A Guide to Sardines for Dogs

The addition of fresh sardines to your dog’s diet is known to have many health benefits. What are these benefits and how do they help our dogs? This article will delve into the important information that you need regarding sardines and your dog’s diet, including frequently asked questions to help you decide if sardines are suitable for your dog.

Key facts

Sardines are small oily fish that have a high nutritional value. They are available fresh and in canned or dried form.

Sardines provide a natural source of many useful things including vitamin D and omega fatty acids. These play an essential role in your dog’s growth, joint condition, coat health and brain development.

Sardines should be avoided if your dog is obese, suffers from diabetes or is prone to pancreatitis flare-ups due to the fat content.

Some alternatives to sardines include salmon sticks, white fish cubes, cod skin and salmon oil. 

What Are Sardines?

Sardines, also known as pilchards, are small oily fish that are extremely nutrient dense. They are frequently eaten by humans, marine mammals and seabirds, as well as larger fish in the wild. They are a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids which are documented to have many benefits.

They are most readily available in canned form in commercial supermarkets but they can be enjoyed fresh, either smoked, pickled or baked. They can also be enjoyed by our dogs in dried form. The weight and size of dried sardines vary, once dried each fish weighs approximately 14 grams. They are usually around 12-16 cm long.


Sardines are usually fished from the Atlantic Ocean. Commonly off the coast of Cornwall for this country. They live at depths of approximately 10-100 metres. The main season for sardines to be fished is August to January although they can occasionally be caught outside of these months.

When possible, it is important to buy sardines carrying the Marine Stewardship Council label, as these fish are certified as sustainable. If the fish packaging is marked with this label, it means the fish have come from fisheries which are independently certified to a high standard set by the MSC. There are many MSC-labelled sardine products available worldwide.


Sardines are available as fresh fish. They can also be smoked, pickled or preserved in tins or dehydrated. Dehydration is done by freeze drying or naturally drying in the sun. The dried form is becoming popular as a nutritious treat or food topper for dogs. They are 100% fish products and usually don’t contain any preservatives or additives. Dried sardines are small, approximately 15 cm long, and brownish in colour. They are delicate with a crispy texture.

RAW Feeding

Did you know?

If your dog is on a raw diet, sardines are perfectly fine to be included in their diet. They can be fed raw, or in the dehydrated form. It is important to keep up good hygiene practices when handling raw food as there is a risk that the uncooked fish may contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E Coli, and Campylobacter. Your dog is at low risk of becoming ill from these pathogens. However, if there is anyone in your household in a vulnerable position – young babies, the elderly or immunosuppressed, they are at high risk of developing serious disease.  

Benefits of Sardines for Dogs

Key benefits

Single Source of Protein
If your dog is allergic to any food products, you can ensure they are only being exposed to one protein source when feeding sardines.

Nutritional Benefits
Sardines are highly nutritious with a high protein content and contain lots of vital components required for good health.

Highly Palatable
Sardines are dense and meaty with a strong aroma that dogs seem to enjoy.

Long Shelf Life & Easy to Store
Sardines are a handy snack to carry around and to keep at home to use at your convenience.

Single source of protein

Some dogs have allergies to specific animal proteins found in their normal diet. Dog food companies can often change the composition of their diet. It can be difficult to know what to feed them as you may be exposing them to small amounts of substances they are allergic to. If you know that your dog doesn’t have a fish allergy, then sardines are completely safe to feed as you won’t be feeding them traces of any other proteins that they might react to.

Highly palatable

Sardines have a strong taste and flavour which dogs do seem to really enjoy. They are very useful in increasing the palatability of your dog’s regular dog food by sprinkling them on top.

Easy to store and long shelf life

Dried sardines are very easy to store and a handy snack to use on the go as they don’t require any special storage such as refrigeration. They also have a long shelf life – if handled properly they can last between 6- 12 months.

Nutritional Information for Sardines

Dried sardines are a complete protein, which means they contain all the necessary amino acids required by your dog to maintain a healthy body. They aid in the healthy maintenance of the muscles, immune system, internal organs and digestive system.

The fish oils present in sardines contribute to a healthy coat and skin as well as healthy joints and bones too.

These fish oils, for example, omega-3, are important for the development and maintenance of healthy eyesight, and brain function. There is increasing amounts of evidence for the benefits of using omega-3 fatty acids in dogs with cardiac disease.

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids appear to be able to modify inflammatory and immune responses in dogs.

Omega-3 is especially important for puppies as their brains grow at a rapid rate so they need the correct nutrition to support this growth.

Nutritional Information for Sardines

Sardines Nutrition

Crude Protein
Crude Fibre
Crude Fat
Crude Ash

Note: The percentages don’t add up to 100% as they are averages from several data sources. Ranges are given when there is a wide variation between products. Find out more about how we calculate nutritional information >>


Sardines contain a relatively high amount of protein. Protein is very important for the healthy growth and development of your dog. Protein is broken down into essential amino acids in the body. Amino acids play an important role in building muscles, tissue repair and the maintenance of healthy skin and coat amongst other things.

