With just about everyone interested in getting healthier these days, it's natural for pet parents to wonder if maybe their canine fur babies should get in on the act too. But let's face it. Years of being told by dog food companies that kibble in a bowl is all it takes to make a dog's diet complete has made figuring out which human foods dogs can't eat and which they can seem pretty complicated. But we all know that leafy greens like lettuce are really good for us, so can dogs eat lettuce too? Read on to find out.
Why Would You Want to Feed Your Dog Lettuce?
Unfortunately, as humans and our companion animals have moved away from the whole foods diets we evolved to eat and begun eating more processed foods, the so-called diseases of affluence—diabetes, heart disease, cancer—have become more common.
In fact, dogs develop both cancer and heart disease at rates similar to humans, and the incidence of diabetes isn't very far behind.
However, more and more experts agree that the risk of developing these chronic diseases can be reduced by simply making a few small changes to a dog's diet—including adding more leafy greens.
A 2005 study out of Purdue University even found that consumption of green leafy vegetables as little as 3 times a week is enough to cut the risk of bladder cancer in dogs by an astounding 90%!
Why Are Leafy Greens So Healthy?
When it comes to nutritional value, it's hard to beat leafy greens. Not only are they low-calorie veggies, but they're also packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. So it's no wonder that diets rich in leafy greens are linked to a number of health benefits for humans—including a decreased risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
But is lettuce safe for dogs?
Can Dogs Eat Lettuce?
Dogs are omnivores, like us, and though they can't eat everything we can—think chocolate, grapes, and xylitol—the good news is that leafy greens, including lettuce, are definitely on the menu.
And, believe it or not, some dogs actually like lettuce...plain, on its own, no decoration whatsoever. So if you have a dog who could stand to lose a little weight, a crunchy, low-calorie snack like lettuce might be just what you're looking for.
However, you don't want to just bombard your pooch with a giant bowl of lettuce. After all, lettuce contains quite a bit of fiber, which can upset a sensitive dog's digestive system. Instead, introduce it slowly, like you would any new food.
It's also best to follow a few additional guidelines when feeding your dog leafy greens like lettuce.
Keep It Clean
It probably goes without saying, but you should never feed your dog lettuce that hasn't first been washed.
Yes, dogs love eating nasty things we would never (hopefully) put in our own mouths, but that doesn't include pesticides and other harmful chemicals. So be sure to wash your lettuce before feeding it to your furry family member.
Or, even better, feed your dog (and yourself) only organic lettuce, which is free of harmful chemicals and often higher in nutritional value—though you still need to wash it!
Tear It Up
Unlike herbivores, who spend their lives grinding and crushing plant matter, dogs don't have teeth with particularly flat surfaces. Instead, their teeth are designed for tearing flesh.
If it sounds like we're contradicting our earlier assertion that dogs are omnivores, we understand. But we promise you, we're not.
You see, while the cellulose in plants is difficult for dogs to digest, if you watch their cousins in the wild, you'll notice that when they kill their prey, they immediately tear open the intestines and eat the partially digested plant material inside.
If our dogs were living in the wild, they'd be doing the same thing—in addition to grazing on berries and other fruits when in season, which their wild relatives also do.
And who hasn't seen a dog eat grass?
So, when you feed dogs lettuce, do your part to ensure they're getting the most benefit by tearing it into small pieces, crushing it, grinding it up, or even juicing it.
Feed in Moderation
Too much of a good thing is generally not a good thing, so try not to go overboard when feeding lettuce to your dog. After all, with lettuce's high water content (especially a variety like iceberg lettuce) and large amount of fiber, any dog can develop loose stools and excess gas if fed too much at one sitting.
The 5 Best Leafy Greens for Your Dog
While iceberg lettuce may make for a thirst-quenching—it's 96% water!—low-calorie snack for your dog, it's not exactly brimming with nutritional value. Thankfully, other leafy greens really are powerhouses of nutrition, and these five are among the best.
