Updated - Jun 21st, 2021
All nutritional guidelines for human diets encourage us to pile on the leafy green vegetables. But can your dog eat those crunchy leaves of lettuce too?
The answer is yes! This low-calorie snack harbors many health benefits for your pup, but also some precautions you need to know too. So before you unleash your dog’s inner bunny, let’s look at both the benefits and the risks.
Does Lettuce Provide Health Benefits for your Dog?
Yes, these leafy green veggies provide a healthy dose of Vitamins C, A, and K, some beneficial minerals, and a powerful amount of antioxidants and chlorophyll; all of these provide great benefits to your dog’s body.
Before we get into the nutritional value of lettuce, let’s be clear that we’re specifically talking about these types of lettuce: Romaine lettuce (the most nutrient-dense of the lettuce family), arugula, iceberg lettuce, kale, and spinach.
They all contain some wonderful nutrients that contribute to your dog’s overall health. Here are a few and why your dog needs them:
Vitamin C and vitamins A (beta-carotene) are antioxidants that boost your dog’s immune system and combat free radicals. Free radicals damage cells by causing oxidation from toxins in our environment, stress or disease. These powerhouses can reduce inflammation, protect the heart, and reduce the effects of aging. Vitamin A also supports healthy vision.
Vitamin K aids in blood clotting and coagulation.
Calcium builds strong bones, teeth, and supports ligament and muscle development. It also supports a strong heart and a healthy nervous system.
Folate is also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9. It’s essential for normal metabolic functions such as DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
Potassium is an electrolyte that aids in the functions of the heart, nerves, and muscles. Iceberg lettuce has the lowest amount of Potassium of all veggies.
Chlorophyll is probably the most well-known health benefit of lettuce. This is truly the power boost nutrient dogs crave and maybe the biggest reason they love to eat grass.
Chlorophyll is a phytochemical that gives plants their beautiful green coloring. As they go through the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll allows the plant to absorb energy from the sun.
Fun fact about chlorophyll: It’s almost identical to hemoglobin, the component that carries oxygen in red blood cells. There’s only one atom that separates it. Hemoglobin has iron, and chlorophyll has magnesium. So chlorophyll replenishes red blood cells and detoxifies the liver and digestive system.
Known as “nature’s mouthwash,” chlorophyll also prevents bad breath from the inside out, and improves gut health (it’s very fibrous, so helps the digestive tract to keep moving, preventing constipation). Arugula and spinach carry the most amounts of chlorophyll.
Along with all these benefits, we can also add high water content, a healthy source of fiber, and low calories. That makes it a healthy summer snack when the sun is beating down and your dog needs extra hydration without packing on the pounds, or a healthy snack for overweight dogs trying to lose pounds.
But of course, there are risks. Let’s look at those now.
Risks of Lettuce
Nutritionally balanced, healthy dog food should comprise 90% of your dog’s diet. Treats and snacks should only make up 10% of their daily caloric intake. Anything higher,— no matter what food it is—you risk your dog becoming overweight, and developing diabetes.
Does your dog suffer from allergies? If so, you need to check with your veterinarian before offering any new foods or snacks. Lettuce is low on the allergen scale, but some dogs can still have a reaction.
A lettuce leaf is very fibrous, so your canine companion can have a hard time digesting it. Cutting or tearing it up into bite-sized pieces aids in the digestive process. You can also steam it, making it easier to chew and digest.
Large pieces of lettuce (think tiny dogs or those larger dogs aka food gulpers) can be a choking hazard or a digestive tract blockage – another reason for the bite-sized pieces.
Kale and spinach both contain oxalic acid and isothiocyanates. Oxalic acid is an anti-nutrient found in forage vegetables—like kale and spinach—that inhibits a body’s ability to absorb calcium and magnesium, and may cause kidney damage. When large amounts are eaten, they can lead to toxicity or severe stomach upsets.
Isothiocyanates are organic compounds found in kale, spinach, and broccoli that cause a bitter taste and can cause gastric irritation. The evidence suggests that dogs should only consume 10% of daily calories from these plants.
E Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella can all cause severe stomach upsets and diarrhea. Lettuce can carry these bacteria in their leaves. Washing the leaves carefully prior to feeding them will rid them of these nasty bacteria.
Salads cause a risk to your dog because of the added ingredients. It’s tempting when your dog pleads for bites of your human food, and salad seems healthy right? Individually, those ingredients probably are (except for the garlic, onions, and walnuts which are highly toxic). However, when put together, they can cause your dog some problems.
Salad dressing can contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is HIGHLY toxic to dogs. It may also contain onion powder (another highly toxic ingredient; even onion juice is toxic—see more about onions here) or spices your dog’s digestive system won’t agree with. So if you must give your dog a bite of your salad, make sure it’s free of those ingredients–just plain lettuce or a tomato washed and prepared separately from your salad.
Now that we’ve covered the health benefits and the risks, it’s time for the fun stuff.
How To Prepare Lettuce for Snack Time!
Before you feed your dog lettuce or any new foods, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian just to be sure there are no health reasons to avoid it.
Fresh lettuce from the garden requires careful washing to remove any bacteria or pesticides; and it should be cut into small pieces. The high water content makes this crunchy veggie a great low-calorie, hydrating snack on a hot summer day.
To help with digestion and chewing of the fibrous leaves, steam them with a few green beans and add them to your dog’s food bowl.
Combine lettuce into smoothies with various fruits and vegetables and plain Greek yogurt. You can also freeze the mixture for a cool snack.
Add kale and spinach to DIY treats. Just make sure the amounts are small to avoid any unnecessary weight gain. Here are a few tasty-looking recipes:
So next time you’re eating a crisp, leafy salad and wonder “is lettuce safe for dogs”, the answer is yes! Just make sure it’s plain with no added ingredients in it to mess with your furry friend’s tummy. If you follow proper preparation tips and be mindful of the risks attached, you can rest easy knowing you’ve provided a yummy snack that yields high amounts of nutritional content for your dog’s overall health.