DO FRUITS AND VEGETABLES BELONG IN A DOG’S DIET?
Every night my dad sits down in front of the TV to watch Friends reruns (Joey is his favorite), and share an apple with La. La is my mom and dad’s Dachshund-mix rescue dog.
My dad peels the apple and slices it up thin. Every few slices, La gets a slice. Dad gets a couple slices, La gets a slice. And on it goes until the Friends have learned their lesson or the apple is gone. La loves his apple treats.
When Mom and Dad first got La and they realized his love of apples, my ever-vigilant mom asked La’s veterinarian if apples were OK for him. La’s vet said that apples were actually a good, healthy treat for La, as he has the propensity to put on weight. Combined with a nutritious meat based diet, a couple small apple slices a day have worked really well for La.
Do dogs need fruits and vegetables added to their diet?
If your dog is eating a food that is AAFCO approved for their specific age (puppy, all life stages, senior, etc.), then no they do not. The food has been approved to meet the basic nutritional needs of your dog; it is not lacking in vital nutrients. And don’t worry, if you bought your dog’s food from a store, it is highly unlikely that it is AAFCO approved.
If you make your dog’s food at home (preferably under the guidance of a vet) you probably add some sort of plant matter into the food for fiber, antioxidants, starch, etc.
But beyond a balanced diet your dog doesn’t technically need additional fruits or vegetables. In fact, overdoing it on some fruits or vegetables in your dog’s diet could adversely affect their health, leading to stomach upset or even toxicity. Unlike humans, dogs fare much better with an almost exclusively meat-based diet; that is just how their digestion and physiology work.
Just look at your dog’s teeth, they are sharp, made for breaking down flesh and bone. Their jaws move in an up and down motion, not a plant-grinding, side to side motion. Their teeth, unlike a hose’s or cow’s are not flat. And unlike humans, they do not have a combination of sharp canine teeth and “boxy”, flat molars.
Additionally, a dog’s saliva does not contain amylase, the enzyme necessary for breaking down plant matter. A dog’s digestive system does not produce amylase until the small intestine and pancreas. This lack of salivary amylase (present in herbivores and omnivores), along with a shorter digestive tract, makes it harder for dogs to properly break down starch found in plant matter. If your dog is fed too much plant matter, it can result in gas, stomach upset, diarrhea or constipation, or large stools with undigested plant matter.
Basically, everything about your dog’s body indicates that he has evolved as a carnivore.
However, that does not mean your dog can’t benefit from fruits and vegetables in moderation.
Think of fruits and veggies as treats.
The treats you give your dog should ideally have some nutritional value, should taste good to them, might have some therapeutic or supplemental value, and should only make up about 10 percent of your dog’s total diet. Think of it this way: just because your dog might LOVE the chicken treats you give him with added glucosamine for his joints, doesn’t mean you’ll give him the whole bag. He wouldn’t love those chicken treats so much then.
Fruits and vegetables are the same way.
Along with being low-calorie and low-fat snacks for dogs who might have issues with obesity, fruits and vegetables can offer antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins and minerals that can contribute to a dog’s well-being. Some dogs may also really enjoy the textural differences and/or the sweetness in fruits and veggies.
Always remove any small seeds or pits from a plant-based snack you give your dog. Small seeds, like watermelon seeds, can cause intestinal blockages or may contain harmful substances, and pits like those found in mangoes can be toxic or choking hazards. Also be aware that the leaves and stems of some fruits and vegetables can be poisonous to dogs (and cats too, for that matter; though generally speaking fruits and veggies are not a necessary part of a cat’s obligate carnivore diet).
And as with any diet change, talk to your vet about the right portion of any given fruit or vegetable for your dog.
While not all fruits and veggies are created equal, here are a few that might make a healthful addition to your dog’s diet.
Apples: Like my dad does with La, a few slices of apple can be a sweet, crunchy treat for dogs. Containing soluble fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus, apples might be a refreshing taste change for your dog. Plus, try freezing slices for a chilly, summer time treat!
Remember: Apples should be fed in moderation to avoid stomach upset, and the core and seeds should never be fed – aside from blockage and choking hazards, the seeds contain toxic compounds.
Mangoes: Yum! Your dog might love a few bites of this sweet tropical treat. Mango can be a source of potassium, beta and alpha-carotene, vitamin A, B6, C, and E.
Mangoes. Image By Thamizhpparithi Maari (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Remember: Don’t let your dog chew on or eat the pit of a mango. Not only is it a choking/blockage hazard, but the pits contain a small amount of cyanide. Always make sure no part of the pit is present in the mango pieces you give your dog.
Cucumbers: Your dog might really enjoy the cool, crunch of a cucumber. Great for dogs who need to watch their weight, these nearly fat and carbohydrate free veggies are contain vitamins K, C, and B1, as well as potassium, copper, and magnesium.
