Fifteen years ago you rarely saw dogs being fed oysters but in the last three years, it became quite popular among raw and cooked food feeders. Even I fell into this trend and was happily dehydrating oysters and adding one to each bowl.
Lately, I’ve had clients’ dogs including my own get sick from oysters and so now for all of my clients I’ve put oysters on the “do not feed list” because the answer is; “Yes your dog can get sick from eating oysters.”
How Did We Get Here?
As we have learned more about nutrients we collectively accepted the importance of zinc. And while you can turn to meat sources to feed zinc, we learned that it was most nutrient-dense in oysters.
So all of a sudden you would see various dog food nutritionists formulating it into their recipes and dog owners were buying canned oysters or frozen ones imported from Korea.
Oysters are the most nutrient-dense when it comes to zinc. When you compare the two highest sources per 100g:
Zinc (Zn) [mg/100g]
Oyster (cooked) 78.6
So as you can see, adding one oyster can easily meet all of your dog’s nutritional needs for zinc.
Early Warning Signs
Last winter I started to get feedback from clients that their dogs:
- Refused to eat oysters
- Threw up the oyster they ate immediately
- Threw up the oyster they ate within a few hours
- Developed a rash from eating oysters.
My own dog even had a horrible reaction where her belly turned an angry rusty red and she was itchy and scratching from her muzzle to her groin.
I Started To Question Oysters
Oysters are quite expensive when they are sourced locally. But I was able to find that I could purchase a two-pound bag for $13. These oysters came frozen all the way from Korea.
At first, I was overjoyed to have found such a deal. I even found a five-pound bag for $40.
But when my own dog had a reaction, I started to think about the concept of getting what you pay for.
Who knows under what conditions these oysters were farmed. It didn’t have any certifications or was subjected to any regulations that proved its safety.
And so the seed of doubt was planted.
80,000 People Get Sick From Oysters Annually
The CDC estimates that 80,000 people get sick from oysters, and 100 die from it annually. This is due to infections such as vibriosis.
The hard thing is you can’t tell if the oyster is infected. You can’t smell it and the oyster doesn’t look any different from one that isn’t infected.
And while you might think your sourcing is safe, vibriosis can infect oysters in non-polluted ocean water.
What Does History Teach Us
Interestingly enough, I found that many years ago when the community turned to their church for guidance that there was a rule about seafood that went something along the lines of: “Don’t eat any seafood that doesn’t have BOTH scales and fins”. The logic that science later has verified is that fish that have both fins and scales have the digestive system to filter out toxins.
This is a practice continued by certain communities. For example for a fish to be kosher, it has to have both scales and fins.
Catfish have fins, but no scales. Catfish are bottom feeders those fish are not to be eaten.
Shellfish have neither scales nor fins and so mussels, clams and oysters are not to be eaten because they lack the digestive system to filter out the toxins they take in.
Are Locally Sourced Oysters Safer?
With the ocean current basically connecting all oceans in the world, it’s not a given that locally sourced oysters are safer.
Case in point, Washington issued a recall in the summer of 2021 for oysters that were infected with vibriosis.
What Do Oysters Eat?
You’ve heard the phrase: “You are what you eat, eats.”
Whenever I consider what to feed myself and my animals I think about what that food ate.
“Oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. In doing so, they also consume phytoplankton and algae for food. Unfortunately, harmful bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants may also accumulate in their tissues. Hence, feeding raw oysters is not risk-free. Many of these microorganisms come from sewage contamination.” This is the case for wild oysters.
Farmed oysters are different. They are raised and bred carefully. Quality water and proper handling are key factors. Inland water is carefully monitored for harmful chemicals and bacteria. Prior to selling, oysters are kept in a tank of clean saltwater, allowing them to clean themselves naturally. But in this case, you still have to trust your source.
Are Oysters Species Appropriate To Feed Dogs?
Sometimes we detour. We get distracted.
For those that are raw feeding our dogs, we do so because no matter if you feed prey model raw, barf, or NRC/AAFCO formulated – we believe in feeding our dogs a species-appropriate diet.
And so I have to ask myself and look myself in the mirror and ask: “Are oysters species-appropriate?”
And while it is convenient to add one oyster to meet my dog’s nutritional needs for zinc, is feeding them an oyster, each meal (so twice a day) really the best decision for them? Even I don’t think I myself could tolerate an oyster twice a day, one in each meal.
How Can I Tell If My Dog Reacted To Eating Oysters?
The symptoms can be immediate:
- Your dog throws up the oyster
- Your dog gets diarrhea from the oyster
- Your dog gets red and rashy from the oyster
Some dogs may have a delayed reaction:
- Excess moisture from eyes
- Tear stains
- Red belly
- Clammy belly
- Symptoms that resemble yeast
- Or it may just trigger a full-blown yeast relapse
The only way to tell for sure is to start a full food log and symptom tracker. And remove oysters from the diet to see if your dog has a favorable response.
What To Feed Instead Of Oysters For Zinc
I wrote a short article to list whole food sources for zinc which include:
- Pumpkin seed
- Beef, turkey, lamb, chicken liver.
- Beef, buffalo, turkey, lamb, chicken, pork, rabbit, sardines
- Turkey thigh
- Pork or chicken heart
You Can Also Turn to Zinc Supplements:
- Zinc picolinate
- Zinc citrate
- Zinc gluconate
Chelated zinc is less absorbable.
Zinc methionine is relatively bioavailable.
I’d skip zinc oxide (hard to absorb) and zinc sulfate (hard on the stomach).
When To Feed Zinc Supplements
Zinc interferes with calcium.
If you are able to, you can feed zinc three to four hours after their meal. If this isn’t realistic because of your schedule, than you can add the supplement to their meal.
How Much Zinc Do Dogs Need?
The daily amount of zinc recommended zinc for adult dogs set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is 120 mg of zinc per kg of food, on a dry-matter basis (meaning with the moisture removed), not your dog’s weight. Or, on a caloric basis, the minimum is 20 mg per 1000 kcal for adults and 25 mg for puppies.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes we get distracted by what’s trending and get into recipe drift and start feeding non-species appropriate foods to our dogs.
And because I’ve seen more dogs as of late react to oysters, I no longer feel that we should be feeding oysters to dogs regularly.
If you decide to continue to feed oysters to your dogs, do so at your own risk.
Luckily, we can still find zinc from animal meat sources. Grass-fed options will have higher levels. And you can also find it in other cuts of meat like thighs or hearts.
As always, thank you for stopping by and I wish you and your dog great health!