Should I Feed Vegetables to my Pet?

Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we strive to help you decide on the best diet for your pet, including all the add-ons! We advocate feeding a fresh food diet when at all possible, whether that is raw or cooked using one of our balanced recipes. The big question often asked by pet owners is – does my pet need vegetables? The answer depends on the species of pet, and the individual animal! Let’s discuss the feeding of vegetables to pets, which veggies are suitable, and how much and often they should be fed!

Do Cats Need Vegetables?

Our feline friends are obligate carnivores. This means their diet should consist of meat, offal and bone. Cats will not benefit from a portion of vegetables, as they don’t have the required enzymes for digestion of plants or starch. Cats undergo a process called gluconeogenesis, which turns fats and proteins into energy, unlike many other species whereby carbohydrates are used for energy. During gluconeogenesis, a series of enzymatic reactions occur to achieve the release of energy from protein and fat.

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Cats may benefit from a little wheatgrass and kelp; these ingredients are a great source of fibre which helps digestion and gut motility. They also contain a plethora of nutrition, such as Vitamin E, Zinc, Manganese, Iodine and copper. Kelp can help with plaque control on the teeth, and wheatgrass is great to aid immune health, eye health and vision, and also helps keep oral and gastrointestinal health in check.

Do Dogs Need Vegetables?

Unlike cats, while dogs are also carnivores, our canine counterparts are facultative carnivores; not obligate. This means they can benefit from a small amount of plant matter. For a more detailed explanation of facultative carnivorism, have a read of our blog: Is My Dog a Carnivore or an Omnivore?

A complete meal for dogs does contain vegetables and fruits (collectively known as ‘plant matter’), as well as omega rich meat, fish or algae based sources.

Dogs struggling with itchy skin may not tolerate some, or all vegetables – in these cases, vegetables should be avoided. If your dog is on an elimination diet they should not have vegetables, but may include vegetables as part of their elimination trial once protein choices are exhausted.

Let’s look at the benefits feeding plant matter can bring!

Benefits of Vegetables for Dogs

There are a range of benefits plant matter can bring to your dog’s diet. These benefits cannot be sought from a purely meat diet.


Polyphenols work alongside antioxidants to protect the tissues in the body from oxidative stress. In turn, this helps prevent cancer, general inflammation in the body, and coronary heart disease. Polyphenols inhibit transcript factors for inflammation by positively interacting with proteins which are involved in expression of genes, which ultimately helps keep inflammation in the body down.

Studies also show that supplementing the diet with polyphenols when a dog has diarrhoea is beneficial as it helps reduce inflammation in the intestines.

Vegetables high in polyphenols include: berries, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.

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Antioxidants are a very important part of the diet, in order to keep your dog healthy. The body contains lots of free radicals – these are molecules which have an unpaired electron. These are extremely unstable, highly reactive, and can cause the onset of cancer, cataracts, heart disease, and inflammatory disease. They really are very damaging to healthy cells in the body, so we really need to work toward controlling levels of free radicals in the body, using antioxidants.

When the diet is rich in antioxidants, free radicals are ‘eaten’ away from healthy cells in the body, which reduces the risk of oxidative stress. Not only is the reduction of oxidative stress a huge benefit to antioxidants, but eye health, cardiovascular health, and brain function are supported, as well as a reduction in inflammation in the body. Healthy ageing is largely down to reducing oxidative stress, so antioxidants are also very important for the ageing dog.

Blueberries are excellent sources of antioxidants, as well as spinach, raspberries, and broccoli.

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Phytonutrients bring wonderful anti-cancer and pro-heart health benefits. Studies show links between phytonutrient consumption, and longevity too!

As well as these fantastic benefits, phytonutrients play a role in immune modulation, to keep the immune function strong, and prevent various diseases including skin cancer, internal cancers, inflammatory diseases, osteoarthritis, and others. It may also play a role in the management of diabetes, and allergies, as well as having anti-ageing effects.

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Choosing Suitable Vegetables for Dogs

When choosing suitable plant matter for your dog, you need to consider the Glycaemic Index Rating of the vegetable in question.

Glycaemic Index Rating

Looking at the glycaemic index (GI) rating of plant matter is a very important part of choosing suitable options. The glycaemic index rates how quickly a food digests and causes a blood sugar spike. The lower the glycaemic index value, the longer it takes to digest that food, and the less likely it is to cause a spike in blood glucose. Higher GI foods digest quicker and cause a blood glucose spike.

Try to feed lower GI foods more often, and only feeding higher GI foods occasionally, and sparingly. In general, the lower GI foods tend to be the most beneficial anyway!

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Some examples of Low GI foods include:
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocado flesh
  • Herbs

Some medium GI foods include:
  • Berries
  • Pear
  • Apple

Some high GI foods include:
  • Banana
  • Melon
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Parsnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut squash

Introducing, and Serving Vegetables

When introducing vegetables to your dog for the first time, you may wish to start by giving a little veg, of only one or two varieties to ensure they like the options given and so as not to put them off entirely.

If your dog is itch-prone, or has allergies, avoid all medium and high GI foods. Feed low GI options either as guided by us following a consultation, or if you are working on your dog’s allergies without a consultation and are running an elimination diet, try one type at a time once you have some ‘safe’ proteins in order to be able to pinpoint a potential reaction to a food.

When serving vegetables to your dog, it’s best to lightly cook them – steaming keeps the nutrients most intact, so would be the most desirable option. Many owners also blend the steamed vegetables. But why steam or blend them, I hear you ask! Plants have cells which are very different to those of animals – while both plant and animal cells contain many of the same components as one another there are some differences, the biggest being the cell wall.

The cell wall in animal cells is made from plasma, and is semi-permeable, and relatively thin. The cell wall of plant cells is made from cellulose – this isn’t very easy for dogs to digest. It is also much thicker than the plasma membrane of animal cells. To make the nutrients inside the plant cells more bioavailable (useable by the target species – in this case, our dogs), breaking the cellulose cell wall down is important, or you may find the veg comes out in faeces the same way it went in when consumed!

Don’t forget, you can steam, blend, and freeze the vegetables into silicone ice cube trays for longevity and to reduce food waste!

Having read the information in this blog, we hope you will try a variety of vegetables as part of your dog’s diet. If you feel you could enhance your pet’s diet, but require guidance in doing so, whether its for general maintenance, or a more complex case, please don’t hesitate to book a consultation with one of our team!
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