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Can dogs eat kale?

A row of kale growing in an outdoor garden

Love feeding your dog different foods? That’s great—but not all foods are good for dogs! 

Knowing what your four-legged friend can and can’t eat is one of the most important things about being a dog parent. Although you can’t watch what your dog eats all the time, you’re the one in charge of his meals and snacks. And unfortunately, there have been plenty of cases of well-meaning dog owners feeding something that seems harmless, but turns out to be a bad idea.

Fortunately, there is a wide variety of ‘human’ foods that are safe for dogs. Many dog owners are surprised to learn just how nutritious their dog’s diet can be when they add in fruits and vegetables.

One food that you might not have considered feeding your dog is kale! This popular green vegetable is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s known as a superfood and has numerous benefits for humans’ health. But can dogs eat kale?

Is kale safe for dogs?

Yes and no. Kale is generally safe for (most) dogs when fed in moderation, but it depends heavily on the soil it was grown in.

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, which means that it belongs to the same family as cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, mustard, and collard greens. Some research has shown that this family of vegetables behave as ‘hyperaccumulators’ of thallium, a toxic heavy metal. According to the research, these vegetables obtained thallium from the soil they were grown in. Considering that thallium was once a common ingredient in rat poison, this is rather worrying! 

But before you panic, this doesn’t mean that all kale will contain thallium. This can happen with all leafy greens. If it’s in the soil, the plant will take it up. Your best bet is to seek out kale (and other vegetables) from organic sources. 

The benefits of kale for dogs

Kale is rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. These are all highly beneficial for the health of your dog’s bones and cardiovascular system. 

This vitamin-dense vegetable may also support his colon, liver, and immune system.

Kale is most famous for its high content of antioxidants. Kale contains three major carotenoids: lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. These antioxidants help to protect your dog’s cells from harmful free radicals.

Beta-carotene converts into vitamin A in your dog’s body. Vitamin A is highly beneficial for your dog’s skin, coat, muscles, and nerves. Beta-carotene also supports healthy vision, proper immune system function, and can help protect his skin from UV damage. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin are most effective in supporting the health of your dog’s retina and heart. 

Can kale be bad for dogs?

While kale’s antioxidants may benefit dogs, this green veg also contains a few potentially harmful natural compounds. These include calcium oxalate and isothiocyanates.

Calcium oxalate has been known to cause kidney and bladder stones. Dogs that are prone to kidney or bladder stones should avoid other foods with high calcium oxalate contents. Beet greens, Swiss chard, collards, parsley, collards, and leeks are also high in calcium oxalate.

Isothiocyanates are also found in broccoli. Again, they’re great for humans but can cause mild to severe gastric irritation in dogs. Broccoli and kale have similar levels of this compound. While kale may be safe in small quantities, it should be avoided as a regular meal. Vets suggest it should make up less than 10 percent of your dog’s daily diet. 

To top it off, kale may also disrupt your dog’s thyroid function if fed on a regular basis. Dogs on medication for hypothyroidism may suffer the negative effects of an interaction.  

How to feed your dog kale

According to the American Kennel Club Association, it’s okay to give your dog the occasional serving of kale. It’s best to cook it first, as raw kale can be difficult to chew (and your dog may not be so thrilled with the bitter taste!).

Buy organic kale when you can and wash it thoroughly. Pureeing kale is a good way to improve its digestibility. You can also steam it in order to retain more of the nutrients. 

Avoid adding spices, oils, and other herbs, as these can cause harmful side-effects. 

Of course, there are lots of other healthy greens that your dog can snack on without any fear for his safety. Peas are a great choice, along with cucumbers and broccoli. You can even get creative with fruits like blueberries and make a dog-friendly salad!

The article was written by Katie Stone on January 1, 2021.

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