Chicken and beef are the reigning protein kings of the dog food world, but some four-footers prefer fish. Unfortunately, fish isn’t always the cheapest ingredient, though there are affordable options, like tilapia.
But is tilapia a good fish for dogs?
We’ll dive into everything there is to know about feeding tilapia to your dog and share a vet-approved tilapia dog food recipe below.
First Things First: Can Dogs Eat Tilapia?
As long as it is prepared correctly and heated thoroughly, tilapia is a solid protein choice for dogs. It’s a flexible protein too; you can serve it as a snack, offer it as a bonus ingredient with kibble, or use it as the primary protein in a homemade dog food.
The real question is, will your dog like tilapia? With a relatively mild taste and firm but flaky flesh, the fish isn’t a hit with every pup’s palate.
Do Any Commercial Dog Foods Contain Tilapia?
While you can find tilapia in cat food, it doesn’t appear to be featured in any of today’s major dog foods.
In fact, we can’t find a single mainstream option that lists tilapia by name. There is a chance that some manufacturers may use tilapia occasionally under the generic “whitefish” or “fish” label, however.
If tilapia’s cheap, protein-rich, and low in mercury, why isn’t it popular in dog food? Only the manufacturers know, but it likely boils down to profitability.
The small, low-fat fish doesn’t offer much meat per animal, some dogs hate the taste, and many people don’t like it as a protein. There are just better options, like salmon and whitefish.
The Health Benefits of Tilapia
Taste wise, tilapia is hit or miss in the eyes of humans, but there’s no denying it has health benefits. Some perks of tilapia are especially great for dogs with certain health conditions.
Tilapia’s major health perks include:
- It’s a lean fish. An ounce of tilapia contains less than a gram of fat. This makes it a solid protein option for dogs with pancreatitis or obesity, as long as your vet gives it the OK.
- It’s loaded with protein. While lean and delicate, tilapia has more protein per serving than pork and as much as beef. Talk about a high-protein eat!
- It has omega-3 fatty acids. While tilapia isn’t as loaded with fatty acids as other fish, it still packs more of these skin and coat-nourishing fats than common proteins like chicken and beef. These are hallmark ingredients in dog foods for sensitive skin.
- It’s low in calories. Tilapia has fewer calories than common proteins used in dog food, like beef, salmon, chicken, and turkey – even those used in dog food for losing weight! Dogs who need to shed a few pounds will appreciate a tilapia snack here and there on their woofer weight-loss journey.
- It contains vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 helps your dog’s body metabolize protein. Another name for this vitamin is pyridoxine hydrochloride, which you’ve probably seen on ingredient lists.
- It has vitamin B12. Also called cobalamin, vitamin B12 aids in nerve and brain function in dogs. It also supports red blood cell production.
- It’s a good source of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in balancing and retaining calcium and phosphorus in your dog’s body. Dogs can’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as well as humans can; they get most of theirs from food sources instead.
- It has magnesium. Magnesium is a key nutrient for dogs responsible for many functions from nose to tail, including immune health, regulating blood glucose, and supporting bones.
Beyond health perks, tilapia is cheap and readily available at most stores, so it won’t cost you an arm and a leg or require shopping at a specialty store to find it for your floof. It’s also a small fish, meaning you won’t waste a huge hunk of meat if your pup doesn’t like it.
Are There Drawbacks or Dangers to Feeding Your Dog Tilapia?
Tilapia has health perks, but it still has negatives to consider. Some relate to the preparation, while others are connected to the fish’s nutrition. Regardless, all are worth paying close attention to, and if you’re stumped, ask your vet before offering tilapia to your pup.
The cons of feeding your dog tilapia include:
- Taste and texture: The firm flakiness of tilapia and its mild, almost bland taste won’t win over every dog. You may go through the trouble of prepping it, only to learn your doggo detests it.
- Bones: Fileting a tilapia yourself means removing sharp bones from the harvested meat. There aren’t as many as other fish, but it’s still a pain and a mess to do. Your dog can suffer a mouth or stomach injury if you miss any.
- Risks of poor cooking and handling: Tilapia must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145℉ to kill bacteria and parasites. You must also thoroughly clean all the surfaces the raw fish touched to kill any bacteria – your hands included. Improperly handled or cooked fish can make you and your dog ill.
- Farm-raised fish: Tilapia aren’t always raised in clean conditions, earning it the nickname “garbage fish.” Many also come from China, which isn’t an ideal origin for any dog food ingredient. Look for tilapia from the United States, Canada, or a European Union country. Wild-caught is preferred but hard to find.
How Do You Cook Tilapia for Your Dog?
Before you can cook tilapia, you have to buy it, but that brings up another question:
Which type of tilapia is suitable for dogs: Fresh or frozen filets?
As it turns out, either works just fine.
Handle them properly, thaw frozen filets safely, and remove any bones from fresh tilapia to keep everyone safe. You also want to remove the skin, as it’s bitter and not tasty.
From there, you have several ways to cook tilapia to reach a safe internal temperature of 145℉. Skip oils, butter, and seasonings to prevent any tummy upset.
