Nearly everyone loves cranberry sauce with their Thanksgiving turkey. But it’s not just a delicious, tangy-sweet condiment.
Cranberries have some amazing health benefits … and not just for humans. You might know they can help with urinary tract issues. But it turns out they can do lots more than that.
And your dog can reap the health rewards of cranberries too!
I’m not recommending you give your dog cranberry sauce with his turkey necks. Because you don’t want to feed him all that sugar.
Even commercial dog food producers have caught on to the value of cranberries. Kibble makers add them to foods … albeit in tiny quantities that probably wouldn’t do much good!
But you can feed your dog cranberries in other ways. So I’ll share some background on cranberries … and explain why you should give them to your dog.
You don’t really need to know this … but I think cranberries have a pretty interesting history.
It all started tens of thousands of years ago. As glaciers receded, they left behind hollow ground. The ponds the glaciers left filled with sand and other debris. And this created the perfect growing conditions for cranberries … that we now know as cranberry bogs.
Native peoples across North America have eaten wild cranberries for 12,000 years. They ate cranberries fresh or dried. And they made pemmican – a mix of dried berries, meat and animal fat. Pemmican may have been the world’s first energy bar!
And in those days, they understood the health benefits of cranberries. They used them as traditional cures for fever, swelling and seasickness.
In 1816, there was a Revolutionary War veteran named Captain Henry Hall. He noticed something about the wild cranberries. They grew better when sand covered them.
So … he started cultivating the vines and spreading sand over them. Before long, other landowners living on swamps and wetlands followed suit.
Cranberries became an important crop in Massachusetts. So much so … that children were allowed to skip school to work on the cranberry harvest!
Today, there are about 40,000 acres of cranberry farms in the US.
And it’s not just about Thanksgiving dinner. Cranberries are now a popular superfood. And with good reason.
What About The Name?
Cranberries got their name from the Pilgrims. They named it “craneberry” … because the blossoms looked like Sandhill Crane heads.
Cranberries are in the Vaccinium plant family … along with blueberries, bilberries and huckleberries.
All of these colorful berries have countless health benefits. So let’s look at what cranberries can do for your dog.
Cranberry Health Benefits
Cranberries are nearly 87% water. So you’d think they wouldn’t have a lot of nutrients. But you’d be wrong.
Cranberries contain some important vitamins and minerals …
- Vitamin C – supports immune health, skin, muscle and bone, wound healing
- Managanese – important for growth and metabolism
- Vitamin E – important antioxidant, supports immune health
- Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) – essential for blood clotting
Cranberries are also high in …
- Fiber – for gut health and immune support
- Anthocyanins – antioxidants that support immune and brain health
- Quercetin – helps with allergies, joint pain
- Proanthocyanidins – polyphenols that help with urinary and gut health, heart disease, cancer
Cranberries also contain D-mannose. It’s a type of sugar that occurs naturally in the body … and in some fruits and vegetables.
I’ll get into more detail on D-mannose when we talk about urinary tract infections.
So how can all these nutrients help your dog? First, let’s talk about antioxidants.
Your Dog Needs Antioxidants
You hear the word antioxidant bandied around a lot. But what does it really mean?
Oxidation in the body is like rust in your car. It’s part of the aging process. And that aging process creates something called free radicals.
Free radicals are a natural product of metabolism. And they also come from toxins like drugs, chemicals and some foods. And they build up over time in your dog.
Even though free radicals are part of the body’s normal process … having too many of them damages your dog’s cells. And that makes him age faster. It can even harm DNA.
All this damage can lead to degenerative diseases like …
- Kidney disease
- Cognitive dysfunction
Free radicals can spread fast, because they steal electrons from other molecules. That’s oxidation. And then the oxidized molecules turn into new free radicals. And the thieving and oxidizing process continues to grow …
So you can see why antioxidants in your dog’s diet are so vital. In fact, diet is the only way to control oxidation.
Antioxidants in foods can help stop free radicals from multiplying. But you won’t find antioxidants in the meat you give your dog. They only come from plants. Fruits, and especially berries like cranberries … are rich sources of antioxidants.
So which antioxidants are specifically in cranberries? And what do they do?
Antioxidants In Cranberries
I listed some of these earlier. But here’s a little detail about the antioxidants in cranberries.
These are the pigment that give cranberries their festive red color. They’re a flavonoid polyphenol … one of the major antioxidant groups in plants.
Research shows that anthocyanins have many health-boosting properties.
In one study … anthocyanins in cranberry juice helped increase antioxidant capacity in animal organs.
These are also called condensed tannins. They’re also polyphenols … and they’re known as “offense and defense molecules.” That’s because of their strong antioxidant benefits.
They’re in pine bark, grape seed, and red wine as well as cranberries. Some researchers claim they’re 20 times as potent as vitamin C or E.
