Most people think of dogs as meat-eaters — and of course meat needs to make up a large percentage of their diet. But fruit and veggies are also beneficial to canine health and well-being.
When it comes to including vegetables and fruit in the canine diet, people have different opinions. Some think it’s unnecessary; others feed small amounts (up to 10% to 15% of the total diet); while still others give their dogs plentiful quantities. While vegetables and fruit may not be classified as “essential” for dogs, they’re clearly very beneficial. Evidence suggests they can provide the same benefits to dogs as they do to humans, and can help prevent cancer, cardiovascular problems, autoimmune diseases, metabolic issues, and more. Vegetables and fruit contain an abundance of valuable nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.
Let’s look at the role of vegetables and fruits in the canine diet, and how you can add them to your own dog’s meals.
Dogs are “facultative carnivores”
Although dogs are generally recognized as carnivores, like their wolf ancestors, they are actually what are called “facultative carnivores”. This means they can and will utilize plant matter as part of their predominantly meat-based diet. A study on wolf scats collected between 1992 and 2005 reported a content of up to 7.8% plant matter during the summer months. This plant matter included vegetation and berries and was believed to come from intentional consumption.
Adding fruits and veggies to your dog’s diet
While dogs can’t digest cellulose, the main substance in plant cell walls, they do digest vegetables and fruit and will readily eat them. And the benefits of the phytonutrient antioxidants provided by these foods are significant. Studies have shown that dogs with certain cancers have reduced antioxidant levels. Antioxidants have also been found to prevent cognitive decline in aged dogs. Additionally, phytonutrients can slow down oxidative damage and other effects of aging.
All this means that vegetables and fruit (preferably fresh and organic) are an invaluable addition to a dog’s predominantly meat-based diet. Quantities will depend on the individual dog, his breed, and particular health concerns. Start with small amounts and experiment with different fruits and veggies to see which ones your dog likes best.
- Vegetables can be fed raw, but I usually recommend lightly steaming them, particularly when it comes to cruciferous vegetables, which contain goitrogenic compounds that may disrupt thyroid hormones. Lightly steaming these veggies helps deactivate these compounds.
- It is advisable to remove pips and pits from fruit, and caution is also advised with some of the skins or tough rinds found on some fruit and vegetables.
- Always keep in mind that not all vegetables and fruit are safe for dogs. In particular, onions, grapes, and raisins should be avoided.
Top 8 vegetables and fruits for dogs
A cruciferous vegetable, packed with phytonutrients such as sulforaphane and isothiocyanates, yielding cancer preventive properties. Rich in vitamin C, also contains vitamins A, B complex, K, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, and manganese.
A perennial plant, and a moderate source of fiber. Contains vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K; and minerals, particularly copper and iron, lesser amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.
3. Purple sweet potato
A root vegetable, and a good source of fiber, rich in vitamin A, and also containing vitamins C and B6. Rich in potassium; other minerals include calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Contains flavonoids such as anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive properties.
Always keep in mind that not all vegetables and fruit are safe for dogs. In particular, onions, grapes, and raisins should be avoided.
Leafy green vegetable from the cruciferous family. Good source of fiber, and packed with phytochemicals such as sulforaphane, along with indole-3-carbinol, which can exert anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive properties. Rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and also contains some B complex vitamins. Mineral-rich, particularly in copper, and also provides good quantities of calcium, iron, phosphorous and manganese.
Packed with antioxidant phytonutrients, including anthocyanidin compounds, chlorogenic acid, tannins, myricetin, and quercetin. The benefits of this wonderful fruit are plentiful, and it offers preventive properties for numerous diseases, including cancer. Good source of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B complex, C, K, and manganese.
6. Apples (avoid core and pips)
Antioxidant, phytonutrient, and flavonoid-rich, including quercetin and epicatechin. Good source of vitamin C, also containing A, B complex, E, and K. Mineral content includes iron and phosphorus.
Phytonutrients include bromelain a proteolytic enzyme with anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, and cancer-preventive properties. Rich in Vitamin C, also containing B complex and E. Mineral content includes a good amount of manganese, copper, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Good source of fiber, and rich in antioxidant phytonutrients and flavonoids for disease prevention. Good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, K, and copper. One of the least allergenic fruits.
While good quality whole meats should continue to form the basis of your dog’s diet, adding in these vegetables and fruits – and others! — will give him an important boost of extra nutrition, help prevent disease, and go a long way toward keeping him in optimal health.