From kale to quinoa, these nutrient-packed picks deserve a spot in your dog’s bowl.
Superfoods are foods — mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy — that are nutritionally dense, containing lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are good for one's health and immune system. Even dogs!
What are Superfoods?
Some foods, like blueberries, salmon, kale and acai, are nutritionally very valuable in comparison to other less nutritionally dense foods. Superfoods contain a variety of nutrients, such as antioxidants, which are thought to ward off cancer and other diseases by reducing oxidative stress on the body. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body, associated with human disease. Some foods, like salmon and coconut oil, also have healthy fats, which can help to prevent heart disease. High-fiber foods, like kale, can promote good digestion and provide a sense of fullness, which can aid in weight loss efforts.
What Makes a Dog Food “Good”?
Most people feed their dogs commercial dog food, such as kibble, or canned wet food. These processed foods might not be appealing to us, but they do tend to contain all of the nutrients dogs need to stay healthy. Quality commercial dog foods are highly regulated and have undergone rigorous testing by veterinary specialists. So what exactly is in these dog foods?
Dogs, unlike cats, are not strict carnivores. While meat makes up the majority of their diet, domestic dogs can also derive nutrients from grains, fruits, and vegetables. These non-meat foods are not simply fillers, but can be a valuable source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
A good dog food will contain meat, vegetables, grains, and fruits. The best dog foods contain high-quality versions of these ingredients that are appropriate for your dog’s digestive system. But sometimes, there needs to be some extra additions to a dog's regular food.
Superfoods for Dogs
Well now that we have told you about “superfoods” for humans (looking at you, salmon and blueberries), let’s explore what makes a food “super” for dogs! Superfoods for dogs deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories. And as it turns out, lots of superfoods for humans are good for dogs, too.
While there is no scientific definition of a “superfood,” they are generally believed to promote health or prevent disease because of high levels of antioxidants, fiber, or other nutritional benefits, according to Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical center. These foods can supplement a nutrient-deficient diet or serve as a delightful treat. However, even with nutritious “superfoods,” moderation is essential. The 10% rule, which states that treats should account for no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories, is a good rule of thumb to follow.
The nutrient-packed options below will help your dog (and you) fight off disease, boost energy, and maintain good general health. They are great for your your dog's teeth, skin, immune system, and digestive health.
Superfoods for dogs all make great additions to your dog’s diet, just be sure to introduce these foods gradually and in proper portions, and always run them by your vet first if your dog has any dietary or health issues. But you should start to notice the health benefits after changing up your dog's food with many of these additions.
10 Superfoods for Dogs
This supercharged leafy green contains loads of vitamins, including A, E, and C. Kale is a good source of antioxidants and helps the liver detoxify the body. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
However, in dogs, always stick to small amounts. Kale can cause gastric irritation and in large amounts may be toxic. It's safest to keep kale and other cruciferous vegetables to no more than 10% of your dog's diet.
*If your dog has bladder stones or kidney disease, ask your vet before feeding your dog kale; it may need to be avoided.
Low in calories and high in soluble fiber, pumpkin helps maintain a healthy digestive tract. It is low in sodium and exceptionally high in carotenoids, potassium, and vitamin C; it also has some calcium and B vitamins.
Canned, organic, pureed pumpkin can be found at grocery stores but be sure that it is pure and not a pie filling — it should have no sugar or spices added. Feeding plain, organic, canned pumpkin gives a great boost to your dog's nutrition and is wonderful for their digestion.
Crunchy and naturally sweet, carrots are loved by most dogs. They’re loaded with carotenoids, fiber, vitamins C and K (which aids in blood clotting to help wounds heal), as well as potassium. They also have magnesium, manganese, most of the B vitamins, and phosphorus, which is required for energy production, among other things.
It’s advisable for dog owners to introduce this treat slowly and provide enough drinking water. Carrots, like other treats, should make up less than 10% of your pup’s daily calorie intake. An average-sized dog can safely consume two or three baby carrots per day. These carrots should be cleaned and peeled to remove any dirt or pesticides, and they should be chopped into bite-sized pieces to reduce choking hazards.
Oily fish such as herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and even anchovies are bursting with omega-3 fatty acids, which can do wonders for your dog’s skin, coat and brain. It can also inhibit inflammatory processes that cause arthritic pain and other chronic canine conditions. If your dog already has any of these conditions, it’s a good idea to ask your vet whether a fish oil supplement in a capsule form would be helpful too. Fish are also an excellent protein source, with many essential vitamins and minerals.
*Don’t feed raw salmon or trout from the Pacific Northwest (California to Alaska) because it may contain a certain parasite that is fatal to dogs. This may include other salt-water fish that spawn in fresh water such as smelt, sturgeon, shad, and striped bass.
