By Dr. Becker
I don’t normally recommend fish as the best protein source for dogs and cats, but that’s because many types of fish are so contaminated… and the fish found in most commercial pet foods is likely to contain a chemical preservative called ethoxyquin, which is linked to both cancer and liver damage.
Those risks do not apply to sardines, which are not only ethoxyquin-free but are likely to be very low in contaminants as well, due to their small size and low spot on the food-chain totem pole.
Many cats and dogs love to eat sardines fresh or right out of the can, however some pets prefer a crispy, crunchy treat on occasion. For those times, I’ve shared my recipe for dehydrated sardine crisps. They’re packed with nutrition and have just the right amount of crunch to keep your dog or cat begging for more.
Dehydrated Sardine Crisps
- 1 can sardines packed in water
- Parchment paper
- Food dehydrator
- Drain water from sardines
- Place sardines on parchment covered dehydrator trays
- Dehydrate at 155 degrees F for 2 hours
- Reduce temp to 140 degrees F for 4 more hours, or until fish are thoroughly dried
- Store in the refrigerator for up to a week
Why Your Pet Deserves Sardines as a Snack
Whether dehydrated or right out of the can, sardines are a simple snack you can feel good about feeding to your dog or cat. Their claim to fame? Omega-3 fats. Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3s out there, and they have a short lifespan, which means they don’t live long enough to accumulate toxins.
This means sardines are both a rich and pollutant-free source of omega-3s. These beneficial fats can enhance your pet’s health in a number of ways, including the following:
- Heart Health: Omega-3s are linked to improved heart function, including reduced heart rate and blood pressure, as well as reduced inflammation in pets. One study even found omega-3 fats improved survival rates among dogs with chronic valvular disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).1
- Brain Health: When puppies were fed a diet enriched with the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), they had improved cognitive, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions.2 Puppies fed omega-3s also scored better on learning tasks and had an improved ability to see in low-light or dark conditions.
- Skin Health: In my experience, dietary deficiency of omega-3s is the number one cause of excessively flaky skin in pets. In one study, dogs given omega-3 fats that included high levels of EPA showed improvements in itchiness, self-trauma, coat character, and hair loss compared with administration of ALA alone.
ALA is a plant-based form of omega-3, but dogs and cats can’t convert plant-based omega-3 into DHA. So it’s really important that you supply animal-based omega-3s, like those from sardines, to your pet.
- Kidney Health: Omega-3 fats appear to help slow the decline of kidney function in dogs with chronic kidney disease.3 Cats with kidney disease also benefitted, showing increased survival times when fed EPA omega-3s.4
- Osteoarthritis: Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and research shows they offer significant benefit to dogs and cats suffering from osteoarthritis. Animals fed omega-3s displayed less stiffness, higher activity levels, more stair climbing, higher jumping, and improved performance of daily activities.
- Weight Loss: Omega-3s may even help your pooch or kitty to lose weight. By reducing the effect of inflammatory enzymes produced by body fat, they may help promote weight loss. Among dogs fed a calorie-restricted diet, for instance, those fed omega-3s lost more weight when omega-3s were also supplemented.
If you aren’t feeding your dog or cat sardines on a regular basis, you might want to considering supplementing krill oil to help ensure they’re getting enough omega-3s daily.
I do prefer food sources generally, however, as omega-3s are but one valuable nutrient in sardines. These tiny fish are also rich in vitamin B12, selenium, protein, vitamin D, calcium, and more, making them an ideal way to add vitamins and minerals to your pet’s diet. And because the fish are consumed whole, bones and all, their mineral content is just as outstanding as that of their omega-3 fats.
When making dehydrated sardine crisps, be sure to choose sardines canned in water (not oil or tomato sauce). And I suggest doubling or even tripling the recipe. Although they’ll keep for about a week in your fridge, they’re not likely to last longer than a day or two once your pet gets a taste. You might even want to try one for yourself!
Looking for more homemade pet treat recipes? Check out my free e-cookbook, Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets: Nutritious Recipes for Your Cats and Dogs. This e-book is filled with homemade dog and cat food ideas, which are personally formulated by my mom and me, and I’m sure your pets will love love them. Over 20 species-appropriate recipes – crunchy morsels, savory treats, and even pet-friendly desserts – are included.