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Customizing Your Dog’s Diet with Fresh Foods This Summer

Pet Health and Safety  •   Nell Ostermeier, DVM, CVA, FAAVA  •   Jul 15, 2022

 

With the abundance of produce at your local farmer’s market, summer is the perfect time to enhance your dog’s diet with fresh, whole foods. You don’t need to change their meals entirely. Adding some simple toppings, side dishes, or treats made up of these farmer’s market favorites can expand their nutrient intake in a way that is healthy and tasty at the same time! 

Knowing which fresh food your dog likes and whether any foods cause an upset stomach is important. When you’re feeding your dog something new, always start with small amounts. If you notice any soft stool or gastrointestinal upset, you should stop feeding the new ingredient immediately.     

Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are commonly found in grocery store produce sections and farmer’s markets during the summer, making them readily available to add to your dog’s diet. Berries are high in antioxidants, which help scavenge harmful free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unwanted particles formed as byproducts of digestion or after exposure to carcinogens such as tobacco smoke and pollution. 

By helping protect the body from these harmful substances, the antioxidants found in berries can also help prevent cardiac disease and cancer. Another benefit of berries is that they are high in fiber, which facilitates healthy digestion.  

How to add berries to your dog’s diet:

  • Feed raw berries as a treat only
  • Include as part of a healthy “pupsicle” recipe
  • Suggested amount: 3-5 berries per 10 lbs. of body weight per day

Watermelon

One of the main benefits of this amazing food, especially in summer, is that it can help the body stay hydrated. Watermelon is 92% water and has low caloric density, so it is a great way to add moisture to your dog’s diet without worrying too much about added calories. Watermelon also contains a healthy dose of electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, which are needed to maintain proper hydration and musculoskeletal function. During the long, hot “dog days” of summer, these benefits will surely come in handy for your active, four-legged friend! However, watermelon seeds can cause intestinal blockage, so it’s best to remove them before feeding this treat to your dog. 

How to add watermelon to your dog’s diet:

  • Remove seeds
  • Feed raw and chopped into small pieces that are easy for your dog to chew and swallow
  • Suggested amount: 1/8 cup per 10 lbs. of body weight per day

Spinach

While most people think of dairy when it comes to calcium, spinach is a surprisingly good source of this nutrient. It is also chock full of Vitamins A and C. Calcium helps keep teeth and bones strong as your dog ages. Vitamin A supports healthy vision, while Vitamin C contributes to optimal immune function. The specific antioxidants found in spinach can prevent age-related macular degeneration, which is a cause of blindness in senior dogs. 

How to add spinach to your dog’s diet:

  • Chop raw spinach and mix it with their regular food
  • Steam or sauté in a small amount of olive oil, then, add to your dog’s food as a topping
  • Suggested amount: 1/8 cup per 10 lbs. of body weight per day

Eggs

We can’t leave the discussion of enhancing your dog’s diet with whole foods without bringing in a high-quality source of protein. Enter eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and B vitamins, which help build blood cells and muscle. B vitamins (Thiamine, Riboflavin, and Niacin) are essential for proper cognitive and neuromuscular function.  

How to add eggs to your dog’s diet:

  • Scramble and cook thoroughly in a small amount of olive oil (raw eggs are not good for canines and can block the absorption of specific B vitamins)
  • Feed as a topping on regular food
  • Suggested amount: For dogs under 15 lbs. – ½ egg per day. For dogs 16 + lbs. – 1 egg per day

Note: if your dog has a history of pancreatitis, you should not add eggs to their diet due to the high-fat content and risk of inflammation of the pancreas. 

How to Approach Adding Whole Foods to Your Dog’s Diet Safely

When you add any new food to your dog’s diet, it is important that you first check to make sure it is not toxic. The Animal Poison Control Center has compiled a handy list of the top 10 foods to avoid feeding to your pets. You can also call their hotline 24-7 if you are worried your dog ingested a toxic food. 

Since all dogs are created with unique digestive systems, it is also a good idea to feed very small amounts of the desired whole food when introducing it into the diet. Whole foods are high in moisture and may be high in fiber. Softer stool can be expected, but diarrhea and vomiting should not be. If either symptom occurs, you should discontinue trying to introduce the food.  

Dogs must eat a complete and balanced diet to meet their nutritional requirements and stay healthy. While it is possible to feed a 100% whole-food, home-prepared diet that is healthy and balanced, this can be a lot of work for a dog owner. You should also consult a veterinary nutritionist. On the other hand, adding fresh, whole food toppings to your dog’s current commercial diet is a simple and fun way to boost beneficial nutrients and add a bit of customization to their meal plan!

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