If you had to eat the same food day in, day out, you would soon get very bored. But, that is exactly what we often expect our pet pooches to do. While we may vary the flavor we offer, the food often still looks and often smells the same. Of course, changing their food regularly, especially from one brand to another, is not recommended. So, what can you do to spice up your dog’s dinner without surrendering to unhealthy treats and titbits? The answer is to add vegetables to their diets.
But Dogs are Carnivores
The idea that dogs, like cats, are strictly carnivores continues to cause debate. However, there is growing evidence that dogs and their digestive systems are more closely linked to omnivores than they are carnivores. The crux of the argument is the length of the intestine. Meat protein is easy to digest and therefore carnivores have shorter intestinal tracts. Plant material takes longer to break down and therefore requires longer intestines. A dog’s intestines are longer, therefore suggesting that they are designed to breakdown plant material as well as meat protein.
Other research suggests that dogs have adapted to eating grains and other plant material. This is based on the discovery of three genes present in dogs that are related to the digestion of glucose and starch. Coupled with the growing agreement that dogs’ wild ancestors also ate grains, including from the stomachs of their prey, there is plenty to suggest that dogs eat vegetables, fruits, and grains, and more importantly that they benefit from eating them.
Getting the Balance Right
It is important for your dog to ingest the right amount of high quality meat protein. If you are feeding them high-quality commercial food, then the balance between protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients is already set. Adding other nutrient-rich foods should be done in moderation and vegetables should never be substituted entirely for their main food.
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If you are feeding a raw food diet, then you have a different set of considerations as the vegetables you choose provide the carbohydrates and nutrients not found in their raw meats. Such diets should be started with advice and guidance from your regular veterinarian.
Best Vegetables for Your Dog
That being said, adding vegetables to your dog’s diet in the right amounts can have some amazing health benefits for your dog, as well as providing a tasty treat. Here are the 10 best vegetables for dogs, along with a brief outline of the benefits they provide for your pet pooch.
Asparagus is full of flavor, as well as vitamins and minerals. The variety it provides in terms of flavor and texture could be enough to renew your dog’s interest in their food. For the best results add up to two ounces of lightly steamed asparagus to their regular meal. Don’t forget to cut into small pieces to prevent choking.
Broccoli stalks have numerous benefits, as well as boosting immunity, they are known to help fight the inflammation caused by arthritis and help ward off cancer. Chewing on broccoli stalks can also aid in supporting good dental health by fighting plaque. Broccoli should however, make up less than 5 percent of your dog’s diet and care needs to be taken because too much, especially of broccoli heads, can cause digestive upset and excessive gas.
Carrots are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and are known to boost the immune system and support eye health. They are also good for dental health when served raw and can be used to calm anxiety by giving your dog something to focus on. Dog’s should never be left alone with raw carrot as some find it hard to chew and it can become a choking hazard. If your dog’s stools contain undigested carrot, then avoid giving it to them raw and instead cook and chop it into small pieces to add to their food. Carrots should be limited to no more than one every two days.
Green beans contain omega 3 and are high in fiber. They can support heart health and aid in digestion and bowel regulation. They are also helpful as a weight loss aid because of their high fiber content. To use them safely and effectively, replace no more than 5 percent of your dog’s food with green beans.
Kale is a well-known human superfood, but it also has many benefits for dogs as well. The benefits of adding kale to your dog’s diet include reducing urinary tract problems, fighting heart disease, and helping with arthritic symptoms. Kale can be served steamed or dried and is best added to your dog’s main meal. However, too much kale can lead to bloating and gas, so it is recommended that you add no more than an ounce to their food.
While mushrooms are not technically a vegetable as they are a fungus, they do hold plenty of benefits for your dog. Button mushrooms, for example are known to stimulate the immune system and can even help with allergies. However, not all mushrooms are edible and unless you know your mushrooms and their different properties, you should always get expert advice before adding them to your dog’s diet. It is also a good idea to speak to your veterinarian about how much is a safe amount to give your specific dog for their age and breed.
Again, not technically a vegetable, but parsley is an herb that is well known for its breath freshening properties in humans. It has the same properties when given to dogs and has the added benefit of containing potassium and beta carotene. The former supports joint and muscle health, while the latter is great for your dog’s eyes. The best way to use parsley is to add a small sprinkle of it to your dog’s usual food, ensuring it is finely chopped.
Pumpkin is great for regulating the bowels because of its high fiber content. While you may not want to use it all the time, it is great for occasions when your dog is suffering from diarrhea or constipation. Pureed pumpkin, including ready pureed canned pumpkin, can be easily added to your dog’s main food. It is recommended replacing about a quarter of your dog’s food with pumpkin until their system regulates itself. However, if your dog is showing any other signs of illness, has eaten anything unusual, or the symptoms persist, you should contact your local veterinarian to ensure there is nothing more serious going on.
Sweet potato contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals, as well as being high in fiber. It is often used in commercially available dog foods because of its health benefits. Dog’s also tend to love the taste of sweet potato, which is another benefit. It should be served cooked, and either mashed or pureed. However, you can also serve it as wedges. It should never be given whole as it is a choking hazard. You can replace up to a quarter of your dog’s regular food with sweet potato to give them a change in routine, without affecting their digestive health and giving them a general health boost at the same time.
Adding zucchini to your dog’s diet is a great way to increase their water intake. Zucchini is also high in fiber, so it helps to fill your dog’s tummy without adding empty calories to their diet. You can use raw or frozen shredded zucchini and it is recommended that you add just a few ounces to their meal.
Avoiding Unhealthy Additions
While these vegetables are all safe to add to your dog’s diet in moderation, not all vegetables are safe or recommended for dogs. Among the vegetables you should avoid are:
Some fruits are also good for dog’s while others should be avoided. Any fruits that you offer your dog should only be given in moderation as an occasional treat because of the sugar content. However, among those that should be avoided entirely are grapes and raisins. Extra care should be taken with citrus fruits as they can cause minor stomach upsets. Citrus in any other form should be avoided altogether.
By feeding the recommended vegetables in moderation you can however, offer your dog a more varied diet that also benefits their general health and wellbeing. If you are unsure of any aspect of your dog’s health or diet, you should speak to your veterinarian before making any changes.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.