Most dogs need a high amount of protein in their diet, however, some dogs with certain issues such as liver or kidney disease may need to limit their protein intake. Consult your vet before making any changes to your dog’s diet.


Sardines are a popular choice as they are generally low in fat. The main issue here is that the fat content does vary depending on the manufacturer. It is important to check the nutritional information on each packet you are considering for your dog. If your dog suffers from a condition like diabetes or pancreatitis, or if they are obese, it is best to check with your vet before supplementing their diet.

Vitamins, Minerals & Compounds

Vitamins, Minerals & Compounds

Omega 3 6 and 9 fish oils
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12

Omega 3, 6 and 9 fish oils

Sardines contain high amounts of fish oils omega-3 and omega-6. These fish oils keep your dog’s skin in a healthy condition and prevent the skin from getting dry. They also aid in keeping your dog’s coat healthy and claim to give it an extra shiny finish. It is thought that these fish oils can aid in the reduction of pain from inflammation of the joints.

Recent studies have shown that omega-3 plays an important role in maintaining heart health. It is thought that the anti-inflammatory and anti-arrhythmic effects of omega-3 may be beneficial in the management of common arrhythmias seen in canine heart failure.

It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids also have positive effects on heart rate and blood pressure, heart muscle function and immune function. It has been noted that additional research is required to determine appropriate doses and formulations for dogs with heart disease.

Sardines also contain Coenzyme Q10 which is thought to have benefits in terms of decreasing inflammation in some common cardiac conditions and is also vital for neurological development.

Puppies grow at a very fast rate in their first year. They require a high amount of DHA fatty acid to help fine tune their learning ability including their motor skills, eye function and memory. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in sardines.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is vital for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and for the growth and formation of red blood cells.


Selenium is important for a healthy functioning metabolism. It also plays a part in thyroid metabolism and the synthesis of DNA.


Phosphorus is a mineral that is needed for the maintenance of healthy teeth, bones and also a healthy metabolism. Phosphorus plays an important role in regulation of kidney function. 

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is required for the correct functioning of the nervous system and hormone regulation. It is also involved in the generation of glucose.


The main role of potassium is to aid in maintaining normal levels of fluid inside the cells of the body.


Magnesium plays a crucial role in energy production and also supporting muscle and nerve function.


Zinc is important for the correct functioning of hormones, enzymes and proteins. It is important for a healthy immune system.


Iron is important for facilitating transportation of oxygen to all the muscles and vital organs in your dog’s body.

Iron is also required for some enzymes to function at their optimum.


Calcium is required for the building and maintaining of healthy bones. The muscles including the heart, and nerves all require calcium to function at their best.


Copper is a mineral which helps the body produce red blood cells and aids with the maintenance of healthy nerve cells and a healthy immune system.

All of the nutrients mentioned above are important in your dog’s diet. There are no current studies that confirm the exact amounts required by our dogs are met by the addition of sardines to their diet. There is no research detailing if there is a high enough amount of each of these components to have a positive impact on your dog’s health.

If you feel your dog is showing symptoms of lacking in certain nutrients, it is always advised to consult your vet first and foremost. It is also important to ensure your dog is getting a balanced diet as that is the best and easiest way to ensure they are receiving the correct nutrition.

Calories   Dried sardines contain on average about 3,000kcal/kg.  This does vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. The average amount of calories per fish is usually around 5. This is a relatively high amount per kg, however dried sardines are designed to be used in very small amounts as a food topper or as a training treat. Therefore as long as you use them sparingly, and adjust your dog’s calorie intake accordingly, it should not cause your dog to gain unnecessary weight.

Feeding Guide

Sardines can be fed at any time of the day. They can be used as a food topper, a snack between meals, a training aid or as a treat.

The recommended amount can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. Most recommend around 6 sardines per day for dogs under 10kg and 12 sardines per day for dogs over 10kg.  It is advised to break sardines into smaller pieces for dogs under 10kg.

Always supervise your dog when giving them the treats. It is also important to adjust your dog’s normal food to allow for the extra calories from sardines to avoid unnecessary weight gain.


Downsides & Risks of Sardines for Dogs


Some minor risks   Sardines can contain small bones which can cause damage or choking. Some sardine products have a high salt content which is bad for your dog. Raw fish can pose a risk of contamination from bacteria and certain parasites. Some dogs can be allergic to fish.

High salt content

Some dried sardines do contain a high amount of salt. This can be very dangerous for your dog. It can cause vomiting and diarrhoea short term, and long term it can lead to serious health problems such as sodium poisoning and pancreatitis. It is very important to always check the salt content on the packet. If using fresh or tinned forms, bear in mind the fresh fish will have less salt than the tinned varieties.


