The addition of vegetables provides essential nutrients, beneficial phytonutrients, soluble and insoluble fiber to a raw diet for dogs. Vegetables prove useful to complete nutritional holes in diets without the frequent use of whole prey. It is recommended to provide 10-20% vegetables in raw BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) model diets.
Vegetables provide a variety of nutrients and benefits to raw diets for dogs. There are multiple types of carbohydrates and each type provides different benefits to dogs.
Although dogs do not require vegetables for essential nutrients, adding plant ingredients to raw diets proves beneficial. Since dogs lack the jaw structure to grind plant matter and the salivary enzymes to begin carbohydrate digestion in the mouth, all vegetables must be prepared for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.
There are three major macronutrients in food: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The term carbohydrate is all encompassing of different carbohydrate types such as starch, fiber, and sugar.
Since fiber is resistant to enzymatic digestion, fiber amounts are subtracted from the total amount of carbohydrates listed for the vegetable ingredient to provide the NET carb content.
Raw Spinach, 100 grams
Carbohydrates: 1.1 grams
Fiber: 0.7 grams
Starches: 0 grams
Sugars: 0.1 grams
1.1 grams total carbohydrates – 0.7 grams of fiber =
0.4 grams NET Carbohydrates
Phytonutrients are chemical compounds naturally created by plants to ward off predators, parasites, and disease. These nutrients are not considered essential nutrients for optimal health. However, phytochemicals help maintain optimal canine health and are beneficial for specific conditions.
Feed the Rainbow
Vegetables deeply pigmented in vibrant colors contain beneficial phytonutrients. The five shades of the rainbow provide a specific type of phytonutrient within each color group.
Low Glycemic Vegetables
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Vegetables with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized. Low glycemic vegetables cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose, which means lower insulin levels.
Low glycemic vegetables are beneficial for many of their phytonutrient benefits as well as the addition of fiber. Many raw diets are lacking fiber which promotes a healthy colon and firm stool consistency.
One of the most common leafy greens incorporated in raw diets is spinach. Spinach is high in fiber, low in carbohydrates, and does not have any starch or sugar. This leafy green is high in magnesium, folate, and manganese.
Spinach Nutritional Data
Kale Nutritional Data
Microgreens from a variety of seeds are highly nutritious and are not to be confused with sprouts. Microgreens are young green vegetables approximately 1-3 inches tall harvested between 7 and 21 days of germination. Whereas sprouts are freshly germinated seeds that do not have any green leaves. Microgreens’ nutrient content is concentrated, which means they often contain higher vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens.
Alfalfa Sprout Nutritional Data
There are many other dog-safe, low glycemic vegetables. The ones listed above are examples of common low glycemic vegetables found in a local supermarket, but other leafy greens can be used for more variety in raw diets.
Starchy vegetables are complex carbohydrates containing starch units which ultimately means a higher glycemic index. They have the potential to raise blood glucose at a faster rate and are also higher in calories than non-starchy vegetables.
Lower fat diets require an additional energy source and starchy vegetables prove useful for dogs who cannot tolerate high-fat diets. Starch is metabolized into glucose for the body to utilize as a source of energy when high fats cannot be fed.
Winter squash such as Butternut Squash has a low glycemic index in comparison to other starchy vegetables. Although its GI is lower than 55, Butternut Squash does contain higher amounts of sugar and carbohydrates in comparison to leafy greens.
Butternut Squash Nutritional Data
Beet Nutritional Data
Sweet potatoes are high on the glycemic index chart due to the amount of starches present. Do not feed this starchy vegetable raw due to the presence of trypsin inhibitors which negatively affects protein digestion. Fully cooking sweet potatoes eliminates this risk.
Sweet Potato Nutritional Data
There are many other dog-safe, starchy vegetables. The ones listed above are examples of common starchy vegetables found in a local supermarket, but other complex carbohydrates can be used for more variety in raw diets.
Carnivores do not have the essential tools to properly breakdown and digest plant matter in comparison to omnivores. Dogs do not have salivary enzymes to start carbohydrate digestion in their mouth and their jaw structure does not allow grinding motions to pulverize plant ingredients through chewing.
However, dogs do produce pancreatic enzymes for carbohydrate and starch digestion. Since dogs are unable to grind plant ingredients in their mouth and do not produce salivary enzymes to begin starch digestion in their mouth, it is recommended to process vegetables to allow for optimal enzymatic digestion. Puree, ferment, steam, or boil vegetables for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.
Raw vegetables that are not processed for optimal digestion resists enzymatic digestion and are passed in the stool as waste.
Adding a small amount of deeply pigmented vegetables, prepared for optimal digestion, to a dog’s diet is recommended for multiple reasons. While dogs do not require vegetables to have a balanced diet, vegetables prove useful in diet formulation to ensure the diet includes all essential nutrients. Additionally, vegetables provide other benefits outside of their nutritional content.