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Can Dogs Eat Fish Scales?

It’s true; fish is an excellent treat for dogs and provides many health benefits, but is every part okay for them to eat, specifically fish scales?

Dogs can eat fish scales, but it is not recommended in most cases. Fish scales can cause oral trauma (rips, punctures, or cuts to the mouth and throat), are a choking hazard, cause digestion issues, and provide no specifically unique nutritional value. Your pup isn’t missing out on much!

There are plenty of safer alternatives to snack on for the average dog. Read on to learn about fish scales.

Why shouldn’t dogs eat fish scales?

Oral trauma

The first thing to know: fish scales are specifically different from fish skin. Scales are an extension of the skin and grow into small rigid plates. These plates are structured to protect fish, so a dog may cause harm to themselves by ingesting the scales.

That’s why more often than not, this treat is not advisable. The rough scales can cause oral trauma, as mentioned, by puncturing, tearing, or cutting the gummy parts and softer tissue inside of a dog’s mouth and throat.

Still, there are other serious factors to consider when feeding your furry friend fish scales.

Choking hazard

From the last section, we have learned that scales are an actively protective part of a fish’s anatomy. So, along with it potentially cutting up your dog’s mouth, it is a pretty dangerous choking hazard.

Although flexible by nature, the rigidity of the plates can get anchored into softer and narrower spaces, like a throat.

Removing any scale from a dog’s throat would be difficult for either party, not to mention potentially harmful to both of you. It’s not an item that can get dislodged easily.

Possible digestion issues

Even if your dog eats scaley parts and swallows them without issues, the dog could have trouble digesting the scales. Again, depending on the scale’s type and hardness, it could perforate or tear at the innards of your pup as they digest!

This trauma could reveal itself in many ways–continue to monitor if you suspect anything out of the ordinary until the scales pass. If you don’t see the scales in a typical time frame, start taking note of anything out of the ordinary such as:

  • distended stomach
  • change in mood or behavior
  • acting hurt
  • unusual verbalizations

Then, consult with a professional veterinarian.

Offers no unique nutritional value

Yes, scales have an array of micronutrients and other healthy minerals, but all these nutrients can be sourced elsewhere–including other fish parts.  The potential risk factors of feeding your dog scales outweigh most benefits.

Protein and hydroxyapatite are two significant nutrients packed into fish scales, which yield calcium-binding peptides. One of the simplest ways to gain that without the risk of scales is to make a broth to add to your dog’s diet.

There are plenty of other ways for your pup to get the nutrients it needs to have a healthy and happy life without all the additional risks fish scales pose.

We’ve learned that the actual scales can be troublesome on their own, but as we continue, there’s more to know regarding scales.

What should I do if my dog has eaten fish scales?

Don’t worry–it should pass (naturally)

If your dog ate fish scales, don’t worry too much–they should pass with time. Fish scales are a naturally occurring material derived from fish, so they won’t wholly wreak havoc.

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Take note of the day the incident occurred and continue to monitor behavior and bathroom breaks as you would if they consumed any other troublesome item. Scales shouldn’t take longer than any other food item your dog may pass.

To understand how long it typically takes a dog to have a BM, check out our article.

Continue to pay attention until its passes.

Monitor and take notes

As mentioned, make a conscious effort to note anything out of the ordinary in behavior (such as energy, straying from usual routines), social or emotional interactions, and most importantly, their BM routines to discern how your dog is faring with the scales.

If you aren’t sure about what is normal and what isn’t with your dog’s stool, check out our article on dog poop differences in the morning and evening.

If something larger is going on, and your dog starts to feel sick, gather your information and take everything to your vet.

Side note: Taking notes about your dog’s behaviors is not a bad practice for everyday life, especially when you choose to introduce your dog to something new.