Sardines do contain very small soft bones. They usually don’t cause any issues, however there have been incidences where the bones have injured the inside of the mouth or the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. If serving fresh fish, it is best to debone them. Always supervise your dog when they are eating sardines.

Risks of raw food

When feeding any sort of raw food to your dog, bear in mind there is always a risk of contamination of harmful bacteria and parasites. Bacteria such as campylobacter, listeria, salmonella and E. coli can all be passed onto your dog from raw food. Your dog might not become sick but they can be passed onto humans in the household. Any vulnerable individuals in your house are at risk of developing serious disease.


There is a very small population of dogs that are allergic to fish. It is very rare but it does occur. Symptoms of fish allergies in dogs include vomiting, diarrhoea and skin issues. Consult your vet immediately if you think your dog is having a reaction to fish they have ingested.

Avoid if…

  • If your dog is obese
  • Your dog suffers from diabetes
  • Your dog is prone to pancreatitis flare ups
  • Your dog is allergic to fish
  • Your dog has underlying health issues and/or is immunosuppressed (for example receiving chemotherapy)
  • There is anyone that will come into close contact with your dog with any of the above issues.



Sardines for Puppies Sardines can be fed to puppies. They are usually recommended from 12 weeks of age. Puppies grow at a very fast rate in their first year. They require a high amount of DHA fatty acids to help fine tune their learning ability including their motor skills, eye function and memory. Coenzyme Q10 is vital for neurological development. Sardines provide all of these things for your puppy.  

Alternatives to Sardines

Cod Fish skin snacks – these snacks contain omega-3, they are good for dental health and have a long chew time so keep your dog occupied. They are easily digestible and can be fed from 16 weeks old.

Salmon Sticks – These are made from the meat of the fish. They are high in protein and rich in omega-3. They are grain and Gluten free and are easily digestible. Some manufacturers claim they can be used from 4 weeks old. They are usually more expensive than dried sardine treats.

White fish cubes – These are air dried chunks of white fish meat made into little square shapes. They too, are high in protein and contain omega-3. They can be fed from 12 weeks of age but they can pose a choking hazard in younger dogs or smaller breeds due to their shape. Always supervise your dog when giving treats.

Salmon oil for dogs – This is fish oil that is full of omega 3,6 and 9. It is highly palatable and easy to administer. It is usually spooned onto food. It can be used from 8 weeks of age but it is important to use with caution in younger puppies as it can cause gastrointestinal upset if introduced too early.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sardines good for dogs?

Sardines are very good for dogs. They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, they contain a high amount of protein, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, selenium and coenzyme Q10.

  • Are sardines safe for dogs?

Sardines are safe for dogs and are an excellent addition to your dog’s diet. They do contain small soft bones which do not usually pose an issue, however it is important to always supervise your dog while they are eating sardines. The only circumstances sardines may not be safe is if your dog has an allergy to fish.

  • Do dogs like sardines?

Dogs certainly do like sardines. The smell and taste attracts dogs and they have been a welcome addition to their diets for a long time now. Sardines are high in protein, full of omega fish oils and contain important vitamins and minerals.

  • How many sardines can a dog have?

Dogs can eat a fair amount of sardines per day.

The recommended amount does vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. Most recommend around 6 sardines per day for dogs under 10kg and 12 sardines per day for dogs over 10kg.  If your dog is under 10kg, it is recommended to break the fish into smaller pieces. Always supervise your dog when giving them the treats.

  • How long do sardines last?

Dried sardines last a long time. They have a relatively long shelf life if handled correctly. They can last between 6-12 months depending on the manufacturer.

  • Can sardines cause blockage?

Sardines can cause a blockage, however it is not very common. Sardines contain very small soft bones that can occasionally get stuck in parts of the gastrointestinal tract and can perforate the lining or cause blockages.

  • Are sardines unpleasant to have in the house?

Dried sardines are not unpleasant to have in your house. Dried sardines do have a strong fish odour that dogs are attracted to. It is only obvious when the packet is open and you are in close proximity. If they are stored correctly and put away properly there should not be any unpleasant experiences.

  • Can sardines cause diarrhoea in dogs?

Sardines can, on occasion, cause symptoms such as diarrhoea in dogs. Any food can cause sickness or diarrhoea in dogs if eaten to excess or if your dog has an allergy. If your dog eats a large quantity of sardines this may cause them to have gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhoea. This can be due to the fat and salt content of some sardine products.  If your dog develops diarrhoea after eating sardines, consult your vet for advice.

  • How are sardines harvested?

Sardines are harvested from the Atlantic Ocean. They are commonly caught off the coast of Cornwall in this country. They are usually caught in encircling nets. The main fishing season for sardines is August to January.

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