When preparing meals for your dog/cat, you may think about adding beautiful, organic produce to the menu or recipe – it’s very appealing, as humans, to include fresh veggies and fruits — so colorful, so healthy! Right?
Well…the truth is, adding produce to our carnivores’ diet can get a bit complicated (check out these great articles from PerfectlyRawsome, RawFeedingRebels, RawFed, DrDobias, PrimalPooch, DogsNaturally, CatInfo.org and Blakkatz). Whether the addition of produce (which are carbohydrates, even if you choose low-glycemic options) in the diet is healthy/damaging may vary widely for our dogs and cats…
One thing most people are unaware of is that, on a biological, nutritional and physiological level, our domestic dogs and cats have ZERO nutritional requirements for vegetable or carbohydrate in the diet.
Yes, our dogs can (and have been forced to, ever since kibble came on the scene in the 1950s) tolerate a limited amount of carbohydrate matter in the diet better than cats do, but neither species has the biological capacity to easily and properly digest and assimilate nutrition from vegetable matter (vegetables, grains, starches, fruit).
Ancestrally, dogs have been known to consume limited amounts of plant-based foods in the diet via scavenging over-ripened fruits and grazing on fresh living greens/herbs (there is a species of grass commonly referred to as “dog grass” or Couch grass just for this reason, for example). Cats often go crazy for melon, and enjoy nibbling on grasses and herbs (just think of catnip/catmint!)
Some Prey Model Diet advocates avoid *all* vegetation in the diet completely. I think this makes sense when you have an animal that has access to living foods that they can freely forage on their own, when needed.
Over the years, I have had dogs that did *better* (IMPROVED health) with the addition of up to 12.5% veggies (that’s a lot!), and others that experienced serious health consequences when fed even a small bite or two of veggies (skin and GI distress immediately following the consumption of anything other than animal-based foods). Most of my cats have zero interest in vegetable matter on their plate and I’m 100% a-ok with this arrangement.
However, my opinion is that dogs and cats are some of the world’s best herbalists! Honoring their innate abilities/intuition for maintaining a healthy overall balance and wellness through the careful selection/foraging of medicinal or culinary herbs/plants that address imbalances they may be experiencing, can be incredibly healthful for them.
My position is that we should allow animals to freely forage on living greens, grasses, herbs, and properly processed low-glycemic produce if/when they actually freely, willingly choose to consume it without coaxing or tricking them into it. Too often I hear of people “forcing” their animals to eat their veggies by mixing this ingredient into their meat based meals. I don’t think this is a good practice or fair approach — particularly with a category of foods/ingredients that are entirely optional in the diet and not required for nutritional balance.
It has been my experience that, for some animals, the addition of a small (around 5% being ideal and never more than 20%) amounts of properly broken-down/processed vegetable matter, and especially herbs, can provide some very beneficial medicinal functions on the body (dogs are some of the best herbalists we know!) and even some nutritional benefits such as added minerals, antioxidants and healing, health promoting phytonutrients.
BUT, when fed whole or chopped up vegetables/fruits, while these foods seem like a fun treat, they will not provide any meaningful nutritional benefits to our carnivore friends because they simply cannot digest them in whole form. Indeed, these foods are quite hard on the digestive tract of dogs/cats, and when fed in excess, can be quite damaging/harmful. (learn more here: Gastric Acidity, Digesting Bones, Gut Transit Time and Salmonella and The Importance of Gastric Acidity: What, How and Why).
Being an inappropriate and difficult to digest food for our dogs and cats; carbohydrate-rich ingredients raise the pH of their digestive tract, which can cause GI imbalance, inflammation of the gut, and increase the risk for bacterial infections. Being high in carbohydrates/sugar, many plant based foods increase our dog and cat’s risk for cancer, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, pain/joint disease, incontinence, and yeast/bacterial infections (on the skin/ears).
Dogs and cats can enjoy a lifetime of 100% complete and balanced nutrition, and absolutely THRIVE, without the addition of a single bite of vegetable matter in the daily diet.
