Carnivores in the wild forage for berries and select grasses. Even felines consume a tiny amount of the pre-digested green stuff when they devour their prey. So, this veterinarian gives you the green light to feed healthy “people food,” namely fruits and vegetables, to your dog or cat! With a little guidance, this can be a lot of fun!
There are a few foods considered dangerous to pets. Everyone is aware of the toxicity of chocolate, but in addition, AVOID grapes, raisins, onions and macadamia nuts. Although in the onion family, a small amount of garlic is okay for dogs and cats. Indeed, many pet supplements contain garlic. Some sources cite avocado as a problem, but a well-respected joint supplement and an entire dog food line contain avocado; pets have been eating these for years without adversity.
Small chunks of fruit or veggie can be a welcomed treat. Since carnivores do not possess the herbivore’s cellulase enzyme, nor do they chew and mix the food with saliva as we primates do, they will not be able to release the full nutritional value from the plant material when fed a solid piece. In nature, the canine or feline must consume the rabbit that pre-digested the carrot in order to assimilate the vitamin A from the carrot. However, when you feed a baby carrot to your dog as a treat, the purpose is for fun, not nutrient value. It is more important what is NOT in the treat. Although most of the carrot will come out the other end intact, at least it does not contain unhealthy ingredients. Most dog bones and biscuits on the market contain horrible ingredients. Wheat is often the first ingredient, and for a carnivore this is a common allergen and source of inflammatory, high-calorie starch. Remember, even organic flour is still starch. Many treats contain rendered meat and bone meal, carcinogenic artificial preservatives, cancer-causing dyes and organ-damaging conditioners to make them semi-moist.
Giving a biscuit to your pet is like you eating a candy bar. Not a good way to maintain healthy weight. So, a better choice is a piece of carrot, apple or cucumber. I always give my little dog a piece of my banana. I know a cat who LOVES green beans. It’s fun to do taste tests and find out what your furry buddy likes.
Vegetation can be used medicinally. As a certified veterinary food therapist, I am making recommendations daily as to particular foods to supplement to manipulate health. If on a blood screening a pet is low in potassium, I will recommend a bit of banana every day. (Of course we will follow-up to see if the potassium level normalized and also pursue an underlying reason for the hypokalemia.) If my canine patient has kidney disease, I will recommend blended greens, such as kale, be added to the food. Greens in the gastrointestinal tract have been shown to grab the waste protein (urea nitrogen) and send it out in the fecal matter, instead of allowing it to pass into the bloodstream, where the kidneys cannot handle it. When this occurs, the elevated BUN (blood urea nitrogen) is responsible for making the pet feel ill.
Dark, leafy greens are abundant in antioxidants. My cancer patients who have the best quality and longevity of life, not only eat a meat-based, prey-concept, balanced, species-appropriate, raw diet, but they also have guardians who feed them large amounts of fresh, organic, locally produced, dark green or purple, vibrant, blended vegetation. The food is blended, to mimic pre-digestion, so that the pet can assimilate the abundance of vitamins and minerals. In this condition, no fruit and no root veggies is best, as these contain more sugar. Studies show, cancer feeds on carbs. Some examples of ideal veggies are: kale, collard greens, bok choy, arugula, broccoli and asparagus. The cruciferous or gas-producing veggies should be cooked or steamed and blended. Other veggies can be raw and blended.
The veggie I use most commonly in cats is pumpkin or sweet potato. Most cats enjoy one or the other in tiny amounts. This can serve as a hairball remedy and a constipation preventer. Psyllium fiber can make matters worse for cats that do not drink enough water. In nature, a hungry cat consumes the entire mouse, including the hair and hide. Commercial raw diets often do not provide this fiber component. In order for a fibrous veggie to be beneficial, it must be added to every meal. For greens, some cats will let me sneak a little wheat grass juice into their canned or raw food.
For dogs and cats with crystals in their urine or bladder stones, specific vegetation can help manipulate urinary pH to help prevent recurrence of this problem.
How much vegetation? This varies greatly with condition and size of pet. Let their stool be your guide! You will know if you fed too much! Think about their tummy size and never feed more than about a third of the overall food in the dish.
So, the next time you’re making a salad, drop a piece for your dog! Save the gratings and the ends. Purée them in the blender. Pour a batch into an ice cube tray. Mix a green ice cube into the food with a little warm water. Dogs might enjoy the pulp from the juicer, and well cats, they are always a surprise and a challenge. Don’t forget the catnip!
Jodie Gruenstern,DVM,CVA is a UW-Madison graduate and has been practicing veterinary medicine in Muskego, Wisconsin since 1987. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist by the Chi Institute. Dr. Jodie is the owner of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, an integrated small animal practice. She has been an advocate for natural pet care through writing, speaking, radio, television and the manufacturing of unique products. Dr. Jodie is founder of the non-profit iPAW: Integrating People for Animal Wellness.