Can dogs eat shrimp?

Sweet and tender shrimp are a delicious addition to any home-cooked meal. But, should you feed them to your four-legged companion? Are these little briny delights bad for dogs, or do they offer any health benefits?

Health benefits and risks of shrimp for dogs

Like most shellfish, shrimp are made mostly of water, which makes them a low-calorie snack. Each shrimp contains only about seven calories depending on size, but it packs a powerful nutritional punch for your dog:

  • Protein — Every three-ounce portion of shrimp provides 20 grams of lean protein, making it comparable to chicken.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids — Although not high in fat, shrimp are a source of high quality omega-3 fatty acids. Dogs are unable to synthesise their own omega-3 fatty acids, so they must be consumed in their diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for many physiologic functions, including:
    • Puppy vision and brain development
    • Inflammation control
    • Joint health
    • Skin and coat health
  • Vitamins and minerals — Shrimp are a wonderful source of additional vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, including:
    • Selenium
    • Vitamin B12
    • Phosphorus
    • Choline
    • Copper
    • Iodine
  • Antioxidants — Astaxanthin, which is responsible for a shrimp’s pink coloring, is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free-radical damage in the body.

Although shrimp can be a nutritious part of a complete and balanced diet, they may also be a risky addition and must be handled safely.

Shrimp safe-handling practices

Buying frozen shrimp is safer than buying fresh or refrigerated shrimp. Fresh shrimp must be put immediately into the refrigerator and kept there for no more than one to two days until cooked. Frozen shrimp must not be thawed and then refrozen, so only defrost the amount of shrimp you plan on using. Avoid using any shrimp that:

  • Have a fishy odor
  • Are brown
  • Have black spots on their shells
  • Have yellowing shells

Any shrimp fed to dogs must be fully cooked, and care must be taken to disinfect any area a raw shrimp has touched. Raw shrimp can carry many pathogenic bacteria, one of which is called Salmonella that can infect both people and dogs, and an infection can be passed from one to the other. Every year, 1 million people become infected with Salmonella from handling or consuming contaminated food. Salmonella infection causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, and occasionally requires hospitalization.

Any shrimp fed to a dog must first be peeled and deveined. The shrimp skin is actually a tough exoskeleton made up of a substance called chitin that should be removed, because it could become a choking hazard, or cause an intestinal obstruction. The skin can also become stuck between teeth and cause pain or infection. The vein that runs down the shrimp’s tail, which is the shrimp’s digestive tract, must also be removed. In addition, removing the head from any shrimp fed to a dog is recommended. People often prefer head-on shrimp because they have more flavor; however, our canine companions don’t have as many taste buds, so for them, shrimp are as tasty—and safer—without heads.

Contaminants in shrimp

Shrimp can be wild-caught or farmed. Farmed shrimp are raised in overcrowded conditions, and treated with antibiotics and other chemicals to keep them healthy, although, unfortunately, some medications stay in the shrimp’s flesh. Wild-caught shrimp have also been found with measurable antibiotic levels in their body.

Shrimp is a low-fat food, but a dog fed too many shrimp can also consume enough fat to cause problems. Unlike people, a dog’s digestive system does not deal well with fat, and a high-fat meal can cause pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, which is responsible for digesting fats. Pancreatitis signs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Belly pain
  • Lethargy

How to feed shrimp to your dog

In small quantities, shrimp are a low-calorie, nutrient-rich addition to your dog’s diet. The easiest way to feed shrimp to your pup is whole—as a topping on kibble, or as a tasty treat between meals.

If you are in the mood to mix up a special snack for your canine, these shrimp cookies, which are loosely based on this recipe from Kol’s Notes, are sure to please:

Shrimp Cookies for Dogs

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp tails, finely diced
  • ½ cup rice, cooked and finely mashed
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 egg

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together, and stir well.
  3. Spoon onto a lined baking sheet, about one tablespoon per cookie.
  4. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.
  5. Allow to cool.

Notes: Keep in the refrigerator for three days, or freeze for up to three months.