Many dog owners may be wondering how they can easily introduce healthier, “real” food into their pet’s diet. As an alternative to canned dog food, simplistic meal options like sardines, tuna, chicken breast, and whole vegetables can provide lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and amino acids (like glycine and taurine) that your dog needs to stay healthy.
Those in a pinch may instead opt for the canned variety of human foods, which can provide the same benefits, provided you watch for excessive sodium content and preservatives.
“Real chicken” might be a bit of a misnomer, as canned chicken is precisely the same and can still be healthy. It all comes down to the source of meat (which part of the chicken is used), the sodium content, and the quality of the product. We’ll discuss this more in-depth in a moment.
Those scrambling for time that still want to provide their pet with healthy whole food options are likely wondering: can dogs eat canned chicken?
Dog food alternatives often involve real food prep and can be time consuming, so canned varieties might be needed in a pinch, be it canned sardines or chicken. However, concerns over excess sodium or potential harmful ingredients (preservatives, additives) can prevent people from feeding their dogs something so convenient.
While canned chicken can be safe for dogs, there are some caution that needs to be taken when introducing it to your pet.
Is Canned Chicken Safe for Dogs? Can Dogs Eat Canned Chicken?
You’ll probably already notice that the first ingredient in most dog foods (dried or wet) is typically some sort of chicken. Clearly, chicken is not harmful to dogs and is a healthy source of protein. Chicken is generally considered a ‘staple’ food in the regular diet of most dogs.
Naturally, this would lead pet owners to the conclusion that canned chicken is automatically safe. While this is technically true, there is some nuance to feeding your dog any sort of canned food.
Canned chicken is going to have a much higher protein content compared to dry kibble and be void of artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives (like BHT) that are common in many of the lower-tier brands of dried dog food.
We would typically recommend opting for a good quality, nutritious, ‘whole-food‘ based dry dog food if you’re going the route of feeding your dog kibble.
Real food is always going to be the best option. Just as this is true for their human companies, dogs thrive best off a whole-food, real-food diet. This is sadly not always possible for those with busy schedules.
Alternatively, you can incorporate canned chicken in moderation, along with other zero prep food items like peanut butter. Just be mindful of the amount of salt in these canned foods.
Is Salt Bad for Dogs? How Much Sodium Is Too Much?
While sodium is a requirement for the health, longevity, and proper functioning of all dogs – only a very miniscule amount is required daily. Dogs naturally need salt in their cells to maintain nerve signal balance, proper fluid balance, and assist with digestion.
Salt is not inherently harmful to dogs. You just have to watch how much salt is being incorporated into your dog’s diet.
The recommended amount for dogs is typically 0.25g-1g per 100g of dried dog food.
The problem with canned foods is often the astronomically high amount of sodium contained in them. While humans can easily intake 1,500mg-2,500mg of sodium per day without facing ill health, dogs weighing around 30 pounds only need about 200mg per day.
When you consider that mere chicken broth has an average sodium content of 300-500mg per tsp, it makes sense for people to be concerned about how much salt is in their dog’s diet.
What Happens if My Dog Eats Too Much Salt?
Generally, if a dog eats something too salty (a little too much canned chicken for example) they will compensate for this by drinking more water.
Spotting the Signs of Salt Poisoning and Hypernatremia
If you notice more prolonged symptoms, sodium poisoning could be a legitimate concern. These cues include the dog:
- Acting lethargic or disoriented
- Looking stiff or convulsing
- Having diarrhea or loose stool
- Having increased urination
- Having seizures (severe cases)
Hypernatremia can be life threatening for dogs, and would require emergency veterinarian assistance to intervene. Older dogs, or those with certain medical conditions like Addison’s Disease or Liver Disease may be at an increased risk.
Canned and processed meats are often a major culprit when it comes to excess sodium in a dog’s diet.
How Can You Treat Salt Poisoning?
If you believe that your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, or you know your dog has ingested a large amount of salt, don’t hesitate to consult your veterinarian to determine the next best step. The earlier you act, the quicker you’ll be able to maintain proper fluid balance and minimize cellular damage.
Typically, if any sort of salt toxicity is determined, veterinary care may include IV fluids and supportive medication to closely monitor electrolytes. The vet will also conduct blood tests and an EKG to measure electrical impulses and the level of sodium in the dog’s blood. Oftentimes, the dog will need to stay for extended care at the vet. This is to ensure that sodium levels do not drop too rapidly.
Helping to encourage your dog to drink more water is always a great initial step. If you need to encourage them to drink more water, you can always try adding sodium-free/salt-free and garlic/onion-free chicken broth or vegetable stock to the water to coax them.
How to Properly Prepare Canned Chicken for Dogs
Now that you know if dogs can eat canned chicken, an easy step to take in lowering the sodium content if the canned chicken isn’t already sodium-free, is to simply pre-prepare the chicken by rinsing off the excess salt. For finer pieces of meat, you can always use a strainer.
Introducing any new foods to your dog’s diet should be done gradually and in moderation. You can always increase the amount over time. Avoid adding extra things that can upset your dog’s stomach. This includes cooking the chicken in butter, oils, or wheat flour. Instead, you could always prepare the chicken with a side of vegetables and brown rice/white rice.
What Types of Canned Chicken Are Best?
While something like this Organic Roasted Chicken Breast with Rib Meat would be the best option, this may not always be feasible. If you don’t have access to an independent grocery store or chain like Whole Foods, you may not be able to purchase some of the higher-end brands. The cost can also quickly add up, especially if you have a larger dog.
Ideally you’ll want to look for white chicken meat and cooked chicken. Avoid raw chicken, or anything that is unclear in what ingredients are contained in the can. You’ll want to pay close attention to the aforementioned amounts of sodium in the can. Additional ingredients like a chicken broth or base are okay but can be a little tricky, as you need to avoid anything with onion powder or garlic powder. Both of these are toxic to dogs and need to be avoided.
Brands which specifically mention “chicken breast” are best. “All-Natural” is a meaningless phrase when it comes to labeling, but organic can ensure certain growth hormones, pesticides, and herbicides were not used in the production of the feed for the chicken livestock. Chicken raised on US farms or Canadian farms compared to internationally also assures a certain degree of production.
While canned chicken is an excellent source of protein, it is no replacement for fresh chicken. You now the answer to, “Can dogs eat canned chicken?”. If you’d like to integrate more fresh food into your dog’s diet, you should always look for food that needs to be prepared or can be eaten raw. This may require a bit of extra effort on your part, but the health benefits for your pet will always outweigh the 10-15 minutes of prep.
Simple, natural ingredients are the safest for dogs, and can prevent any sort of upset stomach from loaded sodium content and artificial preservatives.
If you’re looking for alternative options that are easy, we recommend buying a whole, pre-cooked chicken and keeping it in your fridge. You can easily break apart the pieces to ensure there’s no chicken bones, and add some of the breast meat to your dog’s kibble or with some veggies.
Pantry staples like peanut butter, canned pumpkin, and microwavable rice are all healthy options for dogs that can be used in lieu of regular dog food.
If you’re ever unsure of the ingredients in a pre-packaged meat or canned product, do not feed it to your dog. Always slowly introduce new foods to your pet’s diet to prevent any sort of digestive upset.