Dachshund looking at an oyster.

Can Dogs Eat Oysters?
The Complete Guide

Written By Eloisa Thomas | Canine Coach, Double M.A in Anthropology.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 8th January 2024

Have you ever considered adding oysters into your dog’s diet? But can dogs really eat oysters? If you’re wondering whether this tasty shellfish is a good option for your pup, today’s article is for you.

Here’s everything you need to know.


Can Dogs Eat Oysters?

Yes, dogs can eat oysters in moderation.

Oysters, like other shellfish, are rich in protein and very low in fat, so they can be a good treat for most adult dogs. However, since oysters can also have viruses and be contaminated with chemicals, puppies under 12 months old should not eat oysters (raw or cooked). Young dogs tend to have a more fragile immune system and any infection can quickly become life-threatening.


Are Oysters Good For Dogs? Possible Benefits Of Dogs Eating Oysters

Oysters are full of nutrients, which makes them a great treat for both humans and dogs. Although research on feeding oysters to dogs is scarce, there are some studies showing the possible benefits of the main compounds found in oysters:

1. Oysters are rich in zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that, when missing, can have nasty effects on your dog’s health. A diet low in zinc can cause your dog’s coat to look dull and their skin to itch. It can even weaken the skin on their paws, making them more prone to breaking. Some dog breeds have an especially hard time absorbing zinc from their diet, such as Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes.

If your dog has been diagnosed with zinc insufficiency, or if you think they could use a little more, adding a few bites of cooked oysters to their regular meal can round up their diet in no time.

2. Protein-rich treat

In line with other shellfish, oysters are a lean protein source. They have zero carbs and almost no fat, making them a great choice to keep your dog satisfied  and top up their daily protein requirements. Unlike plant-based proteins, oysters are full proteins (such as other animal proteins like chicken) and are easier for their bodies to metabolise. A regular 110 gram serving of oysters has as much protein as an egg or a chicken breast, and it’s absorbed fairly quickly.

Their nutritional composition makes oysters a great topper for your dog’s regular bowl!

3. Great source of minerals

Because they grow in saltwater, oysters are particularly rich in essential minerals. In fact, 100 grams of oysters have more iron than 100 grams of lean meat! Since proper iron intake is essential to your dog’s health, adding a couple oyster treats can be great to round up your dog’s diet.

This shellfish is also rich in selenium (essential for a healthy thyroid and brain function) and phosphorus (which improves absorption of other vitamins and minerals).

PRO TIP: The minerals in oysters are directly linked to where they were grown. Organic, sustainably sourced oysters grown in flowing water are best for optimal nutrient concentration. [1]

4. Oysters have plenty of Omega-3

Although Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, dogs are incapable of producing it themselves. Many dog foods contain supplemental Omega-3s and Omega-6s because of it! These fatty acids have strong antioxidant levels, which help your dog’s body fight inflammation and prevent chronic illness. This compound also improves all-around skin health, especially if your dog has itchy skin or a dull coat. One 110 gram serving of cooked oysters packs up to 1000 mg of Omega-3, which is significantly more than other sources.

Raw Oyster.

Can Dogs Eat Raw Oysters?

They can, but it’s not recommended.

According to vets, dogs shouldn’t eat raw oysters. Although raw oysters are rich in micronutrients, they are more likely to have living microorganisms, can transmit foodborne illness and spoil easily. To minimise the risk of allergic reactions, GI distress and food poisoning, it’s best to stick to cooked oysters. We recommend boiling, steaming or roasting oysters before offering them to your dog.

If you must feed raw oysters to your pup, only offer the freshest option. Stick to organic, sustainably sourced oysters and feed them to your dog immediately after opening.


Risks Of Giving Oysters To Dogs

In spite of the possible health benefits, feeding oysters to your dog isn’t without its risks. Some of the cons of adding oysters to your dog’s diet are:

1. Too much salt can harm your dog

Like most shellfish, oysters have a relatively high sodium content. This isn’t generally a problem, unless you feed them too often to your dog.

Having too much sodium in their diet can quickly lead to electrolyte imbalances in dogs. With oysters, the high sodium and phosphorus content can cause imbalances in calcium and potassium levels on their bloodstream [2]. Too much salt can also cause diarrhoea and dehydration, which if left untreated can be very dangerous.

