Let’s face it, we are human, always learning, and evolving. As far as nutrition goes, you hear one thing one week and it changes the next. We struggle to figure out what to feed ourselves never mind our pets. We’ve seen large shifts in recommendations for both humans and pets – and the prevalence of diet-related diseases like insulin-dependent diabetes and obesity in pets and humans cannot be ignored.
Can Pets Digest Carbohydrates?
We know vegetables are important in the human diet, some more nutritionally beneficial than others, and the same applies to our pets. While the debate amongst many within the pet nutrition industry may disagree – our dogs are not wolves (read more here), and they can digest carbohydrates. While the ability to do this varies between various breeds, the focus of this blog isn’t the ability of our pets to digest carbs – instead, it is the benefits they obtain from antioxidants and other phytochemicals contained within fruits and vegetables.
Our canines & felines need muscle meat, organ & bone partly due to the bioavailability of amino acids and other nutrients. If you were to give your dog the option of meat or plants/vegetables, studies show they would choose meat. However, when offered together, most dogs and some cats will consume fruit or vegetables too. Some trial and error with various cooking methods, chopping, mincing, or even blending in a food processor may entice those who may be pickier.
Why Supplement with Fresh Food?
If your pet doesn’t like veggies, or even if they do, you may wonder why then would you supplement them? Isn’t pet food already complete and balanced?
Vegetables and plants have an abundance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fiber and even beneficial bacteria. However, with fresh plant-based foods, I would make the argument that they provide protective benefits for those pets who eat a diet primarily consisting of canned and/or kibble. These foods tend to have high levels of carcinogenic chemicals called AGE’s. While these are naturally present in animal-based products, additional AGE’s form during the cooking process. Since dogs and cats primarily eat these types of food their entire life their toxic load is much higher as a result. Toxic load can negatively impact various organ systems, overall health and even shorten the lifespan in pets and people. Fortunately the antioxidants and other phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens and berries, help to ward off some of the negative effects. In addition, even the best raw, kibble or dehydrated foods lack the benefits of fresh, organic, raw, or “lightly” cooked plants and veggies.
Ideas for fruits and veggies you can feed to your pets include:
- Leafy greens (rotate for variety)
- Green beans
- Summer squash
….just to name a few!
How much to add?
These additions for cats should be kept low, however, they can be added to dogs diets in greater amounts. Cats should consume no more than 5%, and dogs should be no more than 15-20%. There are actually very few things dogs and cats can’t have, the quantity is what is most important to monitor. For example, large amounts of onions can cause Heinz body anemia. However, a small amount in tomato sauce, for example, is likely to be fine. Garlic is also safe and may actually benefit the immune system. It’s been used for many years as an effective flea & tick preventative.
It’s always smart to avoid grapes and avocados because these may affect pets differently. Otherwise, it is ok to experiment with a small amount of new fruits and vegetables one at a time and to observe for any adverse reactions. Have fun and remember it is OK to share table food with your pet as long as it is fresh and healthy!
For cats specifically, avoid high-starch foods like potatoes, pumpkin and grain based products. Cats lack adequate enzymes to digest carbohydrates and instead benefit from the antioxidants within vegetables that are low-starch.
*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide medical advice or replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.