Baking tilapia is the easiest way to prepare it. Just preheat your oven to 425℉, place the filet in a baking dish, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. No need to flip!
Grilling tilapia is great for summertime cookouts with your canine. Set your grill to medium-high heat (375℉ to 425℉). Like most fish, tilapia sticks to grates, so skip the hassle by wrapping the filet in foil and cooking it for 8 to 10 minutes before checking for doneness.
Boiling tilapia is another option. Fill a sauté pan with about one cup of water per filet and bring it to a boil. Add the tilapia filet and bring it back to a boil before reducing the temperature to medium heat. Cook the fish for 8 to 10 minutes before checking the internal temperature.
For a little more flavor, boil the filet in a dog-friendly broth like Brutus Bone Broth Chicken or Brutus Bone Broth Plant-Based Salmon. This also creates a protein-packed “soup” for your pup to enjoy.
Add an inch of water to the bottom of your steamer and bring it to a boil. Place the tilapia on the rack, steam for 5 to 10 minutes, and check the temperature. Cooking time depends on the size of the filet, with thicker filets taking longer.
How Can You Incorporate Tilapia into Your Dog’s Diet?
Adding tilapia to your dog’s diet is done in one of two ways:
- As a treat: Bits of tilapia make a tasty DIY food topper or mix-in to your dog’s everyday diet or a savory reward during tricks. Tilapia shouldn’t exceed ten percent of your doggo’s daily caloric intake when served as a treat.
- As part of a home-cooked meal: Tilapia can be a primary protein in a home-cooked diet, but get your vet’s approval before trying such a meal plan with your pooch. You must also use a recipe a vet or canine nutritionist formulated to ensure balance.
As with any new food, only offer a small amount of tilapia first to see how your dog tolerates it before serving him more. You don’t want to overwhelm her tummy.
Homemade Tilapia Dog Food Recipe
Interested in trying a homemade tilapia dog food with your floof and got your vet’s OK?
Try out this Tilapia, Sweet Potato, and Pasta dish designed by veterinarian Yuri A. Lawrence, DVM.
First, you’ll need to round up ingredients, including:
- 8.8 ounces of cooked tilapia (preferably baked)
- 20.28 ounces of cooked sweet potato
- 11.7 ounces cooked plain pasta (unsalted spaghetti or a similarly enriched noodle)
- 0.45 ounces canola oil
Combine and serve.
Remember: no extra seasonings, butter, or oil (other than the canola oil listed!) Yes, this sounds bland to us humans, but to pups, it’s “human food,” which is next-level tasty to most.
Again, this homemade tilapia dog food should only be fed with your vet’s approval. Also note that this is a low-fat recipe, which is intended for dogs with kidney disease, not the everyday doggo. If you want to try it as an occasional “treat meal” for your pup, still ask to ensure it’s a good pick for your dog.
Tilapia Dog Food: FAQ
Tilapia may be common in human diets, but it’s still a novel protein in dog food, so you may still have some questions about this fishy ingredient. Let’s swim through some of the most commonly asked questions about this fish and tilapia dog food together.
Is tilapia safe for dogs to eat?
Yes, tilapia is safe to offer your dog as long as it’s prepared properly. First, you want to thoroughly clean the filet of bones if butchering the fish yourself. Those tiny needle bones can harm your pup’s mouth and potentially injure her digestive tract.
Is tilapia a healthy fish for dogs?
With a low mercury content, a decent share of omega fatty acids for skin and coat health, and a solid serving of protein, tilapia is a healthy fish for dogs to enjoy. It’s also low in calories and fat, making it a delicious snack for doggos on a diet. The only stipulation is that, like all fish and proteins, it must be cleared of bones entirely and cooked to a temperature of 145℉.
Do dogs like tilapia?
Tilapia’s mild taste and flaky, firm texture get mixed reviews from mutts, with some going wild for its flavor while others refuse to try it. The only way to know is to try it with your dog.
Don’t purchase a massive bag of frozen tilapia at first to avoid wasting your doggy dollars. Stick to a small package until you know your dog is a fan.
Can you feed dogs raw tilapia?
Never offer your dog any raw protein, whether fish, poultry, or red meat. Not only can bacteria make your sniffer sick, but parasites within fish, like tilapia, can infect your dog.
How do you cook tilapia for dogs?
Tilapia must be heated to an internal temperature of 145℉. You can bake, steam, grill, or boil it, but every preparation should be free of seasoning and fatty additives like butter and oil, as you don’t want to upset your dog’s stomach or potentially make him sick with a toxic ingredient.
All tilapia filets should be free of bones. Usually, these are already removed with frozen tilapia filets, but they’re a major pain in the potato if you’re prepping a fish yourself.
Can dogs be allergic to tilapia?
Dogs can be allergic to just about any ingredient, from proteins like tilapia, chicken, or beef to grains or soy. If your dog has food allergies, consult your vet before offering tilapia or any new ingredient. It’s always best to err on the side of caution to avoid sickening your pooch.
Has your four-footer tried tilapia dog food? Was it a hit or miss with your pupper’s palate? Let us know in the comments!