Part 2 of 3
A Dog’s Digestive System
Working in the pet industry, I consistently hear stories about people’s dogs. Many of these conversations revolve around pet nutrition and, knowing that a dog’s digestive system cannot break down the cellulose in plant material, the stories about how much their dogs love certain fruits or vegetables were puzzling to me. Why would dogs eagerly gobble down blueberries, apples, cantaloupes, pears, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers and other favorites if they truly couldn’t digest them?
Your dog’s digestive system is designed to absorb nutrients from proteins and fats and needs very little carbohydrates. In fact, the cell structure of plants is formed from cellulose which cannot be broken down in your dog’s gut except in three ways. If the plant material has been:
- Raw and pureed smaller than the point of a pencil in a food processor
Only if the fruits or vegetables are treated in one of these three ways will the cellulose break down enough so that your dog can assimilate the full range of nutrients from plants.
What Are the Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables?
Low-Hanging Fruit – The Easy Benefits
Yet our dogs beg us for a slice of cantaloupe or dance for a broccoli floret. Evidently, they did not get the memo that their digestive systems don’t handle these foods very well. Perhaps our dogs sense something bigger is going on when they are munching fruits and veggies, and they would be right! No matter how you are adding fruits and vegetables your dog will benefit from the added fiber in their diet plus they will get a few raw enzymes which will encourage cleaner teeth and fresher breath.
So if your dog loves it when you toss a slice of raw apple, although they will not be getting the full nutritional benefits of the apple, they are getting some small health rewards and enjoyment. Certainly, these benefits are worthwhile, but let’s consider the significant full nutritional value your dog can get out of raw, pulverized (smaller than a pencil point) fruits and vegetables.
The Full Range
As Facultative carnivores, dogs do not need many fruits and vegetables in their diets. Experts suggest amounts varying from 5% – 20% as ideal amounts to accrue the nutritional benefits plant materials provide.
Briefly, those nutritional advantages would be the vitamins and minerals which are abundant in vegetables and fruits. Additionally, fruits contain flavonoid compounds which are the most well researched segment of plant polyphenols (there are over 5,000 different types discovered so far). These vitamins, minerals and flavonoids are extremely valuable for both human and canine health and provide a huge nutritional boost to meat-based diets.
The Health Benefits of Fiber
While raw meats are especially rich in natural minerals and should form the backbone of a carnivorous diet, meat is not a great source of dietary fiber. Fiber is readily available in most plant materials and is a valuable addition to your canine’s cuisine. Prebiotic fiber enhances immune function, reduces instances of constipation, helps regulate blood sugar levels for diabetes and is important for heart health. It supports healthy skin, gut bacteria, longevity and helps maintain correct weight. Abundantly available in fruits and vegetables, fiber should be a component of a complete and balanced diet for our dogs.
A Fountain of Youth
Polyphenols, found in some spices, certain nuts, vegetables and mainly in fruits, are not available from meats. Research has proven they protect against degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease (including blood pressure problems) and diabetes. They reduce bodily inflammation which generates the very destructive free radicals. Free radicals cause aging and disease so consuming veggies and fruits is a bit like a fountain of youth. Rich in antioxidants, vegetation is the only source for these compounds.
Other benefits of including fruits and vegetables in your dog’s diet are their alkalizing effects on your dog’s body; they encourage healthy hydration levels; their high range of enzymes fuel metabolism and digestion; and their vitamin and mineral content is diverse and dense.
We know our dogs are carnivores and meat, organs and bone should be the foundation of their diets. However, why not include an appropriate amount of correctly prepared vegetables and fruits? Their unique and outstanding nutritional rewards promise a longer and healthier life for our best friends.
Coming Up Next
Next month is the 3rd and final segment of this article we will be dealing with a few specific fruits and vegetables that are worthy inclusions in your dog’s diet and talking about some plant materials to avoid.
And make sure you check out the first segment on Fruits and Veggies for your pets.
By Carol Kendig