Nori (Dried Seaweed)
Dried edible seaweed is a Japanese staple. Often associated with sushi, nori is available in some supermarkets, especially those that stock Asian food items. It has protein, galactans (a soluble fiber), vitamins C, E and all the Bs, and minerals such as zinc and copper. It also contains some lesser-known sterols and chlorophyll, which may help regulate metabolism.
Nori may also aid in fat metabolism, immune function, and anti-tumor responses. Be sure to buy low sodium nori to keep your dog’s salt intake in check. Dogs can eat processed sheets of seaweed or nori, as long as it does not contain added salt or garlic.
These tuberous root veggies are rich in beta-carotene and boast 150% more antioxidants than blueberries. Sweet potatoes are also super high in heart-healthy vitamin A and packed with vitamin C to keep your dog’s immune system strong.
Sweet potatoes are excellent healthy snacks providing a source of dietary fiber, which helps the digestive system function more effectively. Eating fiber on a regular basis lowers the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers.
The seeds of this traditional grain have several of the same benefits as the more well-known “super seed” flax. But unlike flax seed, you don’t need to grind them to reap all the health benefits. You can simply sprinkle the seeds directly onto your dog’s meals. The nutritional benefits of chia include fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants and even protein. They are also highly absorbent, which means they can help hydrate the body.
*Only serve your pooch a small amount of this human “superfood” in one sitting, with the portion depending on their size—up to a quarter teaspoon per ten pounds of body weight.
Yogurt contains active cultures known as probiotics (aka, healthy bacteria), which help keep bad bacteria away. It may improve gut function, contains a number of nutrients, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, potassium, zinc, and iodine. It is also a fair source of other B vitamins, such as riboflavin and pantothenic acid (required for enzyme action and energy production, as well as other cellular functions).
Best of all? You can freeze yogurt and turn it into an activity for your pet! Dogs love a frozen dessert every once in a while. It's also a great low calorie snack. You can even freeze this next superfood inside of it for an added bonus:
Loaded with phytochemicals, blueberries are a great treat for your dog year-round (you can buy them fresh or frozen). The deep blue color comes from anthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants; blueberries also supply vitamins C and E, manganese, and fiber. It’s best to give your dog small quantities since gorging on this tasty fruit can adversely affect canine (and human) bowel movements.
Frozen berries have wonderful anti inflammatory properties. As with all treats, make sure to only feed your dog this fruit in moderation. Blueberries are small, which means you don't need to cut them up. But there are still potential risks, as they can be a choking hazard, especially to small dogs or older dogs.
Commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a seed related to spinach. It’s a complete protein, supplying all eight of the essential amino acids and is a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and many phytochemicals. One of the few vegetable sources of complete proteins, quinoa is a potent antioxidant and helps reduce the risk of diabetes.
But, you may be wondering: should dogs eat quinoa? The answer is generally yes. The edible seed is actually an ingredient in some of the high-quality dry dog foods on the market. Its strong nutritional profile makes it a healthy alternative to corn, grains like wheat, and soy—all starches that are often used to make kibble
Other Healthy Foods for Dogs
In addition to these superfoods listed above, there are many natural, fresh, wholesome foods that dogs and humans can thrive on, with benefits like keeping the dog's coat very healthy and maintaining a dog's body weight, including:
- Bone broth (be sure to choose one without onion or garlic)
- Green beans or peas
- Leafy greens
- Liver and hearts
- Coconut oil
- Apple cider vinegar
and many more.
For dogs, animal protein such as chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, pork, beef, fish, and venison should also be an integral part of their meals.
An Apple a Day Keeps The Vet Away?
With the primary focus always being protein and veggies, fruits for dogs are often a forgotten addition to your pup’s diet. But with the healthy addition of certain fruits to your dog’s belly, you can help nourish your best friend from the inside out.
Apples are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants. They're chock full of fiber, especially in the peels, which helps dogs maintain a healthy weight while assisting with their digestion. Always serve apples in moderation, of course.
Staying healthy and fit is just as important for dogs as it is for humans. The growing popularity of natural pet food and homemade treats suggests that pet parents are becoming more mindful of what is healthy for their animal pals. On a global scale, the organic and natural pet food market has become a $22.8 billion industry.
The best dog food for your dog is ultimately up to you to decide. As an owner, you are the one who sees your dog on a regular basis. If your dog produces firm, healthy stool, is active and fit, and has a healthy appetite, then your dog food is probably working just fine. But your dog's meal could always use some added treats and bonuses, taking advantage of the many health benefits that come with them.
We all want our dogs to live long healthy lives. Monitoring what your dog eats is key to improving their health and extending their lifespan. Selecting certain superfoods for a dog’s diet is a great way to incorporate a healthy regimen. These superfoods come jam-packed full of beneficial properties such as vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, immune and cardiovascular health and more. All of these added nutrients may help your dog fight off disease, aid in healthy digestion, protect their cells, and extend their years.