Summertime Fruits and Vegetables for Pets

It’s summertime and that means warmer temperatures are being faced by both people and pets in all parts of the U.S.

As we strive to keep cool despite elevated temperatures, our attention turns to refreshing beverages and treats made of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many owners do not realize that there is a plethora of human foods that can be fed to pets that have a cooling effect, provide moisture, and pack a punch of whole-food nutrition. Only a 10% loss of the total body fluids can lead to serious illness, so it’s crucial for owners to frequently promote pet hydration in warm environments and eating food-based moisture is a generally healthy means of doing so.

As a holistic veterinarian, I am a big proponent of pets eating a diet rich in whole foods, including real fruits and vegetables. In my practice I use this strategy to reduce the quantity of processed pet foods and treats made with feed-grade ingredients, artificial colors and flavors, and chemical preservatives that owners seemingly gravitate toward when feeding their canine and feline companions.

Here are my recommendations for fresh fruits and vegetables to give to your pets and those that should be avoided for concern of creating health problems.

Fruit- sweet and nutrient-rich snacks or meal additives

Fresh or frozen fruits can be given as a cooling and healthy snack packing moisture, fiber, antioxidant, vitamins, and minerals. Apple, apricot, banana, blackberry, blueberry, cantaloupe, cherry, melon, pear, plum, raspberry, strawberry, and watermelon are my top picks as they are typically accessible in grocery stores and farmer’s markets regardless of season.

Sweet fruits tend to be more appealing to pets than those that are bland or bitter. Ripening enhances fruits sweetness and palatability, so serve them ripe to increase the likelihood they will be willingly consumed by your pet.

Outer skins (banana, melon, etc.) should be removed or opened (berries, etc.) to reveal the inner fruit. Fruit can also be mashed or pureed and added to your dog’s current food. You can even blend various fruits with enough water to create a smoothie that can be served as a refreshing and nutritious beverage or frozen (without a stick, of course) to create your own D.I.Y. ‘pupsicles.’

Always be cautious in the size of the piece of fruit you give to your pet. Any provided piece should be small enough that it can be easily chewed and not swallowed as a large chunk that could potentially cause choking by getting caught in the esophagus or trachea.

Fruits to Avoid

Not all fruits are appropriate snacks for pets.  Avoid feeding grapes, raisins, currants, and their juices, all of which have potential for toxicity. The reasons behind the toxic potential for these fruits is unknown, but it’s best to completely avoid the chance your pet could suffer life-threatening kidney failure after consumption of only a few pieces.

I recommend fresh or frozen fruits over their dried counterparts, as dried fruits are high in calories and can contain chemical preservatives like sulfur dioxide.  Additionally, as we never know what will be ‘the next’ raisin or currant I suggest stick to fresh or frozen forms.

If your household has children or less-than-responsible teenagers or adults, make sure to educate them on the dangers certain fruits and other foods have for pets.  The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) provides a great resource of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants and People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.  Always confirm the safety of any fruit or other human food snack before feeding it to your pooch.

ridgeback puppy

©istockphoto/Alona Rjabceva

Vegetables- crunchy, moist, fiber-full, and satisfying

There are many vegetables you can give as snacks or use in your pet’s food to provide beneficial nutrients often deficient in commercially available foods and treats. The crunch produced when your pet bites into a vegetable can also give a safer sense of satisfaction than that produced by chewing on potentially tooth-traumatizing bone or antler or a piece of kibble or biscuit made with feed-grade ingredients.

The fiber found in vegetables (and fruit) can help fill your pet’s stomach and increase satiety so that portions of commercially-available dry or canned food can be reduced.  In doing so, weight loss or maintenance of a healthy body condition score (BCS, according to The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart) can occur without your pet experiencing the unpleasant sensation of food deprivation.

Veggies that grow above ground like broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, mushroom, spinach, tomato, etc. are typically high in moisture and low in calories. Below ground-growing vegetables like white and sweet potato, turnip, etc. generally contain less moisture and are higher caloric density. Carrots and radishes are an exception to this rule. Most dogs are drawn to carrots due to their sweetness but can be averse to radishes as a result of their spiciness. Both above and below-ground options can benefit your pet’s digestive health and overall wellness, but I suggest providing more of the above-ground varieties and less of those that grow below ground (but for carrots) as snacks.

Broccoli gets a bad reputation as having toxic potential for pets, but such is the case only if large volumes are consumed. Otherwise, giving your pooch a piece or two of broccoli crown or letting him chew on the stalk is generally safe. Tomatoes also have the reputation of potentially causing toxicity. Unripened tomatoes and their vines, stems, and leaves contain tomatine, an alkaloid that can cause digestive upset and neurologic signs (tremors, twitches, seizures, etc.). Ripened tomatoes are safe for pets to eat.

If your pet resists eating a raw vegetable, then lightly steam and mash the vegetables for easy mixing into his meals. Cooked vegetables are easier to digest and less-likely to induce flatulence (gas) and stool changes. Potatoes should have their sprouts and any green, brown, or otherwise discolored areas removed before cooking and serving. Potato sprouts contain concentrated amounts of glycoalkaloids, which can negatively affect your pet’s nervous system. Discolored skins contain solanum alkaloids that can cause digestive tract upset and cardiac arrhythmias. Raw potatoes contain oxalates that can cause digestive tract upset, kidney damage, and nervous system abnormalities.

How Can Owners Incorporate Fruits and Vegetables into Their Pets’ Dietary Regimens?

Start with a small quantity of fruit and vegetables, such as a few berries, an inch wide/long/thick slice of melon, or a tablespoon of mash or puree. Note any changes in bowel movements and urination (larger volume, altered color or smell, pattern variations, etc), which indicates your pet’s digestive tolerance of fruit and vegetable treats. If your pet digestively tolerates this sample size, then slowly and consistently increase the volume.

To minimize the chance your dog and human family members will be affected by food-borne illness, the FDA offers helpful tips on produce safety, including purchasing, storage, and preparation. Thoroughly washing fruit and vegetables with soap and water can help remove environmental debris and infectious organisms.  Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach) solutions of 0.0314% or greater will kill surface-dwelling bacteria.

If you can’t even manage to have fresh fruits and vegetable available for yourself, baby foods can serve as tasty options for your pet. Pet-safe baby foods lack onion or garlic powder, starch, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, added sugar, other ingredients that otherwise wouldn’t be present in nature’s original version.

Before you embark on the task of radically changing your pet’s diet to incorporate large volumes of fruits and vegetables schedule a consultation and examination with your veterinarian.  Veterinarians that have holistic training and experience tend to be more open minded when it comes to feeding pets diets or snacks of fruits, vegetables, and other human-foods.  You can find a holistic veterinarian in your area via www.AHVMA.org.

I hope your pet enjoys the addition of fruit and vegetables into his dietary regimen as snacks and regular components of meals this summer and all year long. Feel free to share your experiences feeding your pets fruits and vegetables.

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

Where to Take Your Dog on Vacation
Road Trips With Your Dog: Tips and Tricks to Keep Everybody Safe