That being said, there are a few situations where adding vegetable matter to the diet is recommended:
- Specific health crisis or conditions often/may benefit from the addition of a % of vegetable matter incorporated into the daily diet to maintain or regulate their health – for example, acute pancreatitis or renal diseases. Under these circumstances, there are many difficult choices to be made regarding treatment and nutrition – including the addition of zero/low fat or low-phosphorus ingredients in the diet to get these animal’s through a crisis period.
- You have an animal that genuinely LOVES veggies. If you have a true “veggie lover” in your family, we say — let them eat veggies! They must be properly processed, and fed in limited amounts, but let them enjoy these foods if they truly love them! Please be mindful of which veggies you choose; carbohydrate-rich/starchy produce/sweet options (such as carrots, sweet potato, winter squash/pumpkin, rice, any other grains) are not the healthiest choices for long-term feeding.
Below you can find our list of veggies that you can offer your “veggie lover” – just be sure to limit veggies to under 20% of the total diet.
Adding a bit of nutrient-dense, carefully selected herbs and low-glycemic veggies to the diet can genuinely boost the nutrition of your dog’s home-prepared meals. If you feed more than 20% produce, it is our opinion that you reach a point of diminishing returns. Adding a bit of properly selected/prepared organic produce will provide health and nutritional benefits, but going over this amount, you will then cut into the basic/core and essential nutrition they REALLY depend upon for proper nutritional balance and biological functioning, which is the meat/bones/offal – 100% from animal sources.
We recommend up to 5% veggies being ideal for most dogs, but some do best with up to 12.5%. Cats should not have much veggies, if at all — but if your cats really LOVE their veggies, be sure keep it well below 5% for nutritional balance.
Offering free access to fresh, organic living greens and herbs is one of the BEST ways to allow your animal to add/eat just what they need to maintain ideal health.
- Everything you buy MUST be at least 100% Certified Organic, or grown your own at home & freshly harvested for the most nutrition. The fresher, the better — even if you decide to ferment the produce, choosing freshly harvested and local ingredients makes a big difference in how much nutrition these foods will provide.
- Produce *must* be broken down/”pre-digested” by either grinding in a food processor/juicer, masticated or pureed into a very fine mash. Alternatively, they can be fermented, (please read my post about the possible risks and dangers to certain individuals regarding fermented foods here before attempting to feed fermented foods) or cooked & mashed. They must be fed “broken down” in order for them to be digested by your dog/cat with any meaningful nutritional benefit to your carnivore friend. Whole, sliced, diced or chopped veggies will simply pass through their systems, cause stress on their digestive tract (hard for them to digest) and will not provide any nutritional value other than fiber (which is a shame as these foods *can* provide much more than this when prepared in a way that your animal can actually benefit from them!)
UPDATED 3/2022 –> Added the following additional risk and benefit information to our list:
Bold & Italicized = one of our top favorites!
Italicized = a particularly beneficial “Histamine Lowering” food; reduces chemicals in the body that respond during allergic reactions.
RS = “Resistant Starch” Especially high in beneficial prebiotic called resistant starch (for example, inulin fiber) that support microbial diversity and improves microbial health in the intestinal tract.
H = food considered “High in Histamines”. Individuals with Mast Cell Activation syndrome and those that tend to experience hives/swelling and swollen, red or painful rashes and inflammation on the body should probably avoid eating these foods.
L = contains “Lectins” (may trigger histamine response). Lectins are an “anti-nutrient”. In their active state bind to cells lining the digestive tract which can negatively affect intestinal flora, interfere with the absorption of minerals (especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc), and may cause side effects such as chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
O = contains “Oxalates” (avoid with calcium oxalate stone Dx) Oxalates may be responsible for a wide variety of health problems related to inflammation, autoimmunity, mitochondrial dysfunction, mineral balance, connective tissue integrity, urinary tract issues, poor gut function, glandular function, connective tissue function, and neurological function.
SFRAW suggests using 75-90% dark leafy greens/lettuces in your blend and to incorporate culinary herbs for a variety of benefits: We use local organic blends of baby winter greens called “Braising Mix” and baby lettuce “Spring Lettuce Mix” for 40-50% of our SFRAW Veggie Mix and Vitality Blend. If you can find something locally produced that is similar, we recommend doing the same.
