The Skinny on Blueberries for Dogs

The humble blueberry; small, sweet, juicy … and incredibly beneficial! Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we are big fans of feeding fresh, and adding beneficial, fresh ingredients to the dinner bowl. Blueberries are one of those tiny powerhouses we often recommend adding to your pet’s bowl. Find out all about the brilliant blueberry, and all it has to offer in this blog post.

The Blueberry – Nutrition

Let’s take a look at the nutrition, appearance, and texture of the blueberry.

Blueberries are small, dark blue-purple coloured, round berries. They are very juicy, as they’re 85% water! The skin is soft, smooth and digestible, with a little crown on the top, where a stalk would have once attached them to the plant.

They are quite sweet to taste, however some can be a little tart – generally speaking, the smaller the blueberry, the more tart it is, so if your dog prefers the sweeter fruits, aim for the larger berries!

As well as being super high in moisture, blueberries are a great source of dietary fibre compared to other berries, high in Vitamin C, high in Vitamin K, and high in both Potassium and Manganese.

Blueberries are 9% carbohydrates in the form of naturally occurring sugars, so it’s important to feed in moderation.

All in all, the blueberry is a relatively low calorie fruit choice, with added benefits, which we will discuss next!

What Benefits Does the Blueberry Bring?

There are many health benefits to feeding blueberries – these go for us humans too, so why not share them with your dog?!

Fantastic Antioxidants

The biggest benefit to feeding blueberries, is their incredibly powerful antioxidant complex! Blueberries are one of the best antioxidant foods. To understand a little more about antioxidants, and why they’re important, we need to learn about Free Radicals.

Free Radicals are unstable molecules found in the body – if you want the nitty gritty science stuff, a free radical is an atom, molecule or ion which has an unpaired electron in it’s orbital. Due to the lack of a paired electron, the molecule becomes extremely unstable and volatile, which in turn has major negative effects on the body. Free radicals cause damage to healthy cells through oxidisation, which leads to cancer, premature ageing and can be linked to many other diseases within the body.

Now you know a bit about free radicals, you can probably see why it’s important to rid the body of them. This is the job of antioxidants!

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The term ‘antioxidants’ is actually quite broad. There are various types of antioxidants, but the one most prominent in blueberries, giving them their awesome properties, is the ‘flavonoid’ family. When looking at flavonoids in blueberries, we can be even more specific! The group of flavonoids in blueberries is the ‘anthocyanins’.

Studies show that consumption of wild blueberries directly increases antioxidant levels in the body!

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Anti-Aging and Anti-Cancer Properties

Now we understand the general benefits of antioxidants, we can look at other parts of the body which need antioxidant action to stay healthy!

Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which affects DNA health! Damaged DNA is bad news – this occurs naturally to nearly every cell in the body, all day, every day … it’s a part of ageing! Not only does DNA damage lead to general ageing, it also leaves the body more vulnerable to cancer.

Here’s where our important antioxidants come in – we want to reduce the free radicals in the body, to reduce DNA damage, slow ageing, and reduce the risk of cancer.

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Heart Happy Berries – Cholesterol Protection

Cholesterol in the body plays an important role, but high cholesterol, or oxidised low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to heart disease. So how does protecting cholesterol help, when most of the body’s cholesterol is the ‘bad’ LDL type? Well, protecting it from damage makes it less of a risk! As oxidised LDL cholesterol is what leads to heart disease, and free radicals are what causes the oxidisation, providing a good quality antioxidant reduces the risk of damaged LDL cholesterol, and in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.

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While there is not many studies into the heart failure rate in dogs, with data on the reduction of heart attacks in those being fed anthocyanins, there is a human based study with quite staggering results! Study participants with a higher intake of anthocyanins had a 32% reduced risk of heart attacks!

Cognitive Function

You may have seen other My Pet Nutritionist articles regarding cognitive function, and the importance of omega 3 in the diet to aid this by reducing inflammation on the brain. This is incredibly important, however the destruction of free radicals is also incredibly important for brain health and cognitive function.

As all cells in the body are affected by free radicals, and subsequent oxidation, brain cells are no exception! Different parts of the brain have different uses. Antioxidants tend to have the greatest affect in the health of areas associated with intelligence, and also act on ageing neurons, which causes greater general brain function as individuals age. Some studies show an improved memory too!

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Muscle Recovery and Function

The final part of the body commonly affected by oxidative stress through damage by free radicals, is the musculoskeletal system, specifically the muscles. During, and after strenuous exercise (for example after a long walk, or dog sport like agility or flyball), oxidative stress occurs in the muscles due to inflammation. This is how muscular soreness happens.

Reducing oxidation of the muscular cells may help to reduce muscle fatigue, and stiffness post exercise.

