You might not think vegetables for dogs are controversial. But they are …
Many vets don’t think dogs need vegetables. Although some might tell you to add canned green beans to your dog’s kibble if he needs to lose weight!
And the same goes for raw feeders … many think dogs don’t need vegetables either. They think an all-meat diet is enough to give their dogs all the nutrients they need.
If you think your dog doesn’t need vegetables, I’m hoping to change your mind! That’s why I recruited the help of Dr Ian Billinghurst to share the top 11 reasons you should feed your dog vegetables …
Dr Billinghurst is a veterinarian and raw food pioneer. He 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.
#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 and vegetables
#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 function better in a more alkaline environment. This includes the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, hormones, heart, kidneys.
If there’s too much acidity, it can contribute to inflammation. And inflammation causes many chronic diseases.
Proteins like meat make the body more acidic. That means you need to balance out these proteins with vegetables that have an alkalinizing effect on the body.
#3 Vegetables Have A Wide Range Of Nutrients
Vegetables are full of important nutrients including proteins, lipids, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. That’s why they’re a complete food for herbivores like cows, sheep and rabbit.
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. (I’ll talk about phytonutrients in more detail a bit 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.
#4 They Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Dogs that eat kibble are in a chronic state of dehydration. Dehydration contributes to problems such as kidney disease or the formation of bladder stones.
#5 Vegetables Are Full Of Vitamins
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.
- Vitamins 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 They’re Also Mineral Dense
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 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
#8 They Help Your Dog Digest Food
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 build up like rust in the body and damage the 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 Their 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. It’s then made into healthy substances called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). The SCFAs are then used for energy, to build immune cells and protect the mucus 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 Proves Dogs Need Vegetables
Still not convinced?
Researchers looked at the relationship between vegetables and bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. 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 that 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.
Wondering if you can replace vegetable nutrients with vitamins? It’s not possible. In the study, vitamin supplements didn’t have any significant effect on cancer risk.
How To Prepare Vegetables For Dogs
Dr Billinghurst recommends feeding vegetables to any dog over six weeks old. And you can feed them daily.
In fact, your dog’s diet should be about 10% vegetables (and fruits). If your dog feels sick or stressed, Dr Billinghurst says vegetation can be as high as 50%.
For the greatest 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.
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 colour, 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, legumes, macadamias and avocados, which can be toxic to dogs.
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.
Even if your dog isn’t on a raw diet, he can still benefit from the extra nutrients found in vegetables. So try adding some vegetables and see how beneficial they can be to your dog’s health.
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.
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.