Much of the time, adding fresh fruits and vegetables is encouraged. In the NRC and a PMR+-style of feeding, we acknowledge that unless a dog has an established reaction from eating fruits and/or vegetables, there is no reason to avoid including them. Dogs don’t need specific ingredients…they need specific nutrients.
Dogs produce both salivary and pancreatic amylase and are more than capable of digesting and absorbing nutrients from plant matter, especially if the cellular walls are broken down (such as by steaming or pureeing them). Fruits and vegetables pack a nutritional punch: they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, proteins, and fiber.
Phytochemicals, which are only found in plant matter, include compounds like antioxidants, prebiotics, flavonoids, and certain proteolytic enzymes (such as bromelain, which is found in concentrated amounts in the stem or pineapples; or papain, which is derived from the flesh of the papaya). Phytochemicals may be anti-inflammatory, or good for overall health and wellness, or may decrease our dogs’ cancer risk, or may regulate blood sugar- the list goes on and on. What it all boils down to is simple: dogs can benefit greatly from even a small amount of fresh fruits and vegetables.
There are, of course, certain things to pay attention to when choosing what fruits and veggies to include, and which to avoid, some for more intricate reasons than others. For example, grapes, soybeans, fava beans, and onions are cautioned against, but special considerations should be made for other “nutrients”.
Solanine: this includes tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and white potatoes, which contain the glycoalkaloid solanine. In small amounts, some dogs handle these ingredients without issue (bell peppers in particular seem to anecdotally be safer); other dogs cannot handle them at all.
Oxalate: Particularly important to avoid if your dog has a history of calcium-oxalate stones. However, in moderation, many of the vegetables (i.e., spinach, swiss chard, rhubarb) that contain oxalate are also a great source of other nutrients, so consider using them in moderation if your dog doesn’t have contraindications medically.
Phytates: Phytates block and slow absorption (to a degree) of iron, zinc, manganese, and calcium. However, phytates also help to normalize cell growth and are considered a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
Goitrogens/Glucosinolates: Goitrogens refer to any compound or substance that interferes with the thyroid gland by inhibiting iodine uptake. For normal, healthy dogs, this isn’t a problem, and many of the vegetables on this list are known for far more than being goitrogenic- and can be fed in moderation without reason for concern. However, steaming or boiling until cooked through reduces goitrogenic activity by 90%.
selecting fruits & vegetables
When selecting which fruits and vegetables to feed, the best rules of thumb are 1.) dark, leafy vegetables, and 2.) make it colorful! Kale, spinach, purple cabbage, celery, watercress sprouts, broccoli sprouts, winter squash, asparagus, cilantro, parsley, swiss chard, red cabbage, mustard greens, and dandelion greens are all fantastic, nutrient-dense options for vegetables/herbs. Blueberries, papaya, apples, bananas, and raspberries are all great fruits to feed- just remember that fruit is high in natural sugars, so limit your dog’s daily intake.
Don’t forget about the anti-nutrients listed above. If several of the ingredients you’ve chosen are known for the same anti-nutrient, swapping them out is a good idea.
If possible, always try to buy your fruits and vegetables locally and/or organic. If that’s not possible, make sure to thoroughly wash them to reduce the risk of pesticide contamination.
prepping & storing
Make sure to wash your chosen fruits, vegetables, and/or herbs thoroughly. I like to cut mine into manageable pieces for my processor. Lightly steaming or cooking is also an option, and is especially useful for items like acorn squash, that has a tough skin. If you’re going the pureeing route, blend them up together, mix, and serve!
Good basic serving sizes (can be adjusted for the individual dog) are 1-2 teaspoons for a dog under 30 lbs., 1-2 tablespoons for a dog over 30 lbs., and 3+ tablespoons for very large or giant dogs, per day. Your mix can be added to any diet- kibble, freeze dried, PMR, PMR+, etc.! If you make a large batch (like I do, inevitably, every single time) the best thing to do is probably to freeze into daily portions, such as using a silicone mold, and then store the rest in a glass tupperware container in your freezer.
premade "recipes" for the healthy dog
- Rainbow chard
- Dandelion greens
- Acorn squash
- Watercress sprouts
- Red kale
- Organic nettle tea
- Beets (lightly cooked and grated)
- Beet tops
- Collard greens (lightly cooked)
- Broccoli stems (cooked through)
- Chia seeds
- Raw local goat milk