Don’t be shocked if your dog has a surprising taste for broccoli, cauliflower, or kale. Woof Woof devours bok choy the same way he does steak.
With his penchant for veggies, I wondered how much human food is good for him, and what nutrient value it adds to his diet. So, I asked Dr. Jennifer Larsen, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital, for her best advice on dogs and fruits and veggies.
Dog food is perfectly balanced for the nutrients dogs need, so don’t try to focus on nutrients when choosing treats. Instead, think about calories and keeping most of their diet of the perfectly balanced variety. “Treats shouldn’t comprise more than 10 percent of a pet’s diet,” says Dr. Larsen. “Veggies and fruit are low enough in calories [that] you can treat your pet often without weight gain.”
I, like most people, had no idea what the calories are my dog should have until I checked with both a resource Dr. Larsen provided and Woof Woof’s veterinarian. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has a chart that helps dog and cat parents to get a ballpark idea of how many calories their pet needs. For instance, Woof Woof weighs 16.5 pounds. The chart shows that he needs about 400 calories per day. He gets a lot exercise, so based on his veterinarian’s recommendation and his physical health, I give him about 550 calories. A 70-pound German Shepard may be able to eat twice as much.
If he’s going to get 10 percent of his calories from fruits, vegetables, and other treats then this is how he could spend 55 calories throughout the day:
- 2 baby carrots sliced into six bite sized treats: 6 calories
- 0.5 ounce steamed or dried chicken: 17.5 calories
- 1/16 small avocado: 14.5 calories
- Baby bok choy: 12.9 calories
- 2 green beans: 4 calories
But, what if your dog doesn’t like veggies. Start young and try different vegetables and fruits. Every dog has their own palate. For Woof Woof, I tried a variety of different foods from when he was a puppy. He treated green beans as if they were as tasty as chicken or beef chews — he loved their crunchiness. At the park there were tons of other puppy parents experimenting with veggies, too. I learned from them how dogs love the outer leaves of cauliflower. We’re constantly exchanging doggy-diet tips.
Don’t give up on vegetables — or fruit — if your dog doesn’t like it when first introduced. I always try dividing it into smaller pieces. For instance, Woof Woof has a hard time eating a whole blueberry, but he loves blueberries when I cut them in half or quarters. Apples are another fruit he loves, but only eats in bite-sized pieces. I’ve given him whole carrots, but he prefers them in smaller pieces. If he gets a whole carrot, he may save it for later, bury it underneath a pillow, or in his dog bed as if it were a bone.
Getting your dog to eat a balanced diet is an ongoing project. Always make sure you treat every veggie you give him like a reward. Ask for a good sit or other behavior you want to reinforce. Whether puppies or 10-year old dogs, they’ll quickly learn healthy food can be tasty treats that they can savor. I can’t imagine how unhappy Woof Woof would be if broccoli was removed from his diet.