This is an area which still needs further research, and more studies, but one studies so far show positive data, supporting antioxidants being useful for muscle recovery post exercise!

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Reduced Risk of Diabetes

Those who own a dog with diabetes will be very wary of feeding any fruits to their pet due to the usual high content of sugar. Feeding blueberries in moderation will add very little sugar to the diet, which is great for diabetes sufferers. A whole cup of blueberries (just shy of 150g) provides the same amount of sugar as one small apple.

The risk of the sugar in blueberries is also balanced by other bioactive compounds in the fruits, which can be beneficial to diabetes sufferers. Anthocyanins have been shown to aid glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, so these may be a brilliant option to add to the diet of your diabetic dog – book in for a consultation with one of our team, or speak to your vet before adjusting your diabetic dog’s diet.

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Blood Pressure Regulation

The anthocyanin content of blueberries may also be highly beneficial for those suffering with high blood pressure.

Studies suggest this flavonoid content has positive effects on reducing blood pressure, and aiding general cardiovascular health.

There are notable reductions in the blood pressure of those across various studies, who regularly consume high quality sources of anthocyanins, which includes blueberries.

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UTI Helpers

The final benefit of adding blueberries into your pet’s diet, is that some evidence suggests that blueberries could help reduce the risk of recurring UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) as well as aiding in their treatment. Cranberries are well known to help with UTIs, and they share a lot of the same nutrients as blueberries, including properties known to stop bacteria like E.coli from binding to the bladder wall.

More studies are needed in this exact area, but preliminary comparisons between the properties of cranberries and blueberries are very promising, and let’s face it; blueberries taste a little sweeter than cranberries!

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How Many Should I Feed?

Of course, the amount of blueberries you feed your dog will differ between individuals, as differently sized dogs will require different amounts of blueberries. As blueberries are quite sweet, we don’t want to overdo them, so as a rough guide, the amounts below should suffice, fed up to 5 days per week.

  • Extra small dogs (toy poodles, chihuahuas, small Yorkshire terriers etc): 2-3 blueberries per serving
  • small dogs (westies, miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles, cavaliers etc): 3-4 blueberries per serving
  • medium dogs (border collies, standard schnauzers, cockers, beagles, bulldogs etc): 4-5 blueberries per serving
  • large dogs (labradors, pointers, setters, boxers etc): 5-6 blueberries per serving
  • extra large dogs (Bernese mountain dogs, mastiffs, great danes, newfoundlands, St Berdards etc): 6-8 blueberries per serving

you may wish to feed more in one serving, and less the next – the above is just a rough guide; it’s not an exact science!

Some Fun Ideas for Feeding Blueberries!

Why not have some fun with those little balls of yumminess? They don’t have to always be put inside your dog’s food bowl – there are so many things you could do with them! Use your imagination, and creativity for added mental benefits of enrichment, and let us know your new ideas!

  • In the bowl: of course, blueberries can easily be added to your dog’s meals! Super simple.
  • Mash on to a lick mat: lick mats and kongs are great for mental enrichment. You can freeze them too! Mashing your blueberries onto/into these are just one fun way of including the fruit in your dog’s diet!
  • Find It!: why not roll a few blueberries across a hard floor? Let your dog sniff them out! Always ensure the floor is not washed with bleach, or other floor cleaner – natural cleaning is best!
  • The cupcake pan game: simply grab a cupcake tray. Pop a couple of blueberries in a couple of holes, and some other healthy, tasty snacks in the other holes. Try bits of furry rabbit ear, dehydrated meat cubes, pure meat treats, a little of your dog’s main meal etc.
  • Under the tennis balls game: this one needs a cupcake tray too! Pop a blueberry in a few of the holes, and pop a tennis ball in every hole (so all holes are filled, but some have hidden blueberries!). Let your dog select the balls, and find the berries! If you can use rubber balls, that would be great – if using normal tennis balls, discourage regular chewing of these as the felt can be abrasive to teeth.
  • Ice It Up for summer: a yummy, cooling summer treat – freeze some blueberries into some bone broth, in size appropriate cubes! Delicious, and nutritious!
  • Dog smoothies: why not make your dog a smoothie? Incorporate their favourite veggies and fruits (including blueberries, of course!), perhaps some bone broth too. Blend, and serve in moderation.

So, if your pet hasn’t tried blueberries yet, why not give them a go? They could add extra benefits to your dog’s diet, plus they’re a super tasty snack! If you are wanting to switch to a fresh food diet, already on your fresh food journey and want to improve it, or simply want to know how to improve your dog’s processed food diet, don’t hesitate to book one of our Optimise consultations for cats, or for dogs!

Team MPN x  

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