Can Dogs Have Sweet Potatoes?
Though most of our favorite fruits make us think of endless summer days (pineapples, mangoes, peaches, kiwis, etc), many of our favorite vegetables scream fall—especially the orange ones. When the days grow colder and the leaves begin to change color, we break out the orange vegetables. Many of us know that fall is coming when we start seeing pumpkin spice flavored everything on grocery store shelves—after all, pumpkin works its way into everything from cereal and ice cream all the way to chewing gum and hand soap!—but, when we sit down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, there is one orange vegetable that is perhaps even more important than pumpkins: the humble sweet potato.
No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a helping of sweet potato pie or sweet potato casserole, but many of us rely on these hearty orange veggies for day-to-day dinners, too. Sweet potatoes are often thought of as the healthier, more diet-friendly alternative to white potatoes. Whether you like to eat yours baked and stuffed, mashed and whipped with butter, or baked into chips, you probably have sweet potatoes in your home during the colder months. You are perfectly happy sitting down to this guilt-free treat, but can you share it with your pooch? Are these starchy vegetables guiltless dog treats, too? Can you give your dog sweet potatoes?
The answer: Yes, absolutely! Sweet potatoes are quite healthy both for dogs and for humans, and most dogs can thrive on diets that include sweet potato in moderation—in fact, many high-end brands of dog food include sweet potatoes in their recipes. These gently sweet vegetables are fantastic treats for healthy adult dogs, who may benefit from their moderate quantities of antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. The important thing is to practice portion control to prevent weight gain, because even healthy foods can make your dog fat if they are eaten in large quantities!
Let’s start with dietary fiber. When we make the conscious decision to add more fiber into our diets, it is usually as a holistic way to combat constipation—and we can do the same thing for our dogs! Because our dogs’ bodies are unable to break down and absorb fiber, it is not considered a necessary nutrient, but it can play a critical role in supporting several aspects of health, including digestion.
Fiber works well at regulating digestion because it can absorb water; fiber particles work like tiny sponges that soak up fluids and shuttle them through the gastrointestinal tract. If your dog is constipated, fiber helps by absorbing water and bringing it into the colon, where it can make hard or impacted stool softer so that your dog can pass it more easily. If your dog has diarrhea, fiber helps by absorbing extra fluid inside the colon. It also adds bulk to stool, making for fuller, healthier, more regular bowel movements. If your dog suffers from occasional mild constipation or diarrhea, slightly increasing their fiber intake may help to balance things out. Just make sure you give your dog plenty of fluid along with their fiber—giving your pooch a bunch of fiber without adding any water can actually exacerbate constipation!
Because sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants, they do an excellent dog at fighting against short-term infections as well as chronic diseases. Antioxidants have been shown to protect against some of life’s scariest diseases, including heart disease, type two diabetes, osteoarthritis and other autoimmune diseases, many different types of cancer, and even the cognitive decline we associate with normal aging. Including antioxidant-rich foods, like sweet potatoes, in your dog’s diet can help protect them against many of the most common ailments that show up during old age.
One of these antioxidants, beta carotene, is converted into Vitamin A inside your dog’s body. Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining muscular and eye health, especially night vision. Since we can’t give our dogs glasses, giving them foods rich in Vitamin A can be a good way to protect them from the two leading causes of blindness: cataracts and macular degeneration.
Things to Consider
Though sweet potatoes are healthy in moderation, feeding them to your dog in excess can cause some health problems. Though dogs, unlike cats, have the ability to digest some starchy vegetables, they don’t handle large quantities very well. If you suddenly give your pooch a large helping of sweet potato, they may develop upset stomach, bloating, or diarrhea. If your dog has been diagnosed with any digestive problems, consult a veterinarian before you feed them any starchy or fibrous plant foods—some dogs may not be able to handle starch very well.
Sweet potatoes are also energy rich foods, which means that they can easily cause weight gain if you’re not careful. Your dog does not need very many calories in order to keep their body running properly. Any time you give them more calories than they can burn (even if those calories come from healthy sources!), they will put on more body fat. Too much extra body fat can increase your pup’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and a wide range of other health problems. If your pooch is already on the pudgy side, consider offering them treats that are less calorically dense, like apples and carrots.
In conclusion, sweet potatoes are excellent treats for healthy dogs to consume in moderation. They are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can fight disease, moderate in fiber that can support digestive health, and relatively low in fat and calories compared to other common treats. Still, sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables, and eating too many of them can cause health problems. Practice portion control, and if your pooch starts to gain weight, make their portions smaller!