Even if they love them, limit your dog’s oyster consumption to once or twice a week at most.

2. Oysters are high in purines

Purines are a naturally occurring substance, but in excess they can lead to excessive concentrations of uric acid and the development of urinary stones. Oysters are rich in purines that can cause unnecessary strain on your dog’s liver [3]. Your dog’s kidneys usually take care of excess purine, but if your dog is fed with a high-purine diet it might make their kidneys work harder. Dogs that have already been diagnosed with kidney problems should limit their purine intake, and this includes lowering oyster consumption.

3. Shellfish can cause allergies

Like people, some dogs are allergic to seafood and/or shellfish. Unfortunately, this is a situation where you’ll never know if your dog is allergic unless they have a reaction after they’ve eaten the new food.

The best option is to introduce any new food item, including oysters, very slowly. Try a small bite and watch your dog for a few days, if they haven’t shown any adverse reactions, it’s likely they are not allergic.

PRO TIP: Don’t try to feed oysters to your dog if they’ve had allergic reactions to seafood or fish in the past. Allergies can evolve over time and the compounds that gave your dog a reaction before might also be present in oysters.

4. Some oysters are contaminated with viruses and bacteria

The main risk of feeding oysters to dogs is the risk of infections. Oysters can have different microorganisms, but the two riskier ones are a bacterium called Vibrium, and norovirus.

Vibrio infection is caused by a specific bacterium found in salt water, and can be contracted by eating raw oysters. If infected, your dog will present classic gastrointestinal symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen. Because it can be difficult to diagnose, vibrium infections tend to progress and can cause full-body failure due to septicaemia (blood infection) unless treated immediately. [4]

A norovirus infection also causes gastrointestinal symptoms as it is typically spread through contaminated waters (and uncooked water-bound creatures such as oysters). If left untreated, the continuous vomiting and diarrhoea caused by norovirus can lead to dehydration and even death.

Fortunately, you can eliminate contamination risk by only feeding cooked oysters to your dog.

5. Risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) infection

Finally, oysters can carry dinoflagellates algae, a specific type of seaweed that produces harmful toxins and are common among shellfish grown in contaminated waters. [5]

When ingested, these toxins cause neurological symptoms such as spasms, trouble walking, numbness, paralysis, and vomiting. Symptoms appear relatively quickly, from 30 minutes to 4 hours after ingestion and, if left untreated, can lead to death.

If you suspect your dog has neurological symptoms after eating any kind of shellfish, take them to the vet as soon as possible.


How To Safely Feed Oysters To Dogs


Step 1. Pick the right oysters

Like other seafood, oysters are very sensitive to the conditions they’re grown in. Because they are “filter feeders”, oysters and other shellfish tend to catch whatever toxins are in the water surrounding them. This means oysters can be a source of toxic elements, as shown in a recent study on Floridian oysters full of toxic chemicals such as phthalate esters [6]. These chemicals are known to negatively influence human health and increase the risk for chronic diseases.

To limit your dog’s exposure to these compounds, choose the right oysters. Here’s what we recommend looking for:

  • Get them in season. Sourcing oysters during peak season is your best option to ensure you’re getting fresh shellfish of the highest possible quality. In Australia, most oysters are in season from March-April to August-December [7].
  • Certified Organic oysters: Many manufacturers have the Australian Certified Organic label. These oysters are grown in regularly tested waters to keep chemicals at bay, without stressing the shellfish and often use recycled baskets to avoid waste.
  • Local and sustainable: If you can find sustainably sourced oysters, those are the best choice. We’re partial to businesses that offer traceable oysters, grown in conditions that limit impact on the seabed and stick to responsible oyster farming.

Step 2. Cook the oysters

As we mentioned above, cooked oysters limit the risk of food poisoning or stomach issues. After selecting good quality oysters, we recommend boiling, steaming or roasting them before feeding them to your dog.

It’s best to gently cook oysters until just done, and not overcook them. Overcooked oysters get rubbery and tough to chew, and some micronutrients might be lost due to extreme heat. Cooking for 10 to 15 minutes is usually enough.

