Updated - Mar 5th, 2021
Dogs will eagerly eat anything, especially if it’s a food we’re eating. But not all human foods are healthy or even safe for your beloved tail-wagger, and potatoes may fall into that category in some circumstances.
Potatoes are an excellent source of dietary starch and other helpful nutrients, but the skin color of the veggie and how it’s prepared matter when used as a snack for your dog. Let’s look deeper into this common vegetable to see how an occasional potato will benefit or harm your dog’s health.
The white potato
Potatoes are one of the most popular foods in the US. According to Statista, in 2019 we consumed 34.1 lbs. of fresh potatoes each! We eat them in many forms—mashed, boiled, french fries, hash browns, tater tots, and my favorite, potato chips—to name a few. We also add them into soups, use them as a meal side; and let’s not forget the beloved potato salad.
Our dogs will happily help us eat anything, and potatoes can benefit them; but they can also cause harm. Let’s look at why.
Health benefits of the potato
Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, and Vitamin B6 all take up space on the potato nutrient list. Add in fiber and starch and you have a seemingly healthy snack item for your pooch, right? Let’s look closer:
- Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant known to fight free radicals that can destroy cells. It also supports your dog’s immune system, and fights cognitive aging in older dogs.
- Potassium: A mineral that keeps your dog’s kidneys functioning well. It also supports efficient heart function, muscle function, and a healthy digestive system.
- Magnesium: A micro-mineral that supports the metabolizing of proteins and fatty acids. It also plays an important role in energy production and ligament and bone maintenance.
- Iron: An essential nutrient that supports red blood cell and hemoglobin formation. Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body and produces energy.
- Calcium: An essential mineral important for building strong bones and teeth, providing support for blood clotting, wound healing, and maintaining normal blood pressure in your dog’s body.
- Fiber: Essential for keeping the digestive system functioning smoothly. If your dog has diarrhea or constipation, the fiber in potatoes can help correct these problems.
Fiber lengthens that feeling of fullness after a meal. This can benefit an overweight dog.
Studies have proven that a diet rich in fiber may lower heart disease and can prevent certain types of cancer in dogs.
- Starch/carbohydrates: Carbs are important for your dog’s energy levels, but just like humans, dogs can run into problems like obesity if they consume too many.
Starch converts to glucose, or sugars, which fuel energy in your dog’s body. But it also raises blood sugar and insulin levels, feeds bacteria in the gut, and feeds some cancers. This makes potatoes a poor choice for diabetic dogs, overweight dogs, or dogs fighting cancer.
The other side of the potato
Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, just like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The nightshade plants contain high amounts of Solanine, which are very toxic to both animals and humans.
- Solanine: Found in the skins, roots, stems and leaves of the potato plant. Its purpose is to protect the plant from fungi and is toxic if ingested. Since the potato is the edible tuberous root of the plant, cooking it thoroughly reduces the solanine levels enough to make it safe for eating. The plant stem and leaves are never safe for consumption.
- Green potatoes: Have you ever purchased a bag of potatoes and found some of them have green skin? When not stored correctly, the light activates the chlorophyll in the skin, changing its color to green. Solanine is present in high amounts in green potato skin. They are toxic, and neither humans nor animals should eat them. Cooking potatoes with green skin will NOT reduce the solanine levels.
Solanine toxicity levels vary by how much you eat, but eating large amounts can cause death in as little as 14 hours.
Signs of solanine toxicity are:
- Diarrhea or gastrointestinal upset
- Confusion or lack of coordination as it hits the central nervous system
If you grow potatoes in your garden, create a dog-proof barrier to eliminate the danger of them consuming the plant material. If you suspect your pooch has ingested a raw potato or any part of the potato plants, call your veterinarian immediately.
The Pet Poison Hotline is also available at 855-764-7661.
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.
Which dogs should not have potatoes?
Many limited-ingredient and grain-free pet foods use white potatoes as the carbohydrate source. They’re considered very high on the glycemic index, but carbs create energy in your dog’s body.
However, since carbs change to glucose in order to produce energy, too many carbs can cause weight gain, or raise sugar and insulin levels to unhealthy levels, making them not suitable for overweight or diabetic dogs.
