworms. Bacteria might also pass to your dog from the raw fish skins.
Raw fish skin is part of the meat portion of a dog’s meal – so deduct it from this ration if you are watching your dog’s waistline. It is not a complete diet, so ideally, feed it as a treat or to supplement the main meal. If your dog has no weight concerns, add fish skins as a daily topper to their whole meal portion.
Freeze raw fish skins for several weeks before feeding them to your dog. The Food Standards Agency advises people to freeze fish skins at -20oc for at least 24 hours or cook them at >60oc for >1 min. This will kill parasites and make them safe for human consumption.
Try to buy fish caught locally and as fresh as possible. It is also important to check that the fish is from a sustainable source with minimal environmental impact.
Nutritional Information for Fish Jerky
Fish jerky is exceptionally high in protein and packed with omega-3 oils which are great for your dogs’ joints. These special fats also enhance your dog’s skin and promote eye and brain health. If your dog has a robust constitution, fish jerky is great for elderly and growing dogs alike.
Fish skins and jerky are often marketed as low in fat. But they are exceptionally high in protein and calories. This may not be great for dogs with kidney disease or those on a calorie-controlled diet. If your dog suffers from pancreatitis, proceed with caution and avoid any products originating from oily fish, such as salmon and tuna.
The chart provides an average guaranteed nutritional analysis of air-dried fish jerky:
|Calories per 100g||374|
Note: The percentages don’t add up to 100% as they are averages from several data sources. Ranges are given when there is a high level of variation between products.
Approximately 3470 kcal/kg HIGH
A standard 10cm fish jerky stick weighs around 35g, so an average piece will provide approximately 120 calories. An average neutered 20 kg dog requires about 1070 calories daily, which is 11% of their daily energy requirements. Great if you have a very active dog that needs to gain weight, but this could be problematic for dogs on the heavier side.
Given the high-calorie content, give fish jerky as a treat rather than a primary constituent of your dog’s diet. Some manufacturers suggest feeding dogs 2-5 sticks per day, depending on their size. However, this may lead to weight gain and stomach upsets. Try feeding your dog a small amount initially before feeding up to 1-3 sticks per day.
Some fish sticks are marketed as a long-duration chew, but many owners report that their dogs demolish fish sticks in minutes. Cubes might disappear even quicker! In addition, many people report a pungent fishy smell which makes them unpleasant to have around the house. Although this is often a highlight for the dogs!
Health Benefits of Feeding Fish Jerky to Your Dog
Low in fat – fish jerky derived from white fish is lower in fat than many other treats. However, it may not be low enough for dogs with conditions such as pancreatitis, so proceed with caution in these dogs.
High in omega-3 fatty acids – this is fantastic for joint health and glossy coats.
Dental Health – these chews are abrasive to touch and provide teeth cleaning qualities.
Fish jerky is a great option for many dogs, and here’s why:
Fish jerky is high in Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids and low in saturated fats. These fatty acids are essential components of a dog’s diet and can promote joint health. Human research shows they possess anti-inflammatory qualities and can help boost the immune system. Of course, these treats should not replace any veterinary treatment your dog requires.
Some owners report that their dog’s coat is glossier whilst on fish products. In some cases of skin disease (including allergies), omega 3 can be particularly beneficial.
Omega 3 also has anti-oxidant properties and plays a crucial part in brain development and health in later life. There is also a building mound of evidence supporting the effects of fatty acids on maintaining a healthy heart. It all sounds pretty amazing!
Novel protein source
Fish jerky is not only high in protein (great for growth and muscle mass development), but fish is a novel protein source. Some dogs tolerate fish protein better than chicken, pork or beef if they have dietary intolerances and allergies. If your dog gets runny poop on chicken treats, fish jerky might be worth exploring.
Dental disease generally occurs due to plaque building up on your dog’s teeth. When this calcifies, it turns to tartar, which leads to gum disease, infections and oral pain – pretty nasty! So looking at ways to improve your dog’s dental hygiene is crucial. Brushing is always the most effective method. Offering chews that scrape the plaque from the teeth can certainly help.
Fish jerky has a rough, abrasive texture which can provide dental cleaning. Be warned, though, if your dog is a hard chewer and gobbles the jerky quickly, this will be less effective. Also, your dog’s teeth may be cleaner, but there is no guarantee of fresher breath!
Fish skins have a unique aroma, which may not be to everyone’s taste but can send some dogs wild! While its chew time is short, fish jerky lends itself to games of hide and seek and scent training. This can keep your dog occupied for far longer than it takes to chew the reward.