PRO TIP: Never add condiments or cooking oils to your dog’s food, including oysters! Many common sauces eaten with oysters, such as wasabi or soy sauce, can actually be harmful to your dog. It’s best to cook oysters plain to limit the risk of allergies.

Step 3. Serve

Once the oysters are properly cooked, it’s time to serve! Let the oyster meat cool down and take the meat out of the shell. In the beginning, one or two oysters is enough. You can use cooked oysters as a topper to make their regular food bowl more enticing.

PRO TIP: As with any new food, always start small when offering oysters to your dog for the first time. By only giving one or two bites and then keeping an eye on your pup, you can make sure they don’t have any adverse reactions to it.

Step 4. Monitor your dog

The first time you give oysters to your dog, keep an eye on them for the following 24 hours. This is bestpractice to figure out whether your dog reacts well to oysters and isn’t allergic. Call your vet ASAP if your dog shows any of the following symptoms up to 48 hours after having oysters:

  • Lethargy, weakness and depression: A healthy dog will usually be active in their everyday life. If your dog is suddenly lethargic, sleepy and doesn’t want to engage in their normal activity levels, it’s a sign something is going on.
  • Vomiting: The most common symptom of gastrointestinal distress. Vomiting more than 2 times per hour, or 3 times in less than 4 hours can cause dehydration. Make sure to offer your dog plenty of fluids and call your vet immediately.
  • Seizures and wobbly walking: As we mentioned above, sometimes oysters carry viruses that target the central nervous system. If you fed raw oysters or didn’t cook them through, these viruses might infect your dog.
  • Jaundice: This can be easily diagnosed by looking at your dog’s gums and eyes. If they look yellowish in colour instead of pink, it might be a sign of liver failure. Jaundice needs to be treated immediately.
  • Diarrhoea: One of the mildest symptoms, it might be caused by feeding too many oysters too soon. Electrolyte imbalance brought on by the high sodium content in oysters might also cause diarrhoea. As with vomiting, keep offering water to your dog and keep your vet updated if your pup doesn’t improve in 4-6 hours.

Final Thoughts

Oysters can be a great high protein treat for your dog, but as with other shellfish, you need to be careful. It’s important to only feed fully cooked oysters to your pup to minimise food poisoning risks and prevent dangerous viruses from spreading. If you take precautions, these are a great bowl topper that most pups will happily enjoy.

Are you wondering whether you can feed other common foods to your dog? Check out our other food safety guides here:

References

  1. Hackney, C. et al. July 1987. “Variation in the levels of sodium and other minerals of nutritional importance in Louisiana oysters (Crassostrea virginica)”. Journal of Food Science. Retrieved April 12, 2023.  https://ift.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1987.tb14285.x
  2. Stockman, J et al. 2021. “Calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D in Dogs and Cats: Beyond the Bones”. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice. Retrieved April 12, 2023. https://europepmc.org/article/med/33653533
  3. Qu, X., et al 15 April 2016. “Determination of four different purines and their content change in seafood by high-performance liquid chromatography”. Journal of the science of food and agriculture. Retrieved April 12, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.7755
  4. Decker, P. December 8, 2022. “Can dogs eat oysters?” The Goody Pet. Retrieved April 12, 2023. https://www.thegoodypet.com/can-dogs-eat-oysters
  5. Henriques, J. March 31, 2023. “Can dogs eat seafood?”. Dogs Naturally Magazine. Retrieved April 12, 2023.  https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/can-dogs-eat-seafood/
  6. Hawley, C. July 7, 2022. “New study finds oysters in Florida contain toxic forever chemicals”. Fox 13, Tampa Bay. Retrieved April12, 2023.   https://www.fox13news.com/news/new-study-finds-oysters-in-florida-contain-toxic-forever-chemicals
  7. Beecher, T. October 27, 2022. “Oysters: an explainer”. Broadsheet. Retrieved April 12, 2023.  https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/food-and-drink/article/explainer-australian-oysters

Eloisa Thomas


Eloisa Thomas is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach & Anthropologist.

With a double master's degree in Anthropology and awarded a Chancellor's International Scholarship to pursue a PhD in History at the University of Warwick (UK), she's well equipped to write well written and factual canine information that will actually help people understand their dogs better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}