Precautions to be aware of with fish scales

Some dogs do get fed fish scales

The majority of dog owners and professionals will advise against feeding your dog fish scales for a few different reasons. However, if you’re researching fish scales further, you may see some people are comfortable feeding their dog scales and wonder why.

The first is the accessibility to fresh fish. Pups that get fed scales more often than not live by a healthy water source, populated with fish.

The second stipulation you’ll find with most of the canines that get fed scales is they are very active outdoor animals. They have a very high energy output during the day; they can channel more direct energy differently.

Finally, their owners probably have the means to process fish scales and other wild animals in a way that is sustainable and regularly done.

So, they are aware of the precautions at hand, but the way and where they live allow their dogs to partake in the treat, but not without preparation. Most of us don’t have those things to justify the option.

Scales, bones, fins–what is safe

If you are comfortable with feeding your dog scales, be aware that bones, fins, and other spiny-hard fish parts are not digestible and would probably cause issues. These specific parts of fish are even less forgiving in a digestive system and have a higher chance of affecting your dog’s insides than scales.

As mentioned above, some pet owners out there are fine with feeding their pets fish scales, but in most cases, they either have access to fresh fish or have very active lifestyles. Those types of dogs spend most of their time expending energy.

Parasites and bacteria on fish scales

Fish are also notorious for carrying an array of parasites and bacteria, which can cause trouble for anyone that comes in contact with any part of the fish–scales included. Those who feed their dogs fish scales stress this essential detail: cleaning fish meticulously ensures the safety of their pups.

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Additionally, clean the area where the fish gets processed to avoid any transferable bacteria or parasites. Thoroughly sanitize anything that comes in contact with the scales.

Cleaning fish and processing the scales should always be taken seriously if you choose to prepare any raw foods for your dog.

Digestion issues and fish scales

We’ve touched on the subject already, but digestive issues are possible if your dog ingests fish scales. Either there are varying degrees of potential trouble ahead, or your dog will pass them naturally with time.

The signs of digestive distress can range from very minimal stomach distention to a complete change in behavior; keep notes on your dog’s activities until the scales pass. If anything does get worse, you’ll have detailed notes about your pet’s condition to relay to your vet.

If you are dealing with a digestive issue and have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to call or make an appointment with a vet.

Consulting a vet, if further concerns

With any digestive issues that concern you (like fish scale consumption gone wrong), address them as quickly as possible. Even in situations where you’re unsure, vets are happy to answer any questions and help put your mind at ease.

Specifically, with any item with the possibility of tearing any part of your dog’s system, there’s no time to waste.

Vets will be able to assess more correctly any complications with your pup.

Your dog’s veterinarian can also advise you on any specific products to help heal the area that has experienced trauma.

Alternatives to fish scales

Talk to pet stores or vets for alternative products

There are decent alternatives to fish scales on the market. A great place to consult is your local pet store. Depending on what you’re looking for in an alternative, the answer may vary a bit, and the workers should be able to recommend a few different options.

Some products may not be an exact replacement, but more likely than not, a lot of the items will be a much safer alternative and get the job done.

List of other options

Here are a few things to consider to get your brain thinking about what you may want out of an alternative. An excellent way to break it down is to look at what your pup may need physically, mentally, or activity-wise.

For health benefits, look into a pill or oil to add to meal times. If they need to channel some energy into something, rather than use fish scales, look for chews or jerky. Fish-based treats for training or games would work well for mental benefits!

Fish skin is another safer alternative as a treat for your dog now and again–whether home-cooked or store-bought in treat form.

Final thoughts

Although fish scales are a natural, technically digestible, treat for some dogs, it’s not worth it for most, and they have great alternatives out on the market today to opt for instead. The safety element is too significant to risk for most dogs, and that’s okay!

If you choose to feed your dog fish scales, clean your fish well, monitor your dog while they’re eating, and don’t hesitate to call a professional if you have any concerns!

Remember, when looking at other options, consider what your dog needs and go from there.

Determine what your dog needs and do your research!