Vitamins and minerals
White fish also provides a source of B Vitamins and selenium which are excellent at boosting the immune system. In addition, B Vitamins can also enhance the condition of your dog’s coat and skin.
Downsides and Risks of Feeding Your Dog Fish Jerky
Fish jerky is a delicious treat that poses very few risks to your dog. But proceed cautiously if your dog is sensitive to some foods or new treats. Raw versions carry the most significant risk, including contamination with parasites and bacterial infections. Avoid jerky manufactured in China as it may carry additional risks.
Here’s a list of the main dangers to watch out for:
Some owners report mild bouts of diarrhoea after feeding fish jerky to their dogs. Usually, this is self-limiting and not a huge issue, but unpleasant nonetheless. Ensure you offer new treats gradually in small amounts to check whether they cause any digestive problems.
Bacterial contamination is possible from raw fish skins. Salmonella infection can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea, which can be life-threatening. Listeria infections are also linked to eating raw fish. Listeria causes fever, muscle pain and neurological signs. However, hot air-dried fish skin products pose a low risk for bacterial infection.
Parasite infections are also possible if your dog eats raw fish skin. Flatworms, or flukes as they are also known, are sometimes found in the skin, and roundworms live in the fish flesh just below the skin. Freezing can reduce the risk of picking up parasites, or better still, give your dog baked fish jerky instead.
Being low in fat leads people to assume that this also means being low in calories, but this is not the case. Fish jerky may be lightweight, but it is high in calories. So, if your dog tends to be a little overweight, this may not be the ideal treat.
While Fanconi syndrome has not been linked to fish jerky products, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has investigated thousands of suspected toxicity cases linked to other types of jerky; chicken, beef, duck and sweet potato. While it is unclear what causes the toxicity, the vast majority of the implicated jerky originated from China. As a result, the UK-based Veterinary Poisons Information Service has recommended that pet owners in the UK do not purchase any jerky products from China.
Your dog has a sensitive stomach and is prone to tummy upsets
Your dog is on a weight-control diet
Your dog has a sensitivity to fish proteins
Your dog is a heavy chewer and you are looking for a long-lasting chew
You have bought a fish jerky product manufactured in China
Fish Jerky for Puppies…
Fish jerky might be an exciting training treat for puppies due to its strong smell and interesting texture. Feeding guides often suggest feeding jerky from 12 weeks old, but ideally, you should wait until your pup is around 16 weeks. Feed them as treats in moderation to decrease the risk of gastrointestinal complaints. And introduce them to your dog’s snack selection gradually.
Fish jerky is full of nutrients that support healthy growth in puppies. They provide a softer chew that is gentler on young teeth and better for inexperienced chewers.
Alternatives to Fish Jerky
If you’re looking for alternative treats to fish jerky that provide plenty of chewing action, consider these alternatives:
Sprats are available if you want to raw-feed fish, but be sure to freeze them first. Alternatively, dried sprats are a tasty fish-based alternative treat.
Ostrich tendons are a fantastic treat for dogs with an intolerance to conventional proteins and the great news is that they provide lots of chew time.
Duck feet are an option if you are looking for a novel protein with teeth-cleaning properties.
Is fish jerky good for dogs?
Fish jerky can be a great source of protein, omega-3 fats and B vitamins which all assist growth, healthy joints and skin, and boost the immune system.
Fish jerky can provide many fabulous health benefits if your dog has no adverse symptoms. Don’t feed your dog too many, though, as this might increase the risk of an upset tummy.
Is fish jerky safe for dogs?
Fish jerky is, on the whole, a very safe treat. Be sure to offer your dog just a tiny amount the first time to see whether there are any adverse effects on their tummy.
Investigations have suggested that some jerky products might cause illness. These products commonly originate from China. Feed treats manufactured as locally as possible and always feed jerky in moderation.
Does fish jerky need to be refrigerated?
No. Store air-dried fish jerky in a cool, dry cupboard. It has a decent shelf life, but never keep it beyond its use-by date. Freeze raw fish skins before use (ideally for several weeks or at 20oc for >24 hours) to kill any parasites and bacteria.
How much fish jerky can I feed my dog?
Fish jerky is a treat and can supplement your dog’s diet. Feed it in moderation to avoid weight gain and diarrhoea. Feeding guides vary, but feeding up to one daily for small dogs and 2-3 per day for large dogs is a sensible limit.