You’ve heard cranberries can help avoid and even manage urinary tract infections (UTIs)?
Well, it’s true. Research shows that cranberry proanthocyanidins can help prevent UTIs. In one study, subjects took a cranberry extract called Oximacro for 7 days. The researchers noted …
“…a significant difference was found between the placebo and Oximacro groups for both females and males.”
Cranberry proanthocyanidins also support your dog’s gut microbiome. Studies show their antibacterial properties can stop E. coli colonizing in the gut.
Research also shows cranberry proanthocyanidins have anti-cancer effects.
Quercetin is another flavonoid antioxidant in plants. Quercetin is found in many plant foods … including cranberries. Other sources are apples (especially the skin), other berries, and peppers.
Quercetin plays a powerful role in reducing oxidative stress. It’s important in managing inflammation. So it can help prevent all kinds of inflammatory conditions, like …
- Heart disease
And it’s a potent antioxidant in helping control allergies. In fact, it’s known as Nature’s Benadryl for that reason.
So … let’s talk about some specific health issues cranberries can help with.
RELATED: Nature’s Benadryl: Quercetin …
6 Ways Cranberries Can Help Your Dog
Cranberries’ antioxidant powers are the key.
Half of all dogs over 10 die of cancer. So you want to do everything you can to prevent your dog from this fate.
Cranberries could help your dog keep cancer at bay.
Cranberries may also help increase apoptosis (cancer cell death). Some studies suggest the phytochemicals in cranberries combine to produce synergistic health benefits.
And cranberries may even help manage conventional cancer treatment side effects. In one study on rats, cranberry extract reduced heart damage from the risky chemo drug doxorubicin.
Studies into cranberries’ anti-cancer mechanisms are in early stages. But there are many going on and they show great promise.
2. Control Urinary Tract Infections In Dogs
Preventing and treating UTIs is one of the best-known medicinal uses of cranberries. UTIs may be more common in females (both human and canine). But males can get them too!
They’re uncomfortable and painful … so you want to prevent them. Or resolve them fast if your dog does get one.
Cranberries can help both prevent and manage UTIs. And they can also stop recurrent infections if your dog is prone to them.
Your conventional vet may warn you that cranberries don’t work. She’ll push antibiotics. But there’s research … as well as anecdotal evidence … showing they’re wrong about that!
Many UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria. Cranberries have antibacterial properties. And one way they help is by stopping E. coli bacteria from sticking to the cells lining the urinary tract.
And that brings us to D-mannose.
The D-Mannose Effect
One of the components in cranberries that helps with UTIs is D-mannose. D-mannose is a sugar. And it can stop E. coli bacteria from hanging onto the urinary tract cells. Studies show D-mannose can:
- Work as well as some antibiotics in preventing UTIs
- Work better than some antibiotics in treating UTIs and preventing recurrence
- Improve UTI symptoms
Even though there’s some D-mannose in cranberries, you can add a D-mannose supplement to control UTIs. Some supplements contain both D-mannose and cranberry extract. Others are D-mannose alone.
Several other studies show that cranberries help stop UTIs in women. Again, they even compared favorably to antibiotics.
It’s always best to avoid antibiotics whenever you can. They destroy your dog’s gut health … and antibiotic-resistant bugs are increasing. Meaning infections are harder to treat. Save antibiotics for serious illness when you really need them.
A Brazilian study in 2012 showed cranberry juice or capsules lowered UTI incidence by 35%. And in women with recurring UTIs, new infections were 39% lower over a 12-month period.
The FDA Approves Of Cranberries (Sort Of)
The FDA isn’t a fan of natural health. But even they grudgingly admit … cranberry products may reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs. In July 2020, they announced a Qualified Health Claim. They warned that the scientific evidence is “limited.” But they concluded …
“… there is limited credible scientific evidence for a qualified health claim for consumption of cranberry dietary supplement containing at least 500 mg of cranberry fruit powder (100% fruit) and reduced risk of recurrent UTI in healthy women, provided that both qualified health claims are appropriately worded so as to not mislead consumers.”
This means that sellers of juices and supplements can make a Qualified Health Claim. They can say their products may reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs … as long as their products meet the FDA’s minimum requirements for the products.
One study suggests cranberry juice concentrate may help prevent bladder cancer in rats.
3. Manage Gut And Immune Health
A well-balanced gut microbiome is essential for your dog’s health. Not just for digestive health … but for his immune system.
Nearly 90% of your dog’s immune system comes from the gut. So keeping your dog’s gut healthy isn’t just about his digestive system. A well balanced gut supports his whole body … and helps him fight off disease.
Cranberries can help balance the gut. They eliminate bad bacteria … even fungi and viruses … without harming good bacteria.
I mentioned earlier how cranberries can help control E. coli bacteria. This helps manage digestive and urinary tract problems. But that’s just one part of the story.