Remember: Be sure to chop a cucumber into slices that are small enough to eat, but big enough not to choke on. Also, if you suspect the skin has a vegetable wax, peel off the skin. Whole cucumbers can be chewed on too, just be sure to take it away when it is eaten down to choking-hazard size.
Carrots: Carrots can make a great high fiber, high in beta-carotene, low-calorie chew treat. Freeze a whole, large carrot and it could be a great teething chew for a puppy. Plus, carrots can promote dental health in adult dogs.
Remember: Whole carrots can be a good chew toy for puppies and adult dogs, just be sure to keep an eye on your dog when they are chewing on a carrot just like you would with any other edible chew (and cucumbers). Once it gets down to a choking size, take it away.
Watermelon: If your pooch isn’t drinking enough water on a hot day, watermelon might be a good answer. With a water content of over 92%, a slice of watermelon might be a tasty, sweet treat that helps hydrate your dog. Not to mention that it contains vitamins A, B6, and C.
Remember: Make sure all seeds are removed, and don’t let your dog chew on or eat the rind. The rind of a watermelon can cause diarrhea, gas, or a blockage.
Watermelon by Harsha K R via Flickr/Creative Commons
Green Beans: The next time time you’re at the kitchen counter preparing some green beans for dinner, you can feel good about sharing a few with the hopeful pooch at your feet. Great for dogs with weight control problems, green beans are low in fat and high in fiber (helping dogs to feel more satiated). Additionally they contain vitamins A, K, C, and magnesium. Green beans can be fed raw or steamed.
Remember: Don’t feed your dog green beans with added salt. While fresh is best, if you buy canned green beans, be sure that they are not seasoned in the can.
Are there fruits and vegetables that are dangerous for dogs?
Of course there are. Just because a fruit or veggie is good for humans doesn’t mean it’s good for, or even safe for dogs.
Here are some fruits and vegetables that you should never feed your dog:
Onions, Garlic, Chives, Leeks, and the Like: Vegetables such as these contain Thiosulphate, which causes what’s called hemolytic anemia. Essentially, the red blood cells in your dog’s body burst, leading to a decrease in red blood cells and anemia. If left unchecked, it can lead to liver damage and weakness, as well as diarrhea, vomiting, red urine, lethargy, and other issues.
While a significant amount of the vegetable has to be consumed, the effects can be cumulative, so even if your dog eats only a little bit of onion or garlic regularly (cooked or raw it doesn’t matter), they can develop anemia. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia AKA Heinz Body Anemia include pale gums, red or brown urine, elevated heart rate, faster breathing, weakness, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea. If you suspect your dog ate any of the above vegetables, consult your vet immediately.
Grapes and Raisins: Though it is not entirely clear what grapes contain that is so toxic to dogs (and cats), it is just known that almost all dogs who consume grapes (even just small amounts) develop kidney failure. After the consumption of grapes kidney failure can come on fast and aggressively, many dogs experiencing major symptoms within 24 hours. In most cases, kidney failure (even when caught early) leads to death. Symptoms of grape or raisin ingestion can include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dehydration, decreased urination or none at all. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER FEED YOUR DOG GRAPES OR RAISINS.
If you suspect your dog has ingested grapes or raisins, take your dog to the vet immediately.
Cherries: While the flesh of a cherry is OK for dogs, the pits contain a small amount of cyanide which can be lethal to dogs (also to humans, but we are larger and know not to eat cherry pits). Cyanide essentially stops your dog’s blood from carrying oxygen through the body. If a dog consumes too many cherry pits (perhaps he scarfs down a whole bowl left unattended), his breathing may become labored, his gums will appear red, and his pupils will dilate. Some dogs may go into shock. A vet should immediately consulted if you think your dog ate cherries. The same care should be taken with peaches, plums, nectarines, even mangoes.
What about avocados?
A lot of pet owners say their dogs snack on avocados regularly – fresh avocados that have fallen from the tree in their backyard, or store bought ones.
There is some controversy about whether or not avocados are safe. The skin, pit, leaves, and stem of an avocado plant contains Persin, a substance that can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs, and in some cases respiratory distress due to fluid build-up in the chest, or pancreatitis. While many dogs do not react this way to avocados (the flesh contains trace amounts of Persin), some do.
If you choose to give your dog avocados, always be sure to make sure no part of the plant, skin, or pit is ingested. If your dog shows any distress after avocado consumption, contact your vet.
And remember, if you find yourself in a situation where your dog may have eaten something toxic and you cannot reach your vet, you can always call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. This national hotline offers assistance 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year.
Adding fruits and veggies to your dog’s snack menu, might be just the right thing to eliminate food monotony or make a healthy change!
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
Note: Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet or lifestyle. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt, always ask a vet.