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Broccoli is a staple green vegetable on our plates, adding some nutritional goodness to help balance an evening meal. But, can dogs eat broccoli? With broccoli going spare in the week, you’ll be pleased to know that your dog can also enjoy the nourishment of this healthy vegetable.
What are the health benefits of broccoli for your dog?
This green vegetable as its colour suggests offers plenty of health benefits for your dog, just as it does for people. As long as your dog consumes broccoli in sensible portions, it can enjoy a crunchy, nutritious treat alongside its main dog food.
Broccoli is packed full of vitamins and minerals that help support the healthy function and development of a wide range of internal workings, from anti-inflammatory properties, digestive support and healthy bones to strengthen immune systems and improved nervous systems. In addition to this, broccoli also helps to balance microbiomes and prevent oxidative stress.
The Nutritional Benefits of Broccoli
There are a lot of discussions around a dog’s reliance on meat and whether they are strict carnivores. Whilst, dogs need a meat-based meal to benefit from the necessary vitamins and nutrients protein provides, they can be categorised further as facultative carnivores.
Facultative carnivores refer to animals that mainly eat meat but do also consume plant-based foods. Dogs fall nicely into this grouping. As much as protein-rich dog food is needed for most of their nutritional intake, plant-based treats such as fresh fruit and vegetables can provide alternative goodness with a wide range of benefits. And, broccoli is no exception.
- Vitamin A - helps to support the workings of your dog’s muscles and nerves, as well as keeping their skin and coat healthy.
- Vitamin B - is necessary for pups to turn carbohydrates into the glucose they need to give them energy.
- Vitamin C - is a key antioxidant that equally offers anti-inflammatory properties while boosting the immune system. Your dog will naturally produce this vitamin; however, as they age, the amount they produce will decrease.
- Vitamin D - is needed for maintaining strong bones as much as it is needed for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vitamin E - plays a role in stabilising cell membranes which, in turn, is important for your dog’s pain management.
- Vitamin K - the bone-strengthening vitamin; vitamin K helps to improve bone density, keeping your dog active for years to come. Broccoli is a vegetable offering the best levels of vitamin K.
- Calcium - similar to humans, calcium helps to support good bone development.
- Folic Acid - is essential for keeping cells healthy, especially for dogs expecting puppies.
- Fibre - an essential substance that supports the digestive system, helping everything to move along freely.
- Potassium - this electrolyte is crucial for supporting the electrical charges in your dog’s nervous system, muscles and heart. With low potassium levels, your dog will lose its appetite and display signs of tiredness.
Lutein is yet another bonus of consuming broccoli; this antioxidant is a powerful substance that inhibits oxygen to free radicals - unstable molecules that can cause detrimental damage to cells. It is often referred to as the ‘eye vitamin,’ as it has been proven to improve a dog’s visual function.
Broccoli as a Cancer Preventative
Another antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found in broccoli is sulforaphane; but unlike Lutein and Vitamin C, this is an indirect antioxidant. Instead of targeting free radicals, sulforaphane affects your dog’s system that produces more antioxidants. With this influx, there is less chance of cellular damage from unregulated levels of free radicals and less oxidative stress.
Both of these factors increase the likelihood of cancerous cells forming; cancerous cells can develop when damaged cells die but are not replaced by new ones. In these instances damaged cells grow and multiply, causing both benign and cancerous tumours. However, with plenty of antioxidants from broccoli’s nutrients, the formation of cancerous cells is restricted.
Reducing the number of free radicals not only prevents cancer but also helps to reduce the likelihood of heart disease, brain disorder, premature ageing and other chronic diseases.
Florets or Stalks? Which part of broccoli is safe for my dog?
When it comes to feeding your dog broccoli, it is extremely simple. It is safe for dogs to eat all parts of broccoli. From the crunchy stem/stalk to the ‘tree-like’ florets, your dog can get involved with all the textures, more importantly, benefiting from all the health benefits from this green vegetable.
While your dog can eat broccoli stems, the florets are the most nutritional part of the vegetable. The florets are the flower buds of the broccoli plant, this is arguably why they contain the majority of vitamins and minerals.
Can Dogs Eat Broccoli Sprouts?
Dogs can enjoy broccoli sprouts too. If you’re not familiar with these, broccoli sprouts are 3-5 day old broccoli plants. The term ‘sprouts’ refers to the germinated seeds, leading to their alternative names including tender and baby plants. You can easily grow your own; broccoli sprouts should appear above the soil approximately three days after planting a seed.
Similar to bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts contain an intensified amount of nutrients: containing over 100 times more glucoraphanin than one whole broccoli, a compound responsible for creating the cancer preventative sulforaphane.
Cooked, Frozen or Raw? How should I serve broccoli to my dog?
Similar to the section above, dogs can enjoy eating broccoli, cooked, frozen and raw. As with most foods, raw broccoli contains the highest amounts of nutrients. Unfortunately, the heating process, especially when boiling it, destroys a proportion of the nutrients and sulforaphane it contains. If your pup does prefer cooked vegetables, the best way to heat it up is by steaming. Lightly doing so for a few minutes can soften the texture, while keeping the goodness intact.
