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Shrimp are small (well, most of them anyway), but they show up big in the typical American diet. A few years ago, the USDA estimated that Americans ate more shrimp than any other fish category with 27 percent of U.S. seafood consumption for the popular shellfish. That means shrimp is likely on the menu for many people, and dog owners might wonder if shrimp is OK for dogs, too.
The answer is mostly yes, says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.
Is Shrimp Good or Bad for Dogs?
Shrimp has lots of nutritional benefits. The small sea dweller is low in calories, high in protein, and even includes those omega-3 fatty acids that wind up in nutritional supplements for people and dogs. Shrimp can be good for dogs. But can shrimp be bad for dogs, too?
"There are no specific dangers for dogs eating shrimp other than the risk of a bacterial infection called vibriosis," Schmid says.
Both humans and dogs are at risk for this illness that commonly comes from raw or undercooked seafood. But don't panic. The risk is low as long as you cook your favorite fish and shellfish from the sea, according to the CDC.
More likely than vibriosis is old-fashioned gastrointestinal upset, according to Schmid. Sometimes shrimp or another food just doesn't agree with a dog's stomach and vomiting, diarrhea, and discomfort are the result.
How Much Shrimp Can Dogs Eat?
Many U.S. cats and dogs are overweight or obese, and that can lead to health problems related to that extra weight. Cats and dogs should get almost all their calories from a balanced and complete diet from pet food with all the nutrients they need. Veterinarians recommend extra treats be no more than 10 percent of a pet's diet.
Let's do the math. A small shrimp is roughly 10 calories. A dog's weight will vary widely depending on their breed and size, but a 30-pound dog would eat an average 1,080 to 1,346 calories a day, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. That's a possible 108 to 135 calories from treats per day (and, yes, take that out of your dog's daily calories). That's a possible 10 to 13 small shrimp a day. Not bad!
Just be sure to run your diet choices and calorie counts by your veterinarian to make sure your dog doesn't have any underlying medical conditions or extra-active (or extra-lazy) lifestyle that would require a calorie intake adjustment.
Another issue to watch out for is food allergies. People are allergic to particular foods, and dogs can be as well. Always test out a food in a very small amount to make sure you don't see any signs of an allergic reaction.
Dangers of Feeding Dogs Shrimp
OK, so shrimp doesn't upset your dog's tummy, your dog isn't allergic to shellfish, and your dog likes the taste of shrimp. But you're not out of the woods yet. Consider these issues first before feeding your dog shrimp.
Raw Shrimp: Cook It First
Can dogs eat raw shrimp? Wait, did you not get the memo (see above about vibriosis)? You can get parasites and foodborne illnesses from uncooked meat. Dogs should not eat uncooked seafood.
Shrimp Shells and Tails: Toss the Tough Exterior
Should dogs eat shrimp shells? Probably not. But you've probably removed the shells off the shrimp you eat and offer to your dog. What about the tails?
"Tails are not a significant risk for dogs, but they may cause gastrointestinal upset due to irritation of the stomach wall," Schmid says.
Any hard pieces of food can also present a choking hazard, so skip the shells and tails to be safe.
Fried Shrimp: Is It Better With Batter?
Fried shrimp is often battered or cooked up with lots of extra calories from butter and other additions. Pets don't need all those fatty calories, and too much fat in even a single meal may be a contributing factor in pancreatitis and other health problems.
So, can dogs eat fried shrimp? Schmid says go healthy with your cooked shrimp for dogs: "If you're feeding your dog shrimp, go steamed."
Also, you may love all the sauces and seasonings that make shrimp more flavorful, but some of those items can cause problems for dogs.
"Some sauces or seasonings also may contain garlic and onions, which are a toxicity concern," she says. "However, it would really likely only be a concern for very small dogs or a very large ingestion."
How to Safely Cook Shrimp for Your Dog
Let's review. If you want to try feeding some shrimp to your dog, here's how to prepare it safely.
Cook your shrimp
Remove shells and tails
Avoid seasonings and additives high in calories and fat
Watch to make sure the shrimp agrees with your particular pooch's stomach and doesn't lead to vomiting or diarrhea
Check with your veterinarian if your dog has any underlying medical conditions that could be worsened with a brand-new treat.
Shrimp: It may not be what's for dinner for your dog, but the little shellfish can be a nice little treat.