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By Lew Olson,PhD Natural Health, LMSW-ACP
Many questions and concerns come up with the topic of vegetables. I will try and outline what vegetables are most useful in diets, how to prepare them, and also discuss a bit about whether they are useful or not.
As the popularity of raw diets and home cooked diets have grown, people often wonder about adding vegetables to a dog’s diet, and how much to use. There are many diets out there, how-to books, and so much advice on the internet that it can get confusing. In this newsletter I will present some information on vegetables to help you make your own decisions.
Feeding vegetables may not be entirely necessary, but they can offer benefits of fiber and calories in home cooked diets and they may offer some useful nutrients in raw diets. Bones in raw diets can give the bulk or ‘fiber’ needed for firm stools, but since cooking bones are not an option for home cooked diets, vegetables can help with bulk in diets not using whole or ground bones.
Types of Vegetables
For feeding dogs, I will divide vegetables into two categories. These will be starchy and non-starchy vegetables. They are also called high glycemic (sugars) and low glycemic. For dogs, we generally like to stick to the non starchy varieties. High sugar vegetables can cause weight gain, gas, yeast problems and larger stool volume.
Low glycemic vegetables include:
Dark leafy greens
Summer squash (such as zucchini and yellow crook neck)
High Glycemic vegetables include:
Winter Squash (hard rind squashes)
Potatoes (very high)
Sweet Potatoes (moderate)
Use mostly vegetables from the low glycemic list for best results.
Dogs have difficulty with fermenting and breaking down of vegetables, so we try to prepare vegetables to allow them to be utilized as fully as possible. This is achieved by several methods, including cooking, steaming, pulverizing (as in a juicer or grinder) or freezing and then fully mashing when thawed. The vegetables can be mixed together and it is important to use a variety if choosing to use vegetables. After cooking, steaming or pulverizing, the vegetables can be frozen for future use. Be sure to thaw completely before serving.
Also note that when feeding dogs that have hypothyroid conditions, you must cook cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, kale and cauliflower. These vegetables have the ability to suppress thyroid activity, but when cooked this process is eliminated and then they are find to feed.
Not many dogs will eat vegetables alone. I probably wouldn't recommend the amount be over 20% of the diet if feeding raw, nor over 40% of the diet if home cooking (although note special cases may apply in certain health conditions, refer to the B-Naturals Newsletter directory for more information). Generally mix the vegetables with the animal protein and fat ingredients of the diet. This could include ground meat, organ meat, eggs and/or dairy.
If the dog’s stools appear too loose or voluminous, reduce the amount of vegetables or the total amount of food being fed. Too many vegetables and certain types of vegetables can also cause gas in some dogs.
Vegetables are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. They also contain some minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium, iron and copper. However, the calcium is often not freely available, so they are not a balanced meal (nor do they contain the right amino acids for dogs that are carnivores). It is also unknown how well dogs, as carnivores, can utilize these nutrients from plant sources. But they will not harm dogs if used in moderate amounts, with the bulk of the meal being animal protein and fat, and bones if feeding raw. In other words, small amounts are fine, and may even be useful for some nutrients.
Another form of nutrients found in vegetables is phytonutrients. These are not found in animal food sources and while it is unknown if carnivores can use them, new research is finding many benefits of phytonutrients.
Carotenoids, from carrots, papaya, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, kale, green leafy vegetables, peppers
Lycopene, from tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato juice, watermelon
Flavonoids, from tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables
Indoles, from cruciferous vegetables
Sulforaphane, from cruciferous vegetables
Anthocyanins, from wild blueberries, bilberries, black berries
Sterols, from cruciferous vegetables, cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes
Elegiac acid, from Strawberries
Lignans, from nuts and seeds
For dogs, probably the most phytonutrient dense vegetable to feed would be broccoli.
Since I don’t feed vegetables to my dogs, I add the Berte’s Green Blend, which contains the minerals, phytonutrients and vitamins found in vegetables from sea vegetation and alfalfa. Berte's Green Blend also contains blue green algae, spirulina, Irish Moss and Dulce. The Fenugreek seed in it helps with digestion, and it also has garlic and alfalfa. I give my dogs (Rottweilers, from 80 lbs to 105 lbs) about a ½ teaspoon a day. While I am not certain dogs can absorb nutrients from plant sources, I add this as an ‘insurance policy’ for good health. Sea vegetables are also good for color enhancement and GLA, an essential fatty acid useful to fight inflammation.
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