You might not think vegetables for dogs are controversial. But they are …
Many vets don’t think dogs need vegetables. And the same goes for raw feeders … a lot of people think dogs don’t need vegetables either. They believe an all-meat diet is enough to give their dogs all the nutrients they need.
So there’s a lot of confusion around the question “can dogs eat vegetables?” and we asked pioneering raw food veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst to help us with the answer.
Dr Billinghurst wrote the groundbreaking books Give Your Dog A Bone and Grow Your Pups With Bones. And he’s famous for creating the concept of BARF (Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). In 2001 he released his third book The BARF Diet.
Dr Billinghurst believes that dogs can and should eat vegetables … and he shared his top 11 reasons you should feed them to your dog …
#1 Dogs Eat Vegetables In The Wild
First, let’s talk about where dogs are on the herbivore-carnivore continuum. They’re not obligate or pure carnivores like cats are. And they’re definitely not herbivores like cows and horses …
While dogs are carnivores, their diet is much more varied than a cat’s diet. On the continuum, they fall between omnivores (plant and meat-eaters like pigs) and carnivores. In fact, dogs, wolves and other wild canids have eaten vegetables for thousands of years.
- Wild canines eat the gut contents of their prey, which usually contains vegetation
- They also scavenge vegetation, which includes herbs, vegetables and fruit (like berries)
#2 Vegetables Help Alkalize Your Dog’s Body
Balancing the alkalinity and acidity of the diet is important to your dog’s health. Certain organs work better in a more alkaline environment. This includes the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, hormones, heart and kidneys.
If there’s too much acidity, it can lead to inflammation. And inflammation causes many chronic diseases (1).
Proteins like meat make the body more acidic. That means it’s a good idea to balance out these proteins with vegetables that have an alkalinizing effect on the body.
These veggies have moderate to strong alkaline-forming effects.
- Alfalfa sprouts
#3 Nutrients In Vegetables For Dogs
While your dog must eat meat to get the full array of amino acids he needs, vegetables help balance out his diet. And they supply important phytonutrients that aren’t found in meat. (There’s more detail about phytonutrients later.)
But you want to stay away from the grains and legumes, like peas and beans. They’re high in starch, which can aggravate or cause many diseases. And many of them are sprayed with toxic herbicides like glyphosate.
#4 Vegetables Hydrate Your Dog
Dogs who eat kibble are in a chronic state of dehydration. Dehydration contributes to problems such as kidney disease or the formation of bladder stones. So adding some veggies to your dog’s diet can help provide him with fluids.
Vegetables are an excellent source of water. Cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are more than 85% water.
#5 Vegetables Are Rich In Vitamins For Dogs
Raw vegetables provide your dog with many vitamins, including:
- B vitamins. Help with energy, enzyme and nervous system function, immune response and metabolism. Vegetables have many of the B vitamins but are low in B12 and B1, so your dog needs foods like liver and eggs.
- Vitamin C and co-factors. Dogs make their own vitamin C but they need the co-factors to help their body use it. Your dog may also need a vitamin C boost as he ages or if he’s stressed.
- Vitamin A. Enhances immunity, protects eye health, prevents skin disorders and helps grow strong teeth and bones.
- Vitamin E. This antioxidant helps prevent cancer and other diseases. It also promotes healthy skin and hair.
- Vitamin K. Plays a role in bone formation and repair and helps improve liver function.
#6 Vegetables Provide Minerals
Alfalfa roots go 40 feet down into the subsoil and absorb minerals from the earth. Seaweed picks up minerals and micronutrients that wash into the sea.
But make sure these foods are organic and aren’t grown with synthetic fertilizers. In the US, most alfalfa is genetically modified (GMO), so it’s important to find a certified organic source.
#7 Vegetables Contain Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are one of the most important kinds of nutrients you can give your dog. But phytonutrients are only found in fruits and vegetables. So if your dog only eats meat, he’s missing out big time.
In the late 1900s, scientists studied diets rich in vegetables. They discovered vegetables could protect people from cancers, heart disease, diabetes and more. Today, they know those health benefits come from substances called phytonutrients. These powerful little nutrients can:
- Kill cancer cells
- Reduce inflammation
- Promote gut health
- Support a healthy liver
Vegetables richest in phytonutrients are broccoli and kale.
#8 Vegetables Support Dog Digestion
Enzymes are special proteins that help digest food and run metabolic processes. Vegetables like asparagus, spinach and tomatoes are especially rich in enzymes.
Some enzymes survive the acid in your dog’s stomach and pass into the intestine. These surviving enzymes are anti-aging, anti-degeneration and pro-health.
#9 Vegetables Contain Antioxidants
Vegetables and herbs are full of antioxidants like lutein and beta-carotene. They help protect your dog against unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are a major cause of aging and disease. They’re damaged molecules that build up like rust in the body and harm your dog’s cells and organs.
Antioxidants help stabilize free radicals and prevent them from growing out of control. And vegetation is the only source of antioxidants.