1. Romaine Lettuce
Whether your dog prefers the dark outer leaves or the crunchy inner core, Romaine is one of the healthiest lettuce varieties available. Just one outer leaf contains:
- 49% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 11% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 36% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 10% of the RDA of folate
Romaine lettuce is also a great source of several carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which act as antioxidants and help protect the eyes against damage by free radicals.
When it comes to leafy greens, it's hard to go wrong with spinach. While it may not give your dog the strength of Popeye, it's loaded with important nutrients. In fact, just one little leaf contains:
- 19% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 5% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 60% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 5% of the RDA of folate
Like Romaine lettuce, spinach is also a good source of carotenoids, and it contains a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids as well.
However, spinach is also particularly rich in oxalates, which can cause kidney problems in large amounts. Yet it's equally important to note that experts agree it would take a lot more spinach than you'd ever likely feed to cause kidney issues.
So as long as you follow the rule of everything in moderation, spinach is a great choice for your canine companion.
3. Swiss Chard
Like other members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, Swiss chard is jam-packed with nutrition. Just one leaf of this earthy veggie contains:
- 59% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 24% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 498% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 5% of the RDA of iron
- 10% of the RDA of magnesium
- 5% of the RDA of potassium
- 9% of the RDA of manganese
What's more, Swiss chard is rich in flavonoids, including myricetin, kaempferol, quercetin, and rutin, which possess both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These powerful phytochemicals have also been found in numerous studies to hold promise for the prevention and treatment of a number of chronic health issues, including allergies, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
However, like spinach, Swiss chard is also high in oxalates. Again though, you'd have to feed your dog a lot more Swiss chard than you probably ever would to cause kidney stones.
So when feeding Swiss chard to your dog, just be sure to follow the same guidelines recommended for spinach and watch your dog reap all the rewards of this potent cruciferous veggie without any of the nasty side effects of too much oxalate.
4. Bok Choy
Otherwise known as Chinese cabbage, bok choy is a cruciferous veggie with secret superpowers.
You see, while the entire cruciferous family of vegetables is known for its rather amazing health benefits, bok choy is an even rarer breed. Because this little cabbage contains over 70 different antioxidants, many of which are linked to a decreased risk of cancer.
We don't know about you, but we're pretty sure 70 plus antioxidants qualifies bok choy for induction into the superfood hall of fame.
And that's just the antioxidants.
An ounce of bok choy also contains:
- 24% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 12% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 12% of the RDA of vitamin K
It's also a good source of the mineral selenium, which is necessary for brain and thyroid health.
The last of our three cruciferous veggies is the superfood known as kale. Just 1 ounce of this leafy green powerhouse contains:
- 86% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 56% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 286% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 11% of the RDA of manganese
Kale is also incredibly low in calories, which makes it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. And it contains omega-3 fatty acids too.
Plus, it's a great source of both polyphenols and carotenoids. In fact, kale contains more lutein than any other food in the USDA's National Nutrient Database—and it's one of the richest known sources of vitamin K.
Beyond Leafy Greens...
Once you've begun supplementing your dog's diet with healthy greens, don't think you have to stop there. Many other types of veggies and fruits are full of health benefits and great for your dog too:
|Green beans||Sweet potatoes|
When feeding lettuce and other leafy greens—and fruits!—to your dog, remember that raw is usually best. But that's not to say you can't mix it up.
So if you feel like steaming or roasting your dog's greens from time to time, go for it. In fact, leafy greens like kale appear to offer different sets of benefits depending on how they're served.
And don't forget to rotate your fruits and veggies. After all, variety is the spice of life—it also helps ensure your dog receives a wide range of nutrients.
But above all, remember that every time you feed your dog a healthy fruit or veggie snack, or add extra fruits and vegetables to their food, you're giving them the tools they need to live a long, healthy, and happy life. And what pet parent doesn't want that?