The next time you're wheeling your cart through the fruit and vegetable aisle, toss a few extra goodies into the basket for your dog. Most dogs will readily accept a variety of fruits and vegetables and most (but not all) are better for your pet than a processed dog snack. You may need to start slowly--some dogs are deeply attached to chemically enhanced, sausage-shaped snacks. If, however, you persist enthusiastically, your dog will come to look forward to a carrot stick just as much.
Dr. Debbie Knapp, a veterinary medical oncologist and researcher in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Perdue Cancer Center studies invasive urinary bladder cancer (invasive urothelial carcinoma or InvUC) in dogs. Among her findings was the "...reduction in InvUC risk attributed to ingestion of vegetables. In fact, dogs in the study who consumed vegetables at least 3 times per week had a 70 percent reduction in bladder cancer risk."
There are some fruits and vegetables that are unsuitable and even toxic to dogs. Corn is a common allergen and can cause stomach upset. Grapes, avocados and onions can cause more serious conditions. The ASPCA has advised against feeding grapes because “although the toxic substance within grapes and raisins is unknown, these fruits can cause kidney failure.” and points out that “The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocados contain Persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.” Onions, the site states “can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage.
Whenever possible, opt for organic. If the cost of an all-organic diet is prohibitive, consider avoiding the produce on the “dirty dozen” list and going for the “clean 15”. The “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables have been found to be the most contaminated by pesticide residues. According to the Environmental Working Group, pets and “people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.”
Dogs have a short digestive tract and lack the type of teeth needed to effectively grind food. Dr. Christina Chambreau, a homeopathic veterinarian and holistic educator, suggests pureeing fruits and vegetables in a juicer or food processor to aid nutrient absorption. Very fibrous vegetables can be cooked for 10 to 15 minutes to break them down enough the digest more easily.
Feed a broad variety of fruits and vegetables in a wide range of colors for the best possible nutrition. Some of the most dog-friendly vegetables are peas, carrots, squash, green beans and sweet potatoes. Fruits may require a little more encouragement, but many dogs like melon, bananas, apples, peaches and pears.
Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores, and can survive and thrive on a well-crafted vegetarian diet. Care must be taken to provide adequate protein, vitamin D, calcium and essential amino acids. There are commercial vegetarian dog foods available that are complete and balanced. If you choose to home prepare a vegetarian diet, speak with a veterinary nutritionist for the best outcome for your dog.