Antibacterial And Antifungal
In 2016, researchers from several universities reviewed cranberry studies. These studies demonstrated cranberries’ antimicrobial potency in the gut.
They looked far beyond cranberries’ well-known efficacy in UTIs. And they discussed the broad antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral actions of cranberries.
In fact, cranberries can help control many bacteria and fungi … specifically:
- Helicobacter pylori – causes ulcers, risk factor for stomach cancer
- Streptococcus mutans – lives in the mouth, causes tooth decay
- Porphyromonas gingivalis – also in the mouth, causes gum disease
- Staphylococcus aureus – causes staph infections
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa – causes lung infections, pneumonia
- Cryptococcus neoformans – a fungus or yeast that affects immune compromised patients
- Haemophilus influenzae – can cause meningitis and bloodstream infections
- Candida albicans – the most common fungus in yeast infections
- Extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli (ExPEC) – virulent bacteria causing wide range of infections
Even though some of these may not be risk factors for dogs … the list gives you an idea of the power of cranberries!
And it’s not just about killing off pathogens. The researchers also concluded that cranberries have pre and probiotic effects on gut bacteria. Fiber in cranberries act as a prebiotic … helping promote good bacteria (probiotics).
This offers important evidence of cranberries’ role in managing inflammatory and infectious disease.
Systemic inflammation is at the root of most chronic disease. And because cranberries lower inflammation in the gut … they also support your dog’s immune health.
4. Reduce Heart Disease Risk
We don’t really think of dogs as getting heart disease like humans. But they do … though it’s less common.
Dogs can suffer from cardiac issues like …
Cranberries can help reduce the risk of heart disease in your dog. They do this by …
- Reducing blood clotting
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing arterial blockage
- Lowering stroke risk
- Reducing C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation)
So … giving your dog some cranberries can support his overall heart health.
5. Prevent Diabetes
Too much sugar is bad for everyone. And it’s usually a good idea for diabetics to avoid fruit. Even though the sugar in fruit is natural, it can still spike blood sugar.
But berries overall are great for diabetics. And especially cranberries!
Here are the reasons berries are better than other fruit for diabetes risk…
- They’re lower in sugar than most fruit – and cranberries are especially low in sugar
- Cranberries actually help lower blood glucose
- Fiber helps lower diabetes risk
So … cranberries may help your dog avoid diabetes. And if you have a diabetic dog, consider adding some cranberries to his diet.
Caution: If your diabetic dog takes insulin, check with your vet before giving cranberries. You’ll need to monitor his blood glucose levels carefully to avoid over-medicating him. That can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia.
One interesting point is that diabetic dogs are more prone to UTIs. So cranberries can provide double benefits!
6. Promote Oral health
You might not think of cranberries as keeping your dog’s mouth clean.
You know oral health is important. That’s because inflammation in the mouth can lead to systemic inflammation in the whole body. And that leads to chronic disease.
So a healthy mouth is key to your dog’s overall wellness. And cranberries may help prevent gum disease.
Cranberries can stop bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract or gut lining. And they can also stop bacteria from sticking to teeth and gums.
This is especially useful if you don’t feed your dog raw … or raw bones. Enzymes in raw food, and chewing bones go a long way to keeping your dog’s teeth clean.
But if your dog eats kibble or canned food … the starches can really cause dental health issues. So give your dog some cranberries … and maybe you can cut back on brushing his teeth!
Here are some tips to get the best quality cranberries for your dog.
First of all, make sure you buy organic cranberries whenever you can.
The bog environment where cranberries grow is a high pest environment. And that means cranberry growers use a lot of pesticides
Some may use natural pest prevention strategies … like nematodes or hand weeding. But conventional cranberries will almost certainly be grown with insecticides, herbicides or fungicides.
Look for fresh cranberries that are deep red, juicy looking and firm to the touch. Avoid the pale, wrinkly, squishy ones!
Deeper red means more anthocyanins. Firmness and juiciness suggests better quality and freshness.
Cranberries keep well … up to 20 days refrigerated, or freeze them for several years! You may find them already frozen at the store … and that’s fine.
Feeding Cranberries To Your Dog
There are so many choices! So … what’s the best way to give your dog cranberries?
For general health maintenance and disease prevention. giving cranberries as food works well. You can feed fresh, frozen, dried or freeze-dried cranberries – or even juice. There are a few rules though, so keep reading.
But if your dog has a UTI, you’ll be better off using a supplement where you know how much to dose. I’ll get to supplements in a bit.
First, what about giving actual cranberries?
Watch Out For Sugar
That’s the number one rule. Because cranberries are so tart, many cranberry products are sweetened.
So you’ll want to avoid cranberry juice or sauce … because they are high in sugar. Unless you can get your dog to drink unsweetened juice!
If your dog does like unsweetened cranberry juice, you can give 200 to 800 mg per day, depending on the size of your dog.
