Updated - Nov 11th, 2021
Cranberries, a staple of many Thanksgiving dinners, add a wonderful splash of ruby red color to our tables along with some powerful nutrients that improve our health. And if served correctly, cranberries can improve your trusted canine companion’s health as well.
Cranberries are not toxic to dogs, but many of the ingredients we add to them can be. Let’s dive into all things cranberries and see how they may help your dog’s diet – and some risks to be aware of.
Meet the cranberry
Cranberries are members of the vaccinium family along with blueberries, bilberries, and huckleberries. Their nutritional profile is similar to blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
Native to North America, cranberries were originally used by indigenous peoples as a treatment for bladder and kidney diseases. (They were also an ingredient in pemmican, North America’s first energy bar!) Before long, early settlers began using the tart berries to treat poor appetite, stomach upsets, blood disorders and scurvy.
Many believe cranberries grow in water, but they grow in bogs. Bogs are areas that contain acidic peat soil. The water comes from the harvesting process. Since cranberries have air pockets, flooding the fields with water allows the berries to float, making them easier to separate from the plant. The water also helps protect the plants from frost, extreme heat and pests.
Let’s check out the health benefits of cranberries – there are many!
Health benefits of cranberries
Cranberries are a superfood because of their high antioxidant and nutrient content. Here’s a breakdown:
½ cup of cranberries contains only 25 calories, making them an acceptable snack for overweight or diabetic dogs. Just be sure to check with your vet before you offer them. Their low-calorie count may help discourage weight gain.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamins B1 and B2 help to boost your dog’s immune system and protect their heart, as well as aid in the growth and regulation of metabolism.
Vitamin K aids in blood clotting.
Dietary fiber helps dogs feel full for longer and moves food and waste through the digestive system more efficiently.
Antioxidants are abundant in the tart cranberry and provide the biggest health boost for your dog.
Antioxidants fight free radicals that cause cell oxidation because of stress and illness. They protect the immune system and aid in slowing or preventing some cancers, and improve cognitive function to help prevent dementia in older dogs.
Some of the powerful antioxidants found in cranberries include:
Anthocyanins: These are flavonoid compounds found in foods that act as antioxidants and provide the beautiful red, purple and blue colors of fruits and vegetables.
Quercetin: This is the most abundant antioxidant found in foods. Quercetin helps fight allergies, inflammation, and hypertension.
Polyphenols: These are reducing agents that work with vitamin C, vitamin E and other antioxidants, protecting the body against oxidative stress, some cancers, inflammation, gastrointestinal diseases, and heart disease.
Proanthocyanidins: These antioxidants are plant compounds that also give plants red, blue, and purple pigments. They’re part of the family of polyphenol antioxidants, but these antioxidants are twenty times more potent than vitamins C and E and provide antibacterial properties. They prevent bacteria (E. coli is a prime suspect in many urinary infections) from adhering to the bladder wall, helping prevent kidney stones and bladder diseases and improving bladder health.
Proanthocyanidins also aid in dental health by preventing plaque and tartar buildup on the surface of your dog’s teeth.
Minerals: Some of the minerals found in cranberries – such as potassium, manganese and iron – aid in growth and metabolism.
D-Mannose: This is a naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables that is believed to prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder. D-Mannose cranberry supplements may help dogs with chronic UTIs. But always speak to your veterinarian before starting any supplements on top of your dog’s regular balanced diet.
Whenever we give our dogs human food, there’s always a downside to be aware of. Let’s dive into those now.
Pet Pro Tip: If you have a dog that is prone to ‘snacksidents’ – you should consider getting a dog insurance plan as soon as possible. It can help you afford the best care in the future by covering eligible vet bills for digestive illnesses, toxic ingestion, and more.
The downside of cranberries
Cranberries are very acidic, so you should offer them in moderate amounts. Too many can cause an upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea.
The cranberry also contains oxalate, a compound found in many foods and produced as waste by the body. It exits through the urine. Too many cranberries can raise the oxalate levels in your dog’s urine, creating calcium oxalate stones, or bladder stones, a painful development for your canine companion.
Trail mixes often include cranberries, but they also contain other ingredients your dog should not have, such as some nuts, raisins, and currants.
Additional ingredients in your cranberry recipe can be very dangerous for your dog. Avoid offering your dog any cranberry recipes that include raisins, grapes, grape juice, currents, and artificial sweeteners like xylitol. These are extremely toxic to canines, requiring immediate veterinary care.
The sugar levels in canned cranberry sauce are too high for your dog and may cause diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach upset. Beyond this, cranberry juice often contains grape juice, which is toxic for your dog.
How can I feed my dog cranberries?
Fresh cranberries are the best choice if your tail-wagger is begging for a taste. However, many dogs don’t care for the bitter taste of this tart treat and may prefer a blueberry or strawberry instead. Try adding a few on top of your dog’s regular dog food for an added immune system boost.
Dried cranberries are also okay, as long as the label says the manufacturer did not prepare them with added sugars.
Unsweetened cranberry juice is okay, but its tart taste may not be appealing to your pooch.
Canned cranberry sauce is fine, in moderation. Read the label to make sure there are only cranberries inside with added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or added grape juice.
Frozen cranberries are also a good choice as a quick snack for your dog. Thaw the frozen berries first because they can present a choking hazard (especially for a small dog).
Here are some dog-friendly cranberry recipes from the internet:
Are cranberries good for dogs?
Yes, feeding cranberries to your dog is safe. When fed in moderation, your dog may benefit from the powerful antioxidant boost this small fruit provides. These tart berries can boost your dog’s immune system, help prevent some cancers, and improve cognitive and bladder health.
Cranberry extract, cranberry supplements, or just adding cranberries to your dog’s diet may help dogs suffering with chronic or frequent urinary tract infections. Be sure to speak to your veterinarian before you offer them to your dog, though.
Even though cranberries are low in calories, moderation is key because of their high acidic makeup. Just follow the 90/10 rule for treats: 90% of your dog’s daily calories should come from a balanced dog food diet, while the remaining 10% of daily calories may come from healthy treats.
Next time you prepare your Thanksgiving meal, remember to save a few raw cranberries for your tail-wagging friend. Cranberries are safe for dogs, and there are enough nutritional benefits to make it well worth the effort – and your dog will do the happy dance!