- Asparagus (RS)
- Avocado (H) – ripe flesh ONLY, no seeds or skin
- Bamboo Shoots
- Beet Greens (O)
- Bok Choi
- Broccoli/Broccoli Raab
- Brussels Sprouts – limit, if you have a gassy pet
- Cabbages (green, white or red – when raw and juiced, good for GI ulceration/repair)
- Celery root
- Chard Green/Red/Rainbow (O)
- Cucumber (L) – skin removed, unless not waxed
- Daikon radishes
- Dandelion Green or Red (RS) – OUTSTANDING!
- Fennel – excellent for GI health
- Green Beans (L & H) – very limited use – not an ideal choice; may cause problems/inflammation
- Green Leaf Lettuce
- Green Oak Lettuce
- Kale, Dino/Lacinato or Baby Kale
- Lolla Rosa
- Microgreen Sprouts – excellent choice! Sprouted sunflower/other seeds are AWESOME!
- Mustard Greens (red/green)
- Nettles – OUTSTANDING! ground or cooked is best.
- Parsley Root
- Parsnips (O)
- Radicchio (O)
- Red Leaf Lettuce
- Red Oak lettuce
- Romaine Lettuce Green/Red
- Spinach (H & O) – limit use
- Swiss Chard (O) – limit
- Burdock Root
- Turnip Greens or Bulb (RS)
- Yellow Summer/Soft Squash (L)
- Zucchini (L)
Please be sure to include a selection of 3-5 Fresh Culinary Herbs to your blend:
Nutritional powerhouses! Chopped or pureed; choose 3-4 to add to each meal, rotate for best use. Add a moderate amount, as nutritious boost of flavor.
- chili peppers/paprkia (H) – small amounts, salt-free
- cinnamon (H) – small amount
- cumin (O)
- garlic – outstanding – just don’t overdo it!
- lemon, fresh juice
- mints (catnip, peppermint, spearmint)
- mushrooms (H & O) fresh cooked/steamed; all types that you can eat, your animals can also enjoy! Try Lion’s Mane, Shitake, Maitake, Chaga
- parsley, curly (O)
- parsley, flat
- rosemary – very small amounts only
- turmeric (O)
Healthy, Safe Seed & Nut Additions: Always buy salt-free, raw, organic, shelled/de-hulled. Important to grind or, ideally, soak & sprout before grinding.
- almonds (O)
- European chestnuts, cooked & peeled (RS)
- chia seeds (O)
- coconut must be 100% pure coconut only (zero additives)
- coconut water, fresh/raw
- coconut water, packaged (H)
- fresh coconut meat
- coconut cream
- fresh coconut milk
- unsweetened coconut flakes/desiccated (H)
- coconut butter (H)
- coconut oil
- flax seeds (RS)
- hazelnuts (O)
- hemp seeds (O)
- pistachios (O)
- pumpkin seeds, unsprouted (L)
- sprouted pumpkin seeds – pumpkin seeds are super beneficial – outstanding!
- sprouted pumpkin seed butter
- cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil
- sesame seeds/raw tahini (O) highly recommend!
- unsprouted sunflower seeds (L)
- sprouted sunflower seeds
- sunflower seed butter (good alternative to peanut butter!)
Highly Recommended Daily or Seasonal Additions: Add one or more daily.
- burdock root, grated fresh or powdered
- dandelion leaf, chopped or pureed/root, grated fresh or powdered
- hawthorn berry, fresh pureed or powdered
- turmeric with black pepper
Healthy, Nutritious Sprouts as Garnish for Every Meal: We recommend sprouting your own or buying locally from SpoutPeople.org
- broccoli, arugula or sunflower sprouts
Add a small amounts of the following fresh, peeled rhizomes, on rotation, to boost the medicinal/nutritional benefits of your veggie mix:
- garlic (anti-parasitic/anti-viral/antibiotic/antioxidant/anti-cancer/regulates blood sugar)
- ginger (stomach soothing/warming/anti-inflammatory/pain-reliever)
- turmeric with black pepper (anti-inflammatory/anti-cancer/anti-aging/supports joint health and neurological function)