Fruits and Vegetables in Pet Nutrition
Meat is essential for dogs, but high-protein diets limiting fruit and veggies may fall short when it comes to promoting their health and well being.
With all the attention high-protein dog foods and treats are getting these days, it can be easy to forget that just like people, animals need fruit and veggies every day in order to have a balanced, nutritious diet.
It’s also common for pet specialty retailers to focus on offering protein-rich products that don’t provide a full array of fruit and veggies, explains Barbara Ratner, founder of Holistic Pet Cuisine Market in Boca Raton, Fla.
“Many pet owners are reaching out to retailers to provide their dogs with the proper balance of fruit and veggies in their pet’s diet and daily treats,” she continues. “Customers are looking for ways to provide the necessary fiber for their dog’s digestive tract. Many dry dog food manufacturers do not provide a good source of fruit and veggies, thus causing digestive issues.”
Because of the over-sized role some pet owners feel protein should play in a dog’s diet, they’re shortchanging fruit and veggies. That stems from the idea that those foods equate to starchy carbohydrates, says Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager, veterinary outreach for Fairfield, Calif.-based Primal Pet Foods.
“I think we can all agree there’s a big difference between a salad and a bowl of french fries,” she says. “It’s true that highly-processed, starchy carbohydrates provide a lot of calories and often not much nutrition. But eliminating all fruit and vegetables in order to avoid carbohydrates is neither necessary nor beneficial.”
Meyers explains that it’s okay to avoid certain carbohydrates and starches, such as white potatoes, but it’s a mistake to forget about the importance of fiber and phytonutrients that other produce can provide, such as kale and blueberries.
Providing the Spark
In addition to fiber and phytonutrients, many fruit and veggies are a good source of potassium and have anti-inflammatory properties, says Ratner. Others supply manganese, a mineral essential for growth, metabolism and the body’s antioxidant system.
Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis., explains that the nutrients found in fruit and veggies help pets “synthesize glucose for energy and maintain healthy gut morphology,” and offer probiotic benefits.
For example, the antioxidants, vitamins and fiber found in cranberries support digestion, the immune system and metabolic function, in addition to promoting bladder and/or urinary tract health. Or consider pumpkin, which is chock full of nutrients.
“More specifically, pumpkin contains alpha-carotene, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage,” Nieman explains. “Pumpkin also contains vitamin A to help maintain a healthy immune system and good vision, and potassium, an electrolyte for muscular contraction. And the combination of moisture and fiber from pumpkin can also be of great benefit in creating bulk to stimulate regular bowel movements.”
Fruit and veggies act as a “spark plug” for the immune system, says Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Westport, Conn.-based Earth Animal with her husband, Dr. Bob. The vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants can also help pets resist serious diseases like cancer, she says, describing cancer as being “epidemic” in dogs.
“It used to be confined to certain breeds and to elderly dogs. But now it doesn’t care about breed or age and one of the causes is vitamin and mineral insufficiencies,” Goldstein explains, saying that Dr. Bob uses fruit and veggies as one of the modalities in treating cancer.
On the Menu
Earth Animal provides natural/organic foods and treats, as well as organic remedies and supplements for dogs and cats. The company’s Daily Health Nuggets are loaded with fruit and veggies, such as beets, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, oranges, cherries, cranberries, strawberries, apples, pumpkin and blueberries. The Nuggets—which contain sprouted seeds—offer phytonutrients, anti-oxidants and omegas 6 and 9. Since they haven’t been subject to high-heat processing, the benefits, “life-force” and bioavailability of the ingredients have been preserved, says Goldstein.
Holistic Pet, which offers natural raw bones, freeze-dried diets, natural pet treats, supplements and a variety of pet supplies, has a dog treat line—K9Crispies— that’s infused with blueberries, cranberries and pumpkin, along with proteins like chicken, beef and turkey.
Kale plays a prominent role in products from Dogs Love Us, so much so that it has inspired its own brand name: Dogs Love Kale. Located in Naples, Fla., the company develops and manufactures limited-ingredient dog treats, says Paula Savarese, president.
