Over the last several years, nutrition for dogs has been hotly debated. Many food companies have suggested that grains are bad for dogs and that meat-only diets are best because dogs are “carnivores” like their wolf ancestors. This is simply not true. Domesticated dogs are omnivores, meaning that they can derive nutrients from both meat and plant sources. Proof of the dog’s omnivorism exists in his anatomy. For example, dogs have sharp incisor and canine teeth for chewing meat and have flattened premolar and molar teeth for chewing plant matter. Also, the length of the dog’s digestive tract is relatively longer compared to that of a true carnivore like the cat. Carnivores tend to have shorter digestive tracts whereas omnivores and herbivores have longer digestive tracts for digesting plant matter.
Most vegetables are safe for dogs provided the vegetables are cut into small portions and that certain vegetables are avoided. Vegetables can provide a good source of nutrients and can be a lower calorie treat compared to other foods. Many of the commercial diets available for dogs are nutritionally complete, meaning that they meet all or most of the nutritional requirements for your dog. Therefore, vegetables should only be given as occasional treats and not given in large portions unless directed by your veterinarian (e.g. in the case of home-cooked meals for dogs). If your dog is overweight, ask your veterinarian if it is okay to incorporate some vegetable snacks into your dog’s weight loss regimen. Dogs with certain health problems like diabetes should avoid extra treats because they can cause blood sugar to become poorly controlled. However, recent evidence suggests that the occasional green bean is recommended for diabetic patients because it is a source of dietary fiber that can contribute to better blood sugar control1.
Kale is a type of leafy green vegetable that can be served chopped, dried, or steamed. It is an excellent source of fiber and contains many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Due to its many health benefits, kale has earned the moniker “superfood.” The high fiber content means that too much kale in a short period of time can cause excess gas and bloating, so be sure to gradually introduce small pieces into your dog’s treat regimen.
Zucchini is another excellent source of fiber and contains high amounts of water and vitamin B6. It can be given to your dog in small, shredded pieces or in slices. The zucchini pieces can be raw or can be frozen, which can make for a cool treat on a hot day.
Brussel sprouts are high in fiber and vitamins C and K with trace amounts of other numerous vitamins and minerals. They can be served boiled or steamed and preferably in smaller pieces as whole sprouts can be a choking hazard for some dogs. Like with kale, large quantities of brussel sprouts in a short period of time can cause excess gas and bloating, so gradually give these in small quantities.
Carrots are another excellent fiber source but can also be high in sugar so avoid these if your dog is overweight or has diabetes. Carrots contain good amounts of vitamins K and C, and the beta-carotene in carrots helps produce vitamin A. They can be served boiled or steamed. However, small raw carrot sticks can be excellent treats. This crunchy snack can help ease anxious dogs and can also help keep teeth clean.
Like carrots, sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that provides excellent fiber but can be high in sugar, so feed these to your dog in small amounts. Sweet potatoes are sources of elements like potassium, selenium, and manganese, which helps the body utilize other nutrients. Sweet potatoes also contain vitamins like A, C, B5, and B6. They can be served mashed or boiled and cut into small cubes.
As mentioned above, green beans are an excellent source of fiber and easily digestible, making them ideal for use in dogs with upset stomachs. They are also not considered to be true beans or legumes, which have been implicated in a recent FDA update concerning heart disease in dogs and grain-free diets4. Green beans can be boiled or steamed or chopped.
Mushrooms are a good protein and fiber source, and clean white mushrooms purchased from a store can be okay for dogs to eat. However, there are many species of mushrooms that are toxic for dogs to eat, especially wild mushrooms that you might find growing in your yard. Even seasoned mushroom scientists or mycologists can have difficulty distinguishing one species from another, so avoid mushrooms as a treat. It is worth mentioning that certain species of mushroom are used in Chinese herbal supplements for their medicinal properties, and veterinarians who are certified in Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine may recommend mushroom supplements for dogs with certain illnesses.
Varieties of peas are used in diets for their fiber and protein content. They also contain several vitamins and minerals. Dogs can eat snow peas, green peas, sugar snap peas, and English peas. Most peas can be served grilled or raw. The shells of the snow and sugar snap peas are edible, but English peas must be shelled and boiled until the peas are light green.
Onions are part of the Allium family of plants, including garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots. These plants are toxic for dogs and can make them very sick. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. In worse cases, onion toxicity can cause red blood cells to rupture or hemolyze, leading to anemia and causing multiple organs to shut down.
Asparagus is a vegetable known for its health benefits but is considered very tough and therefore difficult for dogs to ingest. By the time cooked asparagus is soft enough to eat, it has fewer nutrients and therefore less nutritional value for your dog.
Vegetables can provide dogs with many nutritional benefits. They can be an excellent low-calorie treat that can help with weight loss and maintain a healthy digestive tract. Like most treats, mak e sure to give these to your dog in moderation, and ask your veterinarian for advice on how you can incorporate vegetables into your dog’s daily food regimen.
Dr. Erica Irish
Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.