Your dog may not relish the flavor of raw cranberries. And they’ll be less digestible if you feed them whole.
So try pureeing them, or cooking them in a little water. Just don’t add sugar like you might for yourself.
Start with just a few in his food … to avoid digestive upset.
Unsweetened Dried Cranberries
Dried cranberries might be a good option. But most dried cranberries have added sugar … so those aren’t good for your dog. But there are some brands that are unsweetened.
So make sure the brand you buy doesn’t have added sugar. And definitely be careful it doesn’t have a sweetener like xylitol instead. Xylitol is deadly to dogs.
Freeze Dried Cranberries
These are another option. But not as easy to find. Freeze dried cranberries are usually unsweetened, so if you can find them, they’re OK to give your dog. But watch the ingredient panel for silicon dioxide.
That’s a drying agent that’s sometimes added to prevent clumping. While silicon dioxide is a natural compound … it’s also a man-made product used in many packaged foods. Side effects are rare but it’s not natural … and allergies are a possibility.
There’s no predetermined dose for giving your dog cranberries. They’re “just food” … but even if your dog loves them, feed moderate amounts. Because there are some cautions about cranberries for dogs that I’ll mention at the end.
Depending on your dog’s enthusiasm for cranberries … a supplement might be a better option.
Buying Cranberry Supplements For Dogs
You can buy cranberry pills or capsules at any health store or online. They’re the best option to prevent and manage UTIs … because you can be more precise about dosing.
And you can use them for daily supplementation … for the other health benefits I talked about above.
Check the ingredient labels and avoid products with added fillers or extra ingredients. There’s one exception to that. Some cranberry supplements are sold with D-mannose for UTIs. And those are fine.
There are even a lot of products sold specifically for pets. You’ll find a lot of cranberry and D-mannose supplements also have vitamin C, and that’s OK too.
But read ingredient labels carefully.
Even with the pet products, be cautious. Some of them are sold as chews. You always want to avoid chews when you buy supplements for your dog. Because they’ll come with inactive ingredients … like this “great-tasting liver-flavored” example I found in a cranberry & D-mannose supplement:
- Artificial and/or Natural Antioxidants
- Magnesium Stearate
- Marine Lipid Concentrates
- Non-Bovine Liver Powder
- Polyethylene Oxide
- Proprietary Blend of Vegetable Flavoring
- Vegetable Glycerin
- Vegetable Shortening and Oils
- Vegetable Starch, and Fiber.
As you can see, with this supplement you’re getting a lot of fillers and questionable ingredients. This is not a good quality product.
Even some of the powders or capsules contain fillers you don’t need. That’s a sign of a low value product. It won’t save you money because your dog will need a higher dosage.
And don’t forget, you’re looking for a product with organic cranberries.
Once you’ve found a good supplement, how much should you give?
Cranberry Supplement Dosage For Dogs
If you use a supplement made for humans … assume the recommended dose is for a 150 lb human and adjust for your dog’s weight. So if your dog is 50 lbs, use a third of the human dose.
Or, if you buy a cranberry supplement made for dogs … follow the label instructions.
Otherwise, use these amounts:
- Small dogs, 100 mg, 3 times a day
- Medium dogs: 200 mg, 3 times a day
- Large dogs: 300 mg, 3 times a day
- Giant breeds: 400 mg, 3 times a day
D-Mannose Dosage For Dogs
Follow the same principles as for cranberries …
If it’s a human supplement, assume the dosage is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight. Or follow the label dosing if it’s a pet product.
You can safely give 1g of D-mannose per 20 lbs bodyweight. You can mix D-mannose with food or even add it to your dog’s water.
Cranberry Plus D-Mannose Supplements
Again, adjust the human dose for your dog’s weight. Or follow the dosing instructions on the label if you buy a pet product.
Cautions With Cranberries For Dogs
In general, cranberries are very safe for dogs in moderate amounts. Start out slowly to avoid any digestive upset.
But there are a couple of important cautions.
Cranberries may interfere with anticoagulant drugs.
Check with your vet if your dog’s taking blood thinning drugs. Cranberries could increase bleeding risk.
Cranberries May Cause Oxalate Crystals Or Stones – Or Not!
Some veterinarians warn of a risk with cranberries. They say oxalates in cranberries may increase the risk of oxalate stones.
So we did some research. And there’s a direct conflict ….
A 2005 Mayo Clinic study suggests cranberry juice may increase the risk of urinary stones.
But another study at the University of Capetown found the opposite … that cranberry juice may help manage calcium oxalate stones. The study sponsors don’t appear to be affiliated with cranberry producers!
So, to be safe, use caution if your dog is prone to oxalate stones. Or at least check with your holistic vet before giving cranberries.
Overall, it’s a great idea to give your dog cranberries. And that’s especially true if he’s prone to UTIs.