Most dog owners expect their veterinarian to assess their dog’s temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and pain level. But did you know that The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has created an initiative to include a nutritional assessment as the fifth vital sign?
Food, especially snacks like freeze-dried strawberries, is undoubtedly a powerful source of joy for your dog. But a nutritionally balanced diet is also crucial in optimizing your dog’s quality of life and the longevity of his overall health. In general, dogs can eat free dried strawberries, but they aren’t as nutritional as normal strawberries due to the dehydration process. Additionally, strawberries should only be fed to your dog in moderation as they are high in sugar.
Your dog’s diet should be uniquely tailored to his individual needs based on factors such as life stage, activity level, breed, and health issues. These factors not only affect your dog’s daily caloric intake requirement but may also require different amounts of various nutrients. For example, a young, growing puppy will have a higher energy requirement than a senior dog. Furthermore, puppies require higher calcium while senior dog diets may include ingredients like fatty acids and glucosamine, which support joint health in older dogs who often suffer from arthritis.
How to Choose Healthy and Safe Treats for Your Dog
Once you have worked with your veterinarian to find an appropriate and well-tolerated diet for your dog, you may wonder what treats you can supplement your dog’s diet with. Many owners opt to feed fruits and vegetables as healthier treat options as compared to other commercial dog treats. Have you ever wondered if you can feed your dog freeze-dried strawberries? Let’s consider fresh raw strawberries first.
Are Strawberries Safe to Feed Your Dog?
Strawberries are not poisonous to dogs. However, please note that some fruits and vegetables are poisonous to dogs, with common ones being grapes, onions, and garlic. Before feeding your dog a new food, I recommend referring to Pet Poison Helpline to ensure it is safe.
Strawberries contain vitamins and minerals that are important to canine health. The main vitamins and minerals that strawberries contain are vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B9 (folic acid), and potassium. Vitamin C helps supports the immune system, vitamin B9 metabolizes protein, magnesium supports bone health, and potassium mediates electrolyte balance and nerve function (https://petfoodinstitute.org/about-pet-food/nutrition/dog-nutrition/).
Although it is technically safe to feed dogs strawberries, they must be fed in moderation and only used as an occasional supplement to dog’s main food. This is to ensure that your dog’s diet is complete and balanced. A general rule of thumb is that treats should comprise no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.
All treats, including strawberries, should be fed in small amounts to avoid overfeeding. Overfeeding is the main cause of obesity in pets. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 50% of the pets in the United States are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of many other health issues including diabetes mellitus and can exacerbate conditions like joint disease. I recommend consulting your veterinarian to determine your dog’s daily caloric intake requirement. Additionally, it is important to remember that this daily caloric intake requirement needs to account for both your dog’s main diet as well as treats.
How Are Freeze-Dried Strawberries Different?
Now, let’s consider freeze-dried strawberries in particular. Freeze drying is a dehydration technique that removes water under vacuum pressure at low temperatures. Freeze drying decreases the percentage of certain nutrients, resulting in the loss of vitamin C in particular. Freeze drying a strawberry does not change its calorie content. However, freeze-dried strawberries are less filling because of their decreased water content. Therefore, a freeze-dried strawberry will not be as filling or satisfy your dog’s hunger as effectively as a fresh strawberry. For this reason, if you choose to feed strawberries as an occasional treat, I recommend feeding fresh over freeze-dried strawberries.
As a friendly reminder, any time you introduce a new food to your dog, it is important to do so gradually and in small amounts. This is because abruptly transitioning your dog to a new food can cause gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea or vomiting. Moreover, because strawberries, in particular, contain sugar, they carry a greater risk of causing gastrointestinal signs, especially if fed in excessive quantities.
Diet as a Tool in Managing Disease Processes
There are several disease processes that require or benefit from a specific diet. For example, pets with chronic kidney disease benefit from a renal diet, which typically contains reduced protein, phosphorus, and sodium as compared to other diets. One study comparing dogs with chronic kidney failure fed a renal diet with those fed a maintenance diet showed death “was reduced by at least two thirds” and dogs “lived at least 13 months longer” when fed a renal diet.
Food intolerances and food allergies may also limit a dog’s diet options. Like humans, dogs can have an adverse reaction to certain foods, which manifest as “various dermatological and gastrointestinal (GI) signs.” If a dog is truly allergic to a food, the allergen is usually a protein, such as beef or chicken. These dogs should ideally undergo a strict diet trial under the supervision of your veterinarian, which will test your dog’s response to a novel protein diet.
Similarly, dogs with chronic gastrointestinal disease often require a specialized diet. For instance, up to 50% of dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may benefit from a hydrolyzed protein diet.
General Cautions About Diet-Associated Disease
As a veterinarian, I have learned that diet can be a sensitive and potentially emotionally-charged subject for pet owners. Moreover, food represents an important part of the human-animal bond for many pet owners. My goal is to provide owners with the information and tools necessary to make informed decisions about their dog’s diet. While I support owners’ freedom in choosing their dog’s diet, there are a few diet-associated issues that I believe every dog owner should be aware of.
We have the power to prevent diet-associated diseases by avoiding potentially harmful diets based on scientific research. An example of a potentially fatal diet-associated disease is diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM results in enlargement of the heart and can progress to congestive heart failure. Dogs who suffer from DCM are also unfortunately at risk of sudden death. There is a significant amount of research, including an investigation by the FDA, illustrating that “diets reported to be associated with DCM often are marketed as ‘grain-free’ and often contain certain ingredients that became part of commercial foods relatively recently (e.g., pulses, potatoes, and sweet potatoes) and lack others (such as rice and corn).” Some owners ask me if they can supplement a grain-free dog food with grains such as adding cooked white rice. We do not yet completely understand the pathophysiology between diet and DCM and therefore, I recommend avoiding grain-free diets until more research is available.
Another popular diet trend I try to educate pet owners about is the raw food diet. Raw food diets carry an increased risk of causing foodborne illness in your dog, with common causative agents including Salmonella and E. coli. These food-borne illnesses are zoonotic, meaning they can also infect people, including you and your family. Remember that raw hides may also be contaminated with these infectious agents as well. For the safety of your family and your dog, I recommend considering these risks when thinking about raw food diets. Another good habit to minimize the chance of a food-borne illness is to periodically check for any food recalls or withdrawals.
Some owners are interested in feeding a home-cooked diet to their dog, especially if their dog has a known food intolerance or allergy. However, it is very difficult to cultivate a complete and nutritionally balanced home-cooked diet, and thus, I do not recommend home-cooked diets long-term. This makes sense when we consider that a complete and balanced diet should include “between 42 and 48 essential nutrients for cats and dogs” (https://petfoodinstitute.org/about-pet-food/nutrition/sound-nutrition/). If you do elect to feed a home-cooked diet, I recommend consulting a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Another helpful resource I recommend to owners is Balance IT, a tool that helps owners create a home-cooked meal with appropriate amounts of different nutrients.
Food creates moments of happiness for people and dogs alike. But diet also has the capacity to improve your dog’s health in real and meaningful ways. Even a seemingly small component of your dog’s diet, like occasional freeze-dried strawberries, can have an impact on your dog’s health in the long run.
If you are interested in changing your dog’s diet or have any questions about your dog’s nutrition, I recommend working with your veterinarian to come up with a suitable option based on your dog’s current and individual needs.
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Garrett loves animals and is a huge advocate for all Doodle dog breeds. He owns his own Goldendoodle named Kona. In addition, he volunteers at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, where he fosters dogs and helps animals. Garrett enjoys writing about Doodles and believes that dogs can teach humans more about how to live than humans can teach a dog.
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