A-Z of dog wellbeing: Zucchini and other vegetables

Today experts claim that 60% of dogs will develop cancer.  A 2005 study found that dogs on a dry commercial pet food diet were 90% less likely to develop cancer if they were fed leafy green vegetables at least 3 times per week.  Dogs fed yellow or orange vegetables were 70% less likely.

If you don’t already offer your dog vegetables, the leftovers from your Christmas dinner are a great opportunity to see what your dog likes, and boost their intake of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Should dogs eat vegetables?

While cats are obligate carnivores which means they only eat meat, dogs are omnivores and are able to eat both meat and plant matter, although they cannot digest the cellulose in vegetables which forms things like stalks, seed coats, and the vegetable’s structure, so we need to offer the vegetables in a way that mimics how they would eat vegetables in nature.

A wild dog would eat the partly digested contents of a prey animal’s stomach, so the best way to serve plants to dogs to blend them to a pulp in a food processor to break down the plant’s tough cell wall, or to lightly steam them to break down the cell structure.

Benefits of adding veg to your dog’s dinner

What’s your favourite meal?  Your absolute favourite food that you love above all else?  Now imagine eating it for breakfast, dinner and tea every single day of your life.  How long before you get bored of it?  Adding a variety of vegetables to your dogs food gives them different flavours and sensations to enjoy which creates greater enrichment in their lives.

Adding fruit, vegetables and seeds in a dog’s diet is also good way to provide vitamins A, B, C, E and K, minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, anti-oxidants which may be lacking in the diet due to modern intensive farming methods.

They also add fibre which supports the gut bacteria and can bind to and remove certain toxins as well as adding bulk and moisture to the faeces. Fresh vegetables also encourage enzyme production and offer a gentle cleansing and balancing effect on the ph. levels of the body.

Good vegetables and fruits for dogs

Sweet potato supports a healthy digestive system thanks to their high dietary fibre content. They’re also low in fat and contain essential vitamins like B6, C, and A.  Their yellow colour comes from the antioxidant beta-carotene which that helps reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and protects against heart disease.

Squash of all shapes and sizes are great including pumpkins, butternut squash and courgettes (or zucchini).  Use the flesh and the seeds for extra goodness and help with regulating the bowels if your dog is suffering from constipation or diarrhoea.

Brassicas such as Swiss chard, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts, kale and other are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron and potassium and are fantastic for your dog. They help boost immunity, help ward off cancer and fight arthritic inflammation. Ensure brassicas make up no more than 5% of your dog’s food though as too much can upset the digestive system and cause gas.

Stalks like celery and asparagus are great, but some dogs don’t like the taste, so try them lightly steamed if they don’t enjoy them raw and pulped.  They offer great anti-inflammatory benefits.

Green beans aren’t strictly part of the legume family and so can be safely added to your dogs food.  They contain fibre to help aid digestion and bowel regulation and have heart-healthy omega-3s. They also help fill up an overweight hungry dog.

Nightshade vegetables including red and orange bell peppers, tomatoes, red (ripe) tomatoes and aubergine are usually tolerated well by dogs, but they should only be given in small amounts at first so you can watch for a reaction. They can be inflammatory in large amounts, so avoid them if your dog has a condition with inflammation as a symptom (such as arthritis or inflammatory skin conditions), or if your dog is about to have, or has recently had an anaesthetic. All of these foods are known to be highly contaminated with pesticides, so it’s best to select organically grown veg.

Mushrooms can stimulate the immune system and help with allergies. Be sure that your dog only eats mushrooms that you can buy from a supermarket though as foraged mushrooms may be poisonous.

Stone fruit such as peaches, plums and apricots are fine for dogs provided you remove the stone before they have are given the fruit. The stones a compound that is converted into cyanide in the body which is toxic to cells because it interferes with their oxygen supply; it is particularly bad for the brain and heart.

Apples and pears are full of vitamin C, vitamin A, and fibre, but be sure to feed fresh fruits, not canned as tinned fruits contain too much sugar.

Bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, fibre and vitamin B6 but like most other fruits, they do contain a fair amount of sugar, so it’s important not to give your dog too many.

Berries including blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are rich in antioxidants, but are also high in sugar, so while very beneficial, their quantities should be limited.

Vegetables and fruits to limit

White potatoes, another nightshade vegetable, are high in starch so they are best avoided in anything but very small quantities. Never feed white potatoes raw, and avoid all potato products that have been fried in fats such as chips and crisps.

Root vegetables like carrots, beetroot, sweet potatoes and parsnips are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, however they are starchy and high in sugar so limit the amount you give to your dog especially if their commercial or raw dog food already contains root vegetables. Some contain between 15 – 20 % root vegetables, predominately carrot which be too much for some dogs if they are fed it on a daily basis.  If this is the case with your dog’s food, offer leafy greens or berries for variation.

Legumes include kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, and peas. Reports of canine dilated cardiopulmonary (DCM) have appeared in dogs eating pet foods with legumes or potatoes high up on the ingredients list. If the protein of your dog’s dry food relies heavily on legumes or potatoes, you should not only avoid giving more of this plant group to your dog, but also consider switching foods to one containing less legume-based protein.

Corn is the most common of the cereal grains to be used in dog food processing because of its mass availability and affordability. Because of its strong starch-protein matrix, it has low digestibility and very low nutritional value, while the carbohydrate value (sugar) for corn is high.  Never give your dog corn when it’s on the cob as the centre of the cob is a choking hazard.

Avocados contain a chemical called persin which in large quantities can be toxic to most animals including dogs. In large amounts, it can cause vomiting and diarrhoea though in small enough amounts, persin shouldn’t cause any problems. This means that many dogs can eat some avocado but it shouldn’t be a regular food.

Garlic is part of the allium family which is on the avoid list, but it is high in inulin, amino acids, sulphur, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. It also contains vitamin A, C, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, germanium and B-complex vitamins. It is high in sulphur which offers anti-parasitic qualities and is helpful for repelling fleas and ticks in adult dogs (not Akitas and Shiba Inus).  Use fresh, organic garlic and begin with smaller amounts, building up to ¼ clove for small dogs, ½ clove for medium dogs and 1 clove for large breed dogs, once or twice a week.

Strawberries may affect the thyroid gland in dogs if fed in quantities over a long period of time. I would avoid these if a particular dog already has thyroid disease and chose blueberries, blackberries or raspberries instead just to be extra cautious.

Vegetables to avoid

Onions and bulb vegetables like  leeks, chives, and shallots are best avoided as they are toxic to dogs. Over time they can kill red blood cells, causing anaemia which, at it’s worse, can cause organs to shut down.

Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. And just a small amount can make a dog sick. Vomiting over and over is an early sign.

How much should I feed?

A good feeding guideline would be 7% vegetables and 3% berries, substituting this for 10% of the weight of the dog’s current food.  Take this out of the muscle meat quantity if you feed raw. Start with a lesser amount and monitor how your dog is handling the inclusion of vegetables in their diet.

Blitz up the fruit and vegetables in a food processor or blender with a little water so it forms a pulp, or lightly steam the vegetables and then offer them to your dog and see what they like.

If you would like to review all of your dog’s nutritional requirements, including the diseases their breed(s) may be prone to, and the meats, fruits and vegetables that help mitigate the risks of these diseases, please contact me for details of my Canine Nutrition Review.