Packed with nutrients, leafy greens can give your dog or cat’s diet a colorful and healthy boost.
Don’t scold your dog or cat for nibbling your house plants – she’s telling you something! Many animals are deficient in the nutrients found in leafy greens. Meat should be the primary component of a carnivore’s diet, of course, but a diet containing no plant matter is a fast ticket to nutritional disaster. A dog or cat that eats no green foods is more likely to experience digestive disorders, trace mineral deficiencies and even some forms of cancer. An animal that eats a diet rich in greens is likely to have a long and healthy life.
Dogs vs. cats
Most animals benefit from leafy greens, but these benefits vary for each species.
• Dogs are true omnivores: they can fully digest plant foods and animal products alike. They benefit from the antioxidants found in green vegetables, which can help fight cellular aging. Dogs efficiently process plant-based nutrients; for example, they readily convert beta carotene into vitamin A. Greens are very important for a dog’s long term health, but this critical component of canine nutrition is neglected by many mainstream veterinarians and commercial food manufacturers.
• Cats lack the enzymes necessary for digesting plant based foods. Salad greens placed in a bowl may look remarkably the same when they appear in the litter box. Does this mean cats can’t benefit from greens? Not at all!
They need to eat green foods because they remove waste and detoxify the colon. Leafy vegetables can also help a cat expel hairballs, either by pushing them into the digestive tract or enabling vomiting. A cat that uses greens to induce vomiting shouldn’t be stopped; occasional vomiting is perfectly normal and healthy.
The role of grass
Most dogs and cats occasionally eat weeds and grass. Under ideal circumstances, grassy lawns can help them meet their nutritional needs. Dandelion greens are packed with nutritious compounds that detoxify the liver and urinary tract, while common lawn grasses like St. Augustine offer fiber and trace minerals. However, outdoor plants are often contaminated with pesticides, fertilizers and automobile pollution that will harm your companion.
Organic indoor grown grass is a healthy alternative for the animal with an urge to graze. Many pet supply stores sell sprouted alfalfa, wheat and rye, which are easier for animals to digest than standard lawn grass varieties. These indoor grasses stay alive and fresh year round, and are especially helpful for animals that nibble house plants. Many cats will also enjoy snacking on indoor grown catnip, which tastes delicious even to kitties that do not respond to its psychoactive compounds.
Leafy green foods are especially critical for animals with digestive disorders. Fibrous greens like kale and chard help prevent constipation, fecal impactions and spastic colon. Fiber also helps prevent the buildup of gas and waste in the colon. Human studies have demonstrated that leafy vegetables can even prevent cancers of the digestive tract. Considering the cancer epidemic among companion animals, this should not be overlooked or underestimated.
Raw foods contain the highest concentration of live enzymes, which perform essential functions for the plant. Many advocates of raw feeding believe that raw vegetables enable animals to derive more nutrition from plant based foods. Additionally, the proteolytic enzymes found in some leafy greens are anti-inflammatory, and may ease painful conditions like arthritis.
Choosing and cooking
Leafy foods lose most of their active enzymes when cooked. They also tend to lose a few vitamins and minerals. For this reason, you should strive to serve fresh raw foods to your dog or cat whenever possible. However, cooked greens are still very nutritious. If your companion will only accept cooked greens, try steaming rather than boiling them. Steaming leaves more of the nutrients intact.
When selecting leafy vegetables, choose dark colors over light. In general, dark green vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals. For example, Romaine lettuce has about ten times the beta carotene and five times the vitamin C of iceberg lettuce. The chart presents some of the healthiest green leafy foods for animals.
Leafy greens, either raw or cooked, can be chopped, minced or pureed and added to your companion’s regular food. Start with small amounts and monitor his response – too much all at once might cause diarrhea, especially if he’s not used to eating vegetables. Adding leafy vegetables to your dog or cat’s diet even just a few times a week will do a lot to enhance his overall health.