As both a veterinarian and a bit of a health nut, I’ve found myself wondering if any human superfoods are also superfoods for dogs. When it comes to feeding your dog, there’s no recipe filled with magical ingredients that serves as a panacea to every dog’s nutritional needs, but I’d love to share with you some extremely nutritious human foods to share with your dog that even the pickiest of pooches will actually eat.
In general, some of the same principles that apply to human superfoods can be applied to dog superfoods: seek out varied color in fruits and veggies, fresh is usually best, and make sure you introduce new foods gradually and in small quantities. While you should first talk with your dog’s veterinarian for the dietary green light, adding the following dog superfoods to your pup’s diet will enrich his life for years to come.
1. Sweet Potatoes
OK, so not one single food is both incredibly nutritious and guaranteed to be loved by dogs across the world, but sweet potatoes come pretty close. In fact, they are so nutritious that they can be fed daily, and your dog will thank you! They’re rich in beta-carotene, which dogs convert to vitamin A — and that’s important for good vision, healthy skin, growth and the immune system. Plus, many dogs love their flavor, and preparing them is virtually foolproof.
I like to bake them in the oven and mash them gently(to avoid my voracious eater swallowing them whole), or you can even slice them like “chips” and bake them for a neat and healthy snack on the go. In a hurry? You can even cheat and cook them in the microwave. Genius! Or, you can create a yummy DIY dog treat sweet potato recipe, like this one:
2. Goji Berries
Also known as wolfberries, this tomato-like little berry packs a nutritional punch with antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins A/C/E, amino acids, zinc, iron and phosphorus. They reduce inflammation, improve heart health, prevent eye disease and may even improve brain function.
When a client of mine asked about offering this berry to her own dog, I confess I hadn’t even heard of it. I had my doubts that dogs would like their sweet-tart flavor; I was sure wrong! My dog thinks these are nothing short of scrumptious, and it is said that this berry gets its nickname, wolfberry, from the wild canines of the Orient who were also quite the fans.
You can offer them fresh (if you can find them) but I’ve found them much easier to source in their dried form. Pick up a bag at a health food store near you; just remember that fruits do have higher sugar levels, so keep the offering moderate and only to dogs without blood sugar problems.
3. Coconut Oil
This oil is one of the reached-for items in my kitchen, and it turns out it is incredible nutrition for dogs, too. Lauric acid in coconut oil boosts dogs’ natural immunity against bacterial, fungal and viral infections, and it can help with a healthy coat. Most dogs go crazy for the flavor, and it’s a great trick to get a picky pooch to eat a less palatable food.
I recommend keeping it secure and out of your pup’s reach, as I have previously come to find an empty and well-chewed jar of coconut oil and the undeniable evidence on my Poodle’s greasy face and paws. Also realize that while coconut oil is a natural metabolism booster, it is certainly not calorie-free. If your pet is not overweight, you can incorporate about 1 teaspoon of coconut oil per 10 to 20 pounds of body weight daily. Start slowly and work up to this level over a couple of weeks.
These vegetables are an extraordinary and tasty nutrient source. They’re a good source of folic acid, high in potassium and beta-carotene, and they’re a subtly sweet veggie — which dogs take a liking to quickly. Their high, insoluble fiber content can also improve stool quality, and they have detoxifying properties that help support healthy liver function. I roast or steam them until they’re nice and soft, mash them, and presto — instant dog superfood!
Loaded with very digestible protein, vitamins and minerals, eggs have earned their spot on my list. You can easily scramble an extra egg in the morning for your dog or get more creative and make a doggy frittata with two parts baked eggs, 1 part lean meat and two parts veggies, such as kale or broccoli that are arguably superfoods, but a bit harder to convince dogs to eat. I like to make this in large batches and freeze the majority, as it does well thawed and reheated. If your dog is blessed with a great metabolism and doesn’t struggle with weight, you can even sprinkle in a little bit of cheese as a treat, which I have been known to do from time to time.
The most widely known benefit of pumpkin is a digestive one. Pumpkin’s high water and fiber content can act to hydrate the intestines when dogs are suffering from constipation; oddly enough, the soluble fiber in pumpkins can also help to calm diarrhea. The trick is to start slowly with pumpkin supplementation and adjust. While fresh pumpkin is best when in season, you can substitute canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filler) with no added sugar as an easy year-round option.
Oily fishes, such as sardines and salmon, are excellent sources of protein, relatively low in calories and bursting with omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids address inflammation, brain health and gastrointestinal health. Fresh and sustainably caught wild Alaskan salmon is best, but sardines packed in water make the benefits of healthy fish available for all budgets and lifestyles.
Plain (not vanilla or sweetened) whole-milk yogurt is another protein-rich option for Fido — plus, it contains calcium, phosphorus and oh-so-beneficial live, active cultures that may improve gut function. If you are working to help your dog shed pounds, opt for fat-free varieties, but remember to stick to unsweetened yogurt, as the “diet yogurts” can use artificial sweeteners that may be dangerous to our pets. I offer my pup yogurt by itself, or sometimes mix in fruits or veggies for extra nutrition. Now those peas leftover from last night’s dinner have a purpose!
Tip to make feeding fun: It’s no secret that some dogs can be picky eaters, even when it comes to the tastiest superfoods for pets here. Incorporating dog treat toys and dog puzzle toys and games that challenge your dog mentally will make them more excited about the super treat, but also stimulate them mentally, a win-win for us all.
By: Dr. Laci Schaible
Featured Image: Monika Wisniewska/iStock/Thinkstock/Plain