Why are potatoes in dog food?
Many dog food manufacturers use potatoes as the carbohydrate source because they provide higher digestibility and metabolizable energy than corn. Metabolizable energy is the energy in the food, minus the energy lost in digestive waste like feces and urine.
Potato starch increases the expansion and reduces the density of the kibble. It’s also very palatable to dogs, and it’s inexpensive.
Potatoes in pet food certainly has had its heyday as a popular ingredient in grain-free and limited-ingredient diets, but some questions have arisen in the past few years surrounding its use and the increase in Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
Here’s what the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association are saying about DCM:
Potatoes and Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the enlargement of the heart, which limits its ability to pump blood efficiently throughout a dog’s body. This can lead to severe congestive heart failure and sudden heart attacks.
In recent years, there has been some concern—and many studies—around the role of grain-free or limited ingredient diets in dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. The studies were started because of concerns from the rise in diagnosis of DCM in breeds not known to have a genetic predisposition to the disease. In many of the cases, the dogs were eating a limited ingredient diet.
The studies have not determined the cause of the increase in cases of DCM; but they have determined that in the cases of dogs diagnosed with DCM, 93% of them were eating foods that contained peas or lentils (legumes) as a primary ingredient. Far fewer dogs diagnosed with DCM were eating foods containing potatoes or sweet potatoes.
This means that white potatoes, as a treat, will not harm your dog or cause DCM. There are still more studies and peer reviews in progress surrounding this issue, but for now, white potatoes don’t play a large role in the rise of DCM in dogs not predisposed to it.
Here’s what the American Veterinary Medical Association says about DCM:
“To put this issue into proper context, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. As of April 30, 2019, the FDA has received reports about 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM suspected to be linked to diet. Tens of millions of dogs have been eating dog food without developing DCM. If you are concerned about the diet you are currently feeding your dog, FDA recommends working with your veterinarian, who may consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, to determine the best diet for your dog’s needs.”
How can I prepare potatoes for my dog?
Before you offer your dog a potato, here are some guidelines about treats and your dog’s diet.
Your dog should always have a well-balanced diet composed of their regular dog food and healthy treats (which should only make up 10% of the daily calorie intake).
We recommend that anytime you offer a new food to your dog, check with your vet prior to the first offering. While most veggies and fruits are healthy for your pup, some are not; and your dog’s specific overall health will be a priority when the vet makes a food recommendation.
Another consideration is for puppies. Their immune systems are still developing, so only offer tiny amounts of any new food. But you’ll want to wait until they’re fully weaned and well established on solid food. You also want to check with your vet about safe amounts.
If you want to give your dog potatoes, remove the skin and boil or bake them. Avoid any added ingredients such as salt, oils, butter, cheeses, or seasoning that could make your dog’s tummy upset.
Snack Time! Ideas for serving your dog potatoes
White potatoes are too starchy for anything other than an occasional snack or small addition to your dog’s diet. Mixing a few potato pieces with healthy fruits and veggies can be a healthy, quick snack for your pooch.
Green beans and broccoli mixed with a couple of small white potato cubes is a good snack. Or try offering some mashed potatoes mixed with blueberries or strawberries for a hydration boost.
I found a cute recipe for meatloaf cupcakes using potatoes as the frosting. It looks fun, but to make it really healthy for your pooch, omit the milk and butter from the mashed potatoes – organic salt and fat-free broth will work just as well. Then decorate the frosting with fresh fruits and veggies.
So can your dog eat potatoes?
To summarize: yes, your dog can eat potatoes if properly prepared, and there’s no green color on the potato’s skin. However, the high starch content puts these tubers in the “occasional snack” category.
If your dog has diabetes, is overweight, or fighting cancer, avoid white potatoes altogether.
Puppies should be completely weaned and well established on solid food before offering any new food, and serve tiny amounts to avoid stomach upsets.White potatoes offer some nutritional benefits to your dog, but there are so many healthier options for treats (especially sweet potatoes) that you might consider a white potato as only human food, and not offer it to your furry friends.