We humans are encouraged to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Doing so, say the nutritionists, will help us fight off disease, improve organ health, maintain a healthy weight, and lengthen our lives. But what about dogs? Will fruits and vegetables provide the same health benefits to our pets as they do to us?
In fact, say many veterinary nutritionists, they may be a good idea. And there are a number of types of produce that are especially good for our dogs. Be aware though that some fruits and vegetables are dangerous to feed dogs and should always be avoided.
Before Adding Fruits and Veggies to Your Dog’s Diet
As a general rule, new foods, including produce, should be introduced to a dog’s diet slowly. Dogs need time to adjust to new elements in their diet to avoid digestive problems. Also, in this way, any fruits or vegetables that your dog has a special sensitivity or allergy to can be discovered and eliminated from your pet’s diet. In general, it's a good idea to talk to your vet about giving your dog produce and get his or her expert opinion on the matter.
Also note that dogs’ digestive systems can’t break down the skins or rinds of many fruits and vegetables. One solution is to peel produce before giving it to your dog, although a great deal of nutrients often occurs in the skins. Finely chopping or blending things like apples and pears can make them more palatable to your pet.
Some purists argue that fruits and vegetables have no place in a dog’s diet. When found in the wild, dogs consume little to no vegetables – only those found in the bellies of their prey. Discuss the philosophies with your veterinarian to find out what might work well for your dog.
Fruits and Veggies for Your Dog
Apples, especially including their skins, are a great source of vitamin C as well as pectin, a fiber that may help improve the digestive tract and colon health. If your dog won’t eat apple pieces, you might make applesauce that can be added to your dog’s meal.
Some dogs love to munch carrots right out of the bag, whether baby carrots or full size. These vegetables contain high levels of beta-carotene, which is good for your dog’s eyes, as well as vitamin C and small amounts of minerals.
This vegetable contains a number of phytochemicals, compounds that inhibit the buildup of carcinogens in the body. Broccoli also has high levels of beta carotene and vitamin C as well as folic acid and fiber. Your dog might enjoy this vegetable when cooked and added to their regular meal. Note that too much broccoli is thought to inhibit thyroid function in dogs, so serve it in moderation.
Citrus fruits have a whole range of health benefits, including immune boosting properties and promotion of respiratory health. They are also rich in folate, thiamine, and of course vitamin C. Some dogs may be sensitive to citrus and may develop diarrhea or other digestive problems if they eat too much of these fruits. Removing skins and seeds can help.
Fruits and Vegetables to Avoid
There are a few kinds of produce that, although they are quite palatable to humans, are very toxic to dogs. These foods should never be fed to your pet at the risk of serious health consequences.
Grapes and Raisins:
Although it is not fully understood why, even a small amount of grapes or raisins can be very toxic to dogs, even fatal. Repeated vomiting can be an early sign of grape ingestion, followed by lethargy and acute kidney failure.
Onions and Garlic:
These vegetables, in all forms, even powdered, can destroy a dog’s red blood cells, leading to anemia. The signs of anemia include loss of appetite and energy, vomiting, and loss of breath. Some manufacturers have found ways to pasteurize garlic, and cooking seems to decrease the potential for toxicity. Raw garlic, however, must always be avoided.
Avocados contain a chemical called persin that is harmful to dogs and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and fluid retention around the heart. This chemical is found to be very concentrated in the avocado pit which if ingested is fatal, according to ASPCA reports.
Fruits with Pits:
Fruits such as plums, peaches, and apples can be quite healthy for your dog, but care should be taken to remove seeds or pits before feeding them to your pet. Seeds can cause inflammation in the small intestine and larger pits can cause dangerous obstructions in the intestines.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.