#10 Fiber Boosts Your Dog’s Health
Raw vegetables are high in fiber, which passes through the dog’s intestines mainly undigested. Once it reaches the colon, the bacteria living there ferment the fiber to create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). The SCFAs are then used for energy, to build immune cells and protect the mucous lining in the gut.
And it isn’t just SCFAs that makes fiber so great for your dog. Fiber has many other health benefits as well:
- Studies show that increased consumption of fiber can reduce cancer risk.
- Fiber has antioxidative properties.
- It feeds friendly bacteria and promotes gut health.
- Fiber clears toxins from the body.
- It can add a feeling of fullness for perpetually-hungry dogs.
#11 Research Shows Vegetable Benefits For Dogs
Still not convinced? Here’s some research that might help.
Vegetables Help Prevent Cancer In Dogs
Researchers looked at the relationship between vegetables and bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers (2). Their owners completed a questionnaire about their dogs’ diet and supplements. The researchers then evaluated the risk of transitional cell carcinoma in the bladder.
Dogs who ate dark leafy green, yellow and orange vegetables 3 times a week or more had a 90% decrease in cancer risk. And there was a 70% reduction in dogs eating cruciferous vegetables only.
If you’re wondering if you can replace vegetable nutrients with multivitamins? It’s not possible. In the study, vitamin supplements didn’t have any significant effect on cancer risk. Most vitamin supplements are synthetic and don’t have the same benefits of vegetables that your dog gets from fresh food.
Vegetables Support Dogs’ Gut Health
Another study at Seoul National University looked at the gut bacteria of dogs fed natural diets that included 10% vegetables and 90% meat compared to dogs on commercial processed diets (3). The dogs on the natural diets had more diverse microbiota. The researchers concluded:
Differences in the core microbiota at the phylum, family, and species levels were observed between the two groups. The microbiota of the natural diet group was characterized by higher richness and diversity compared with the commercial feed group.
This is an important factor because gut health is essential to overall health. About 90% of your dog’s immune system lives in his gut … so diverse gut bacteria strengthens gut health and your dog’s ability to resist disease and illness.
Vegetables May Prevent Chronic Disease
A 2021 research review (done by a dog food company) published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, also looked at various studies analyzing the benefits of including plant ingredients in dog diets (4). They found that phytonutrients could potentially benefit many aspects of dog health, concluding …
“Phytonutrients possessing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may have notable roles in the prevention of chronic diseases, whose underlying development involves accumulated oxidative stress and chronic low-grade inflammation or altered immune function.”
Can Dogs Eat Vegetables Every Day?
Yes, you can give your dogs veggies every day. Dr Billinghurst recommends feeding vegetables daily to any dog over six weeks old. Just keep your dog’s veggies and fruit to about 10% of his overall diet. But if your dog feels sick or stressed, Dr Billinghurst says vegetation can be temporarily as high as 50%.
How To Feed Vegetables to Dogs
For the greatest nutritional benefits, you should feed your dog raw vegetables. But you’ll need to crush or pulverize them in a juicer or blender, or your dog won’t be able to digest them. Chopping or grating isn’t enough to make them digestible. You can also lightly steam them if you prefer, but you’ll lose some nutrients from cooking.
Use whatever vegetables are in season, feeding lots of variety. Your goal should be to feed a rainbow of vegetables to your dog. If you’re missing a color, consider adding some fruit as well.
Vegetables Dogs Can’t Eat
While many vegetables are safe for dogs, there are a few that you should avoid. And also a few that you should only feed in moderation. You’ll want to avoid onions and macadamia nuts, which can be toxic to dogs … and if you feed avocados, don’t give the skin or the pit .. just the flesh.
It’s also best to avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and legumes (including peas). Potato skins contain a lot of nutrients and you can pulverize them and add them to your dog’s dish. Just make sure the skins aren’t green because that makes them toxic.
Note: Garlic is often said to be unsafe for dogs … but that’s not true. Fresh garlic in the right amounts has many health benefits for your dog. Read more about garlic …
Even if your dog isn’t on a raw diet, he can still benefit from the extra nutrients in vegetables. Adding vegetables is a great kibble booster … and you’ll find out how much they can improve your dog’s health.
- Wu T, Seaver P, Lemus H, Hollenbach K, Wang E, Pierce JP. Associations between dietary acid load and biomarkers of inflammation and hyperglycemia in breast cancer survivors. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1913.
- Raghavan M, Knapp DW, Bonney PL, Dawson MH, Glickman LT. Evaluation of the effect of dietary vegetable consumption on reducing risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. 2005 Jul 1;227(1):94-100.
- Kim, J., An, JU., Kim, W. et al. Differences in the gut microbiota of dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) fed a natural diet or a commercial feed revealed by the Illumina MiSeq platform. Gut Pathog 9, 68 (2017).
- Jirayu Tanprasertsu, Devon E. Tate, Justin Shmalberg DVM DACVN DACVSMR. Roles of plant-based ingredients and phytonutrients in canine nutrition and health. J Animal Phys & Animal Nutr. 8 September 2021