Farmed Salmon in Pet Food: Is It Safe?

Written by Jan on February 20, 2009 – 2:00 am

Salmon in the Wild

Salmon in the Wild

Many of us who are careful about our diets have real concerns about eating farmed salmon and other farmed (aka “ocean-raised”) fish.  We want the Omega-3 fatty acids from the fish oils — for ourselves and for our pets — but wonder if we are trading lower prices for contamination.  This is especially important for pets, most of whom eat the same food every meal, every day. If there’s fish in their food (and it’s sometimes there without our realizing), it’s especially important that it’s safe.

But is wild-caught fish really all that better?  The prices should tell you something. In a store near me, you pay $6.99 per pound for farmed; $16.99 for wild (when you can get it); and $15 or more for farmed fish fed organically. Given these prices, you can bet that Fifi and Fido aren’t getting organic or wild-caught.

The health dangers from farmed fish comes from the contamination of their fat with harmful chemicals called PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls).  An article called PCBs – Is Farmed Salmon safe to eat?reports: “The manufacture of PCBs was banned in the U.S. in 1979 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects. However, PCBs persist in the environment. Fish absorb PCBs from contaminated sediments and from their food.”

PCBs in Farmed Salmon, an even more alarming article from the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group, begins: “Results from tests of store-bought farmed salmon show seven of 10 fish were so contaminated with PCBs that they raise cancer risk.”

The EWG adds that studies show that farmed fish accumulate PCBs from their  fishmeal diet.  They go on to say that if the EPA set health guidance levels for PCBs in farmed salmon the same as it does wild-caught salmon, they’d limit consumption to once a month.

For years, I haven’t eaten farmed fish more than once monthly — and I really love salmon.  I certainly wouldn’t feed farmed fish to an animal more often than that, let alone for every meal.

Fish farming damages the environment as well, pouring liquid waste into the sea. It also takes much more fish to feed the farmed fish than those farmed fish ultimately produce. This Time Magazine article Is Fish Farming Safe? will probably turn you off fish farming forever.

Sadly, farming isn’t even good for fish. The farmed fish pass disease and parasites (like sea lice), and also pass weaker genes when they breed with wild fish.  This seems to be endangering wild salmon worldwide, cutting populations by 50%  or more when the wild fish encounter fish farms or their escaped  fish.  (Not surprisingly, some salmon farmers disagree with these findings.)  Read National Geographic’s article Farmed Salmon Decimating Wild Salmon Worldwide for more on this.

So, my advice is this. Read up and investigate. I’ve personally read enough to feel uncomfortable feeding salmon (including treats) to my own dogs, but you should decide for yourself.  Call manufacturers to find out if fish in your pet’s food is farmed. (Hint: it’s very unlikely that it’s wild unless it’s very expensive.) You probably won’t find the information you’re looking for on pet food websites.  Search on-line by product name or parent company to find a toll-free number and call them.  Better yet, find a number on the bag or can. If there’s no number, don’t feed that food anymore.

In any event, I recommend feeding a wide variety foods, avoiding salmon, fish and fishmeal.  Be sure to check labels. Even chicken and beef products often contain fish.

And because PCBs accumulate in fat, always buy fish oils made from wild fish. Carlson and Nordic Naturals, available widely at health food stores and on-line, both make good products.

Learn more about dog food, switching foods, and dog food myths at my website Dogs4Dogs.com.  And if you like this article, please bookmark it and pass it on. Also watch for another article on selecting pet food in our new Blog4Dogs.

Related information:

Dog Food information

TruthAboutPetFood blog

Norway Issues Warnings About Health Dangers of Farmed Salmon  

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10 Comments to “Farmed Salmon in Pet Food: Is It Safe?”


  1. DogsDeserveFreedom Says:

    Popped by from blogcatalog and found your blog. Is farmed salmon really that good for people either?
    DogsDeserveFreedom

  2. Dennis Says:

    Hi.
    This is really interesting as I have never really thought about farmed fish before, except that I knew it was more fatty. I never realised that it could be used for dog food and I am betting it isn’t even the meat but the skeleton/bones etc that is used. thanks for opening my eyes.

  3. Jan Says:

    I’m glad the article was helpful. Before long, farmed fish will be all that’s available. It’s scary. And you’re right: pets get the dregs.

    I hope you’ll read our two new vaccination articles as well. And stay tuned for a heartworm medication shocker. To get notifications about new articles, you can subscribe to the blog http://www.truth4dogs.com or our free newsletter http://www.dogs4dogs.com or follow us on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/k9author.

  4. Candace Says:

    I would be more worried about just plain rot than “farmed vs. wild”. Fish rots so quickly, and you can be sure that the rotten fish will show up in pet food. Even the fish in the grocery meant for human consumption is not so fresh, as you can smell when you go near the seafood section. I once gave my two cats pet food with fish meal as an ingredient, and both started vomiting shortly thereafter.

  5. Jan Says:

    Candace, good point. By the way, my Truth4Dogs.com article on Vaccinating Small Dogs pretty much applies to cats. In fact, there’s a link to an abstract from a similar study about the risks of multiple shots given to cats. Here’s the abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17605670?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=1&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

    If you’re looking for more articles on cat health, I can highly recommend Dr. Jean Hofve’s free articles at http://www.littlebigcat.com Also good: catshots.com

  6. Lisa Carr Says:

    What if any dry dog foods contain WILD or ALASKAN salmon, or fish?
    Which contain FARMED salmon or fish?
    Thank you for answering.
    Lisa Carr

  7. Jan Says:

    Lisa, sorry, but I can’t recommend a food. I’d presume they all contain farmed fish unless they state otherwise. You might do a web search.

  8. Sophie Says:

    Wild Salmon is used by the following companies/foods:

    Timberwolf Organics
    Fromm
    Halo (Spot’s Stew, etc)
    Evanger — canned only
    Go/Now

    Big Names using farmed salmon —
    Orijen
    Evo
    Innova
    Taste of the Wild
    Costco’s Salmon dog food

    *** The use of wild Alaskan salmon & salmon meal (not stripped of oil), with high Omega 3 in ALL the foods, and never Ethoxyquin is a HUGE reason I’ve fed Timberwolf Organics for years.

  9. jami Says:

    I have been feeding my dogs the costco Nature’s domain fish and sweet potato dog food for a couple years. They both have fatty tumors all over their bodies. I realized they must be using farmed salmon. Has anyone else had this experience?
    My gut feeling is that the recent onslaught of tumors was caused by this.

  10. Jan Says:

    Jami, it’s not a good idea to feed any animal the same meal year after year. I don’t know if it contains farmed fish, but I’ve always suspected that pet food doesn’t have wild salmon flesh. It would be far too expensive.

    Did it cause your dogs’tumors? I wish I knew. Please offer them some variety. The best diets have a lot of variety. Switch brands occasionally, but do it slowly and add digestive enzymes and probiotics. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/food

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