Small pieces of cooked or fresh broccoli can be a beneficial addition to your dog’s food bowl. However, when serving up some broccoli for your dog it is important to avoid any oils and seasonings as these are likely to upset its stomach. When cooking broccoli, it’s best to remember less is more for your dog.
Frozen broccoli also makes for a healthy treat, and it's perfect for a hot summer’s day. With this form, there is an increased risk of choking so do make sure your dog is only given small, manageable chunks. It is best to stay close by while your pooch munches on this refreshing snack until you can be certain of the portioning.
Getting the most nutrients from broccoli treats
Without getting too bogged down by the science, broccoli’s incredibly beneficial sulforaphane comes from a breakdown of a sulphur-containing compound. In the case of sulforaphane, this compound is glucoraphanin.
When glucoraphanin is ingested, your dog’s system converts it into sulforaphane by a digestive enzyme, myrosinase. Digestive enzymes are naturally part and parcel of your pup’s digestive system; however, myrosinase is sourced from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
Broccoli is slightly different again as it will only release this particular enzyme when it is ‘damaged.’ This damage refers to the process of chewing. The problem most dog parents have is getting their pups to chew their food. Instead, most foods barely touch the sides. So when it comes to maximising the number of nutrients your dog is getting from broccoli, this is our challenge.
Serving Suggestions of Broccoli Treats
A great way to prepare broccoli for your dog is to create a blended treat. Broccoli smoothies not only provide your pooch with an interesting treat that offers them an alternative texture, but it also ensures the broccoli has released the maximum amount of myrosinase enzyme and sulforaphane. By creating a smoothie, your dog’s chance of choking on a big chunk of broccoli is also reduced.
To ensure a smooth consistency, it is possible to purée the broccoli with other, juicier fruits, for example, strawberries, bananas or slices of watermelon. It is possible to add some other vegetables too, including green beans, cabbage, or carrots. If the consistency is too thick, it is safe to add no-added-sugar fruit juice or a little bit of yoghurt for an extra nutritional boost.
How much broccoli is safe for my dog to eat?
As with most foods, the saying ‘everything in moderation’ springs to mind. When it comes to balancing dog treats alongside day-to-day dog food, the 10% rule is often mentioned.
No treat will ever compete with the nutritional value that is present within your dog’s daily dog food. Therefore, treat foods such as broccoli should only account for 10% of their daily intake, with their normal meal equating to the remaining 90%.
However, if your pup is partial to broccoli sprouts, these should never account for more than 5% of their daily intake. Broccoli this young contains isothiocyanates which can increase the body’s iodine uptake and alter thyroid function. The phrase ‘moderation’ is needed with this nutrient-rich form of broccoli.
Introducing your dog to broccoli
This grouping of vegetables, despite covering a variety of shapes and sizes, share nutritional benefits. One of their main characteristics is the anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties they possess; however, another is their levels of isothiocyanates. These molecules can irritate your dog’s gastrointestinal system, especially when ingested in large quantities.
For your dog, this gastrointestinal upset can present itself in the form of gas and bloating. It is possible for some dogs to experience nausea and diarrhoea. Therefore, it is important to note that when significant quantities of broccoli have been ingested, this can lead to more serious health conditions or death.
If you are ever concerned about introducing a new food into your dog’s diet, do not hesitate to seek expert advice and contact your local veterinary practice.
Can broccoli be dangerous for dogs?
Aside from the risks that are associated with overeating broccoli - when consumption exceeds 25% of intake (Dr Jerry Klein) - there are only a few factors to be aware of when feeding broccoli to your pooch.
As broccoli is a particularly crunchy vegetable it can pose a choking risk, especially to smaller dogs. The stalk could obstruct the oesophagus if your dog attempts to wolf down a larger piece. For all dogs, it is highly recommended to chop up all parts of broccoli into small, manageable chunks.
If you opt to feed your dog raw broccoli, maximising the nutritional value, it is crucial you thoroughly wash the broccoli before serving. Harmful herbicides and other chemicals can reside on the broccoli when travelling from the farm to the shop, and then home with you. Buying organic vegetables helps to reduce these chemicals; however, it is good practice to wash all vegetables just in case.
One such bacteria that can linger on the surface of unwashed vegetables is Salmonella.
Identifying Salmonella Poisoning
Salmonella (Salmonellosis) is a bacterial infection that targets the intestinal tract and is typically caused by contaminated food and water. The bacteria is normally located within animal and human intestines. It ends up corrupting other foods, such as green vegetables like broccoli, within the picking and distributing process on farms.
If your dog ingests unwashed, raw broccoli they could pick up Salmonella poisoning. In instances where you suspect your dog to be infected, please get in touch with your local vet. Symptoms can be displayed by any of the following so if you are concerned, seek medical guidance:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
An easy way to minimise the risk of your dog coming into contact with this bacteria is by thoroughly washing all vegetables before serving.
Now we have identified all the goodness that is locked away within broccoli, all that is left is to slowly introduce your dog to this tasty treat. And, if your pup loves the healthy alternative that broccoli provides, you could always try other fruit and vegetables too.
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