“When we started our company five years ago, our goal was to share the same benefits of kale with our dogs that we get from it,” she explains. “Not everyone is convinced that ‘Dogs Love Kale,’ and that is why we added various ingredients to our treats that were more familiar/palatable for dogs. The idea was to get kale in them for the health benefits.”
One of the company’s top sellers is the Dogs Love Kale Moo-Moo Beef & Carrot Biscuits, a beef treat with no added chicken.
Primal—a manufacturer of raw diets and complementary whole-food toppers and treats for dogs and cats—launched a new line of toppers called Primal Edible Elixirs, two of which are veggie-based. The Healthy Green Smoothie contains chopped organic kale, celery, parsley and cilantro, along with organic chia seeds, coconut and sardine oil, as well as a blend of seven organic mushrooms. It provides antioxidants, phytonutrients and immune-boosting support, says Meyers.
“This veggie-based product is great for any pet needing immune support, young or old, and is sold frozen for maximum freshness and customer retention but is served refrigerated for convenience,” she explains.
Headquartered in Tewksbury, Mass., WellPet, LLC provides nutritional products for dogs and cats under a variety of brands that contain fruit and veggies. For example, the Wellness CORE Petite Treats Soft Mini-Bites are available in Lamb, Apples & Cinnamon; Chicken, Cherries & Spearmint; and Turkey.
“Our focus is balance,” explains Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience. “We want to give pet parents recipes with the protein their dog or cat craves, but balanced with the fruit- and vegetable-based nutrients they need to support total body health, nose to tail. Dogs rely on a meat-first diet, but the inclusion of antioxidants from fruit and vegetables creates a complete and balanced meal.”
Fromm makes canned and dry recipes for dogs and cats under several brands, and also offers supplements and dog treats. The company sells exclusively to neighborhood pet specialty retailers.
One of the newest additions Fromm’s Four-Star line is the Highlander Beef, Oats ‘n Barley recipe featuring a blend of beef, lamb, haddock, whole oats and barley with fruit and vegetables.
“One vegetable included is broccoli,” says Nieman. “Broccoli provides an impressive variety of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin A, calcium, iron and phosphorous, as well as carbohydrates and fiber.”
Savarese says she still runs across pet owners perplexed about her kale-based product, with people asking why it’s included in the treats and if kale is safe for dogs to consume—a confusion that encompasses fruit and veggies in general.
“There are a lot of misconceptions with regards to fruit and vegetables, because so many products are using them,” she says. “Consumers need to be aware that adding these ingredients to their dog’s diet can be beneficial, unless a dog has a specific allergy.”
The onus is on pet specialty retailers to educate consumers about the contribution fruit and vegetables make to animal health and well being. That starts with education, explains Leary-Coutu. Retailers should make a point of interacting with pet owners to call attention to the benefits of fruit and veggies, which include how their addition can help enhance the balance the nutritional value of a protein-based meal.
It’s vital that retailers—and their staff—learn the differences to assist pet owners in figuring out what would be the right nutritional match for their dog, says Meyers. Although every dog needs fruit and vegetables, there are reasons that some will need to avoid certain ones.
Before making any recommendations, it’s important to ask about pet allergies or food sensitivities, as well as what is going on with the dog, says Goldstein, cautioning pet specialty retailers to remember that every animal enters through their doors in an individual state of wellness and disease. Additional questions to pose include age, weight, breed, what the dog is currently eating and if they’ve talked to their vet about what type of diet might be best, suggests Leary-Coutu.
As for merchandising and retailing foods and treats containing fruit and veggies, samplings, informational signage and endcap or stand-alone displays will call attention to these items.
“This is an area where retailers can have some fun and make connections back to human health and what we like to eat for a balanced, well-rounded meal,” says Leary-Coutu. “Consider hosting a farmer’s market for people and their pets that showcases the ingredients. The more retailers are able to highlight the variety of recipes they have on-shelf, and the benefits those recipes offer pets, the more they’ll be able to impact their bottom line.” PB