by Sylvia Riley
Vegetables in your dog’s diet, and minor amounts in your cat’s diet, can enhance their health and provide a rich and diverse supply of nutrients, enzymes, healthy fibre and antioxidants. In the wild, dogs and cats would have acquired plant foods through the semi-digested remnants in the stomachs of their prey; vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Canines possess a greater ability to break down plant matter and synthesize relevant nutrients therein. Because of this, although classified as carnivores, they are in fact omnivorous and are not solely reliant on animal meat for sustenance. Wolves can be observed eating fallen fruit and berries, and first consume the stomach and intestines of their prey where plant foods can be found.
Felines on the other hand are obligate carnivores and are unable to manufacture essential nutrients from plant matter. These include the amino acids taurine and arginine, and the fatty acid arachidonic acid. Unlike omnivores cats also cannot convert vitamin A from beta-carotene in plants and need animal-derived sources of vitamin A such as liver. Accept for smaller prey which cats eat whole, in the wild the stomach and intestines tend to be avoided, yet organs such as heart, liver and lungs are enjoyed.
Cats require a lot more protein in their diet than dogs and are in no way adapted to digesting carbohydrates. In the wild vegetable matter in their diet is minimal and in a semi-digested state in the guts of their prey. Cats can rely pretty much entirely on protein and fat for energy conversion, both being converted into glucose by the liver, and other essential nutrients can be gained through meat, soft tissue and bones.
Thankfully pet owners are beginning to move away from toxic, poor grade and species-inappropriate commercial pet food. Natural, holistic, homemade and raw diets are being favored, which can include healthy plant-based ingredients (not grains however, which are used as cheap fillers in commercial products and ill-suited the physiology of cats and dogs). The beauty with homemade meals is that you can ensure fresh quality ingredients and easily incorporate vegetables and fruit.
Where dogs can eat around 30% plant foods in their daily diet, cats only require around 5-10%. With both, ensure veggies are blended well as they do not easily digest cellulose. This also makes it easy to mix the vegetables with the rest of the homemade meal. As cats only require a very small proportion of veggies in their meal, you can blend veggies and freeze the mix in an ice-cube tray, defrosting one cube a day for their meals.
Include a range of vegetables and always aim to include something green. Green vegetables contain chlorophyll which is cleansing and detoxifying. Chlorophyll is a great liver ally, assisting in the removal of toxins and heavy metals from the body and also shows anti-carcinogenic potential. Human studies in China have found that chlorophyll may help delay the onset of symptoms of liver cancer caused by mycotoxic grains as are sometimes found in commercial pet foods.
You can use throw away vegetable parts such as outer leaves, ends and stems or left over cooked vegetables that you don’t consume. Raw is always preferable however as nutrient and enzyme content is maximum.
You can supplement your dog or cat’s diet with superfoods such as kelp or alfalfa (the latter more suited for dogs) and algae such as chlorella and spirulina. These are very alkalizing however and as dogs and cats in particular require an acidic diet, only very small amounts are advisable. Always research dosage amounts before giving any kind of supplements.
You can experiment with most vegetables. Try any of the following: carrots, celery, chard, spinach, avocados, kale, squash, watercress, cabbage, turnips, broccoli, peas, green beans, cauliflower and asparagus.
Some below-ground vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are included here. These are higher in sugar content however and as such should be used in smaller proportion to any above-ground vegetable choices. You can add some occasional fruit also such as blueberries, bananas, apples, papaya or pear.
As a note, raw onions are not friendly on your pet’s digestive system and can be dangerous to their health so should be avoided. Garlic is also a health risk for cats, though minor amounts occasionally in your dog’s diet may serve as a natural flea repellent, be sparing however as the sulphides in garlic can be detrimental to the blood cells of animals. I also avoid tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and potato.
Nuts and seeds can also be a valuable addition to your pet’s diet, containing healthy oils (walnuts and flaxseeds are particularly high in omega-3 oils), as well as vitamin E and minerals such as selenium (a powerful antioxidant particularly high in Brazil nuts).
You can grind your nuts and seeds before adding to your pet’s meal. Only small amounts are needed; for larger dogs aim for one nut or a few seeds a day, smaller dogs and cats every few days.
If you would like to change your pet’s diet to a healthy, holistic, species-appropriate diet or are embarking on a natural homemade or raw food diet research the area first as nutritional balance is essential.
NATURAL NUTRITION GUIDE FOR DOGS AND CATS: