Here at Casa de Married with Dawgs, our crew loves their vegetables. I often enjoy telling folks about Hurley's first encounter with kale or how I make "salads" for the dawgs when I make my lunch.
Most times I get the same response: "my dog would never eat vegetables" or something along those lines.
Our dawgs too have not always been the veggie lovers they are today. If I had attempted to give cabbage to Sadie & Maggie years ago, I'm pretty sure they would have looked at me like I had two heads. Going from eating only kibble & loving it to having the diverse diet they have today was a process, veggies included.
There are many reasons why having veggie lovin' dogs is a good thing:
1. Fresh raw nutrition is best.* However, many of us have to juggle the restrictions of our wallets and the other demands on our time. Going raw or home-cooked for our dogs is not in the cards for many pet owners. That's A-OK but for those folks, I recommend adding anything fresh to their dog's diet. Veggies can be a great way of adding vitamins & minerals made by Mother Nature as opposed to factories in China (virtually all synthetic vitamins in commercial pet foods are produced in China).
2. Veggies as treats are a heck of a lot cheaper than just about any high quality store-bought treat.
3. Veggies are low in calories and when given as snacks, you don't have to worry about the extra calories. This is important when doing tons of training with frequent reinforcement. Those treats add up quickly and dogs often receive more than a meal's worth in one training session. Going the veggie route when low value treats can be used is a great way to offset the calorie bomb that can be a standard training session.
4. A veggie-chowin' dog is always good for a laugh. I love having folks over for BBQ. I give the dawgs their carrot treat, which they race out to the backyard to find a place to enjoy it in peace. The looks on people's faces when they realize the dawgs are going coo coo for plain ol' veggies is priceless. So is the astonishment I receive when guests witness our dawgs being all nonchalant when I'm prepping meat for the BBQ and then going all beggar-dawgs on us when the veggies get chopped.
Sure, that's all well & nice, Sarah, you say. But do you seriously think my dog will eat veggies?
I'm not foolish. I didn't get to kale-lovin' dogs instantly either. Looking back at how I've been slowly incorporating vegetables over the past several years, I definitely took it slow, tried lots of different things and ultimately didn't give up. Here are some tips to get your carnivore pooch to omnivore status:
1. Start crunchy. For our dawgs, we started with carrots. I soon realized that Sadie will chomp on anything crunchy regardless of flavor. But in the beginning, none of them would give green leafy vegetables a single lick. So I went with it and crunchy we stayed for a while.
2. Experiment. Most of our veggie advances have happened on a lark. As in, wouldn't it be hilarious to see the dawgs' faces when they taste asparagus? celery? kale? I can't claim that the dawgs have liked every veggie they've tried but they do keep surprising me, especially when I'm utterly certain they will hate whatever it is that I just gave them.
3. Use Peer Pressure. It's amazing what a dog will eat when they see their sibling devouring it. It's why Hurley eats poop and why Maggie has eaten any veggie I've ever given her. I constantly use this to my advantage and I'm very lucky to have Sadie, who will eat anything Mom gives her because Mom gave it to her. If you don't have multiple dogs, be creative. Eat a carrot and then give them some. If they see you eating it, it instantly becomes more valuable.
4. Stick to Basics. Did your kale experiment with your dog go horribly wrong? If you are introducing your dog to fresh veggies, stick with the ones that most dogs enjoy in the beginning. Carrots, sweet potatoes, & green beans are usually popular.
5. Cheat. I once "marinated" carrots in bacon to make them a higher value training treat. My dawgs were already eating & loving carrots but I needed to make them higher value for a training class. You can use the same idea for simply getting your dog to try a new veggie.
6. Try Veggies BFF Fruit: Fruit really is the gateway drug into dogs eating their veggies. If the basic veggies are a no go, try starting with berries & apples.
7. Trick 'em. Boil veggies in broth. Puree and mix in with kibble. Scatter throughout a filled Kong. Basically trick your dog into eating their veggies by finding creative ways to hide them in the things you already know your dog will eat.
8. Break rules for veggies. Do you have a no-feeding dogs from your plate or counter rule like we do in our house? By breaking the normal food rules you may have in place to discourage begging, you may find that your dog will beg for veggies like ours do.
9. Cook it. Some veggies might be more appealing to dogs cooked rather than raw. For instance, all of our dawgs love cooked asparagus but Sadie's the only one who will eat the raw woody end of an asparagus.
Dogs eating vegetables is really not that foreign of an idea. Look at the ingredient panel of your current pet food and you will find none other than vegetables. Low quality foods may be full of corn and tomato or beet pomace while higher quality foods may contain peas, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, etc. While dogs do need the majority of their diet to be meat-based, veggies are very appropriate for them to eat and can be nutritious and delicious to boot.
*In order for your dog to receive the maximum nutritional value of vegetables, they need to be pureed or lightly steamed. Dogs do not chew food like we do and they are lacking in a particular amino acid that helps to break down the cellulose in vegetable cell walls. Pureeing or steaming does that work for your dog so they can receive the most nutritional benefit from their veggies. If giving veggies for a snack or amusement and not for nutritional value, veggies do not need to be steamed or pureed. We do both here at Casa de NoPo Paws. The dawgs will receive a dinner of steamed cabbage, mashed peas & chickpeas and beef tonight. They will also probably get a whole carrot to chew on while I'm making everyone's dinner.