Many of the culinary seeds we incorporate into our own diets – including flax, chia, pumpkin and sunflower – are also healthy choices for our dogs.
Most of us are familiar with the nutritious qualities of various seeds. We might add flax seed to our cereal, sprinkle sunflower seeds on our salads, or grab a handful of pumpkin seeds for a midday snack. But these seeds are also good for dogs. Here’s a look at four popular seeds and their canine health benefits.
1. Flax seeds
The blue-flowering flax plant is found mainly in the northern United States and Canada. Its tiny seeds are medium-brown or golden-tan in color, and have a nutty flavor. They also carry a nutrient profile that may help support canine wellness. According to the Flax Council of Canada, for example, flax seeds are a good source of both protein and fiber. Soluble and insoluble fiber can help coax waste and toxins out of the body, alleviating constipation or bowel irritation.
Flax seeds are also high in a special group of plant-based compounds called lignans. According to healthyflax.org, these compounds can fight inflammation, which in turn may help support immunity. Additionally, the seeds contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a powerful variety of Omega-3 that can also help curb inflammation.
Flax seeds apparently help enhance the condition of skin and fur, too. A 2001 Texas A&M University study found that when 18 canines were fed flax seeds or sunflower seeds for a month, their skin and coat condition noticeably improved during the consumption interval.
Most dogs aren’t especially efficient at converting flax seed-derived ALA into its more bio-accessible derivatives, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), but the ground seeds and cold-pressed flax seed oil still make a healthy, convenient mealtime mix-in. In the book New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, holistic veterinarian Dr. Joanne Stefanatos generally recommends giving dogs under 50 pounds up to ¼ teaspoon of seeds per day; dogs over 50 pounds can be given up to a tablespoon per day. As with any new addition to the diet, start with small quantities, monitor stool consistency, and adjust accordingly.
2. Chia seeds
Modern science has recently rediscovered what the Mayans and Aztecs understood back in 2600 BC – chia seeds pack a powerful dose of nutrition. Native to Central America and Southern Mexico, chia (otherwise known as salvia hispanica) was a staple of the Mayan and Aztec culture. It was used to sustain warriors, was prized for its ability to boost energy, and was even leveraged as currency in trade.
According to author and holistic physician Dr. Andrew Weil, chia seeds are a powerful source of Omega-3 fatty acids. They also provide a healthy dose of fiber, which can greatly help with constipation and weight loss. Additionally, these tiny gluten-free seeds are considered an excellent source of protein, phosphorus, zinc, B vitamins and antioxidants.
Tiny gluten-free chia seeds are considered an excellent source of protein, phosphorus, zinc, B vitamins and antioxidants.
Chia seeds store well for lengthy intervals, and carry very little taste or scent. Because the seeds are so absorbent, they actually form a smooth gel when water is added. This makes them great for masking pills or mixing into food. In fact, it’s generally safest to soak the seeds in water before feeding to prevent expansion in a dog’s stomach. Queny Villanueva, founder of the organic dog treat company SavvyBeast, recommends feeding a dog up to ¼ teaspoon daily for every ten pounds of body weight.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Pureed pumpkin can offer natural digestive-balancing benefits for dogs. But the raw, organic seeds also make a healthy treat. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, amino acids, phosphorous, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, niacin and zinc.
Interestingly, early American colonists and Native American tribes used pumpkin seeds to help discourage parasites. The seeds do contain very weak levels of an amino acid called cucurbitin, which can help inhibit worm activity.
Unsalted pumpkin seeds make a healthy training treat that many dogs seem to enjoy. They can also be sprinkled on food, or fed on their own. According to Dr. Deborah Mitchell, medical director and practice manager of Knollwood Hospital for Pets, however, a little goes a long way. She recommends feeding dogs ¼ teaspoon per ten pounds of body weight once a day, in three- to five-day intervals. She adds that you should never exceed two teaspoons per day in your dog, since overuse can sometimes prompt diarrhea and heart issues.
Pumpkin seeds can be made into a healthy butter by roasting the raw seeds for roughly seven to ten minutes in a 350°F toaster oven. Let the seeds cool for about 15 minutes, then pulse in a coffee grinder or food processor. Scrape the resulting paste into a bowl, and store it in the refrigerator. Your dog will enjoy a little taste now and then.
4. Sunflower seeds
Sunflowers have been around for thousands of years. Raw organic seeds have a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that many dogs like. As a bonus, they’re a good source of vitamin E, the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant. This compound plays a vital role in neutralizing free radicals, and preserving cardiovascular health.
Sunflower seeds are also a great source of selenium, which is important for proper thyroid function. In addition, they’re rich in magnesium and essential fatty acids, which can help dogs maintain a glossy coat and clear skin.
Feed unsalted, raw sunflower seeds individually, or mix them with food. Sunflower seed butter is also readily available in most health food stores. Bear in mind, however, that the high fat content of sunflower products can sometimes cause digestive upset in dogs. Dr. Mitchell therefore recommends feeding these products sparingly — a few seeds or nibbles here and there, as a special treat.
Sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium and essential fatty acids, which can help dogs maintain a glossy coat and clear skin.
A note about peanuts
Neither a seed nor a nut, the peanut is actually a legume. Most dogs love the flavor of peanut butter, and it offers them a healthy punch of protein.
What many people may not realize is that peanuts can contain toxic substances called aflatoxins. These contaminants are produced by specific molds that grow in soil and certain grains. Consumed at high levels, these compounds may cause health issues.
The good news is that this problem is rare. “Peanuts and peanut butter are rigorously tested for aflatoxins,” says Susan Lauten, PhD, owner and founder of Pet Nutrition Consulting. However, storing peanut butter for exceptionally long intervals can sometimes lead to aflatoxin overgrowth, so make sure to only feed your dog fresh peanut butter. If you’re giving him peanut butter treats, choose a high quality product.
Depending on a dog’s taste preferences and dietary needs, seeds and seed-based butters may represent a worthwhile addition to his feeding schedule. They can add unique flavor and texture, plus give him a healthful nutritional boost!
Marybeth Bittel is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who lives in the Great Lakes region with her husband and rescue dogs. She has spent more than 20 years working to nurture, re-socialize and rehabilitate abused rescues of all breeds, shapes and sizes.