Updated - Oct 15th, 2022
Spinach – Popeye’s favorite food – contains beneficial nutrients and antioxidants that your dog needs. Prepared correctly and in the proper amounts, this low-calorie, leafy green vegetable can improve your dog’s overall health. Spinach boosts the immune system, increases energy levels, and prevents some types of cancer. Not bad for a green we think of as human food, right?
Let’s look into what spinach is, why it’s controversial, and how it benefits your dog’s health.
Spinach originates from Persia and belongs to the Amaranth family of plants. Beets and quinoa are also Amaranth plants. Every part of the spinach plant is edible and non-toxic for your dog.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that provides many beneficial nutrients, among them insoluble and soluble fibers, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Spinach is considered a superfood because it contains high quantities of these nutrients.
Many nutritionists consider spinach to be a wonderful addition to your dog’s diet. But it’s not without some controversy. Spinach contains oxalates which can affect your dog’s metabolism. Large amounts of oxalates can cause kidney damage and failure.
Let’s dive into all this and see what it means for your dog.
Health Benefits of Spinach
Dogs can benefit from eating a small amount of spinach every day. Here are the vitamins and minerals that spinach provides and their role in boosting your dog’s overall health.
Vitamin C and E: These powerful antioxidants support your dog’s immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect the brain from the cognitive effects of aging.
Vitamin A: Beta-carotene and vitamin A are antioxidants that also support your dog’s vision.
Folate: Also called vitamin B9, folate is important for red cell production and healthy cell growth.
Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for the blood’s ability to clot.
Minerals: Spinach contains the micro-minerals potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper and iron. Micro-minerals support your dog’s skeletal structure, fluid balance, cell function, nervous system, and muscle contraction.
Soluble fibers: These are fiber components in the plant that dissolve in water, turning into a gel-like substance. This gel lowers your dog’s bad cholesterol and blood sugars and feeds the good bacteria in their gut.
Here’s a rundown of the soluble fibers found in spinach:
- Nitrates: Spinach contains high levels of nitrates that promote heart health.
- Kaempferol: This decreases the risk of cancer and chronic diseases.
- Quercetin: This reduces the risk of infections and inflammation. Spinach is one of the richest sources of this soluble fiber.
- Chlorophyll: This gives spinach its rich green color. It also cleanses body cells, fights infections, and boosts the immune system.
- Zeaxanthrin and lutein: These protect the eyes against oxidation and sunlight damage. They also enhance your dog’s ability to see contrasts between light and dark.
Insoluble fiber: This is fiber that aids digestion. It doesn’t dissolve in water and isn’t digestible. Because it stays intact, it can help move waste through the digestive tract. It bulks up poop to prevent constipation and keeps your dog’s digestive system healthy. Fiber also aids in weight loss by keeping your dog full for longer.
Antioxidants: These little soldiers fight the free radicals that cause oxidation in your dog’s cells. Antioxidants reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, and prevent some cancers and cognitive effects of aging.
All these vitamins and minerals seem like positive health benefits, and they are. But the full picture is more complicated. Spinach also contains some things that could harm your dog – and that’s where the controversy comes in.
Let’s dive into that now.
Oxalates and your dog
Spinach contains a relatively high level of oxalates. Oxalates, or oxalic acid, are compounds found in plants that disrupt your dog’s normal metabolism.
When oxalate levels in your dog’s body are high, they can form calcium oxalate crystals. The crystals reduce calcium absorption and lower the overall levels of calcium in your dog’s body. This can be very harmful.
When oxalates build-up, they build up in the kidneys. The kidneys will excrete them, but too much can cause bladder stones or kidney damage. Left unchecked, kidney failure and even death can result. For this reason, dogs with kidney disease should never eat spinach.
Here are the signs of oxalate overload:
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Kidney stones
- Muscle weakness
- Respiratory paralysis
If your dog suffers from any of these symptoms, give them lots of water to flush the oxalates from their system and speak to your vet.
Some dog parents believe the risk of eating spinach is minimal, while others think the risk for dogs with health problems is too great. For that reason, if you’d like to offer spinach to your dog, talk to your vet first.
If you like the idea of offering your dog spinach but worry about the oxalates, consider feeding them another leafy vegetable like kale, arugula, lettuce, cabbage, collard greens, or swiss chard.
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.
Spinach also has high levels of sodium. 30 grams of spinach has 24 mg of sodium. This is another reason dogs with kidney disease should stay away from spinach.
Spinach grows low to the ground and collects all kinds of bugs. Farmers spray the fields with pesticides, which can be bad for your dog’s health. This is one reason why organic spinach is the healthiest choice for your pooch.
Fiber aids in digestion, adds bulk to stools to prevent constipation, and helps your dog lose weight, because it keeps them feeling full for longer. But too much can cause problems too.
Spinach stems are very fibrous. When eaten, they can upset your dog’s stomach. Your dog could also get very gassy from the high fiber since it’s not digested. To reduce this risk, cut the stems into bite-sized pieces and make sure not to offer them too much.
The kidneys of a puppy are still developing and therefore can’t eliminate calcium oxalates. This could damage their kidneys or cause them to develop kidney stones. Don’t offer any spinach to a puppy until the veterinarian confirms their kidneys can digest the vegetable.
Now for the fun stuff!
Whenever you’re offering your dog a new food, check with your vet first to make sure there are no health issues or interactions that could harm your dog.
You should also stick to the 90/10 rule for your dog’s daily diet and dog treats. 90% of your dog’s daily calories should come from their regular balanced dog food, while the remaining 10% can come from healthy treats. Give them a larger proportion of treats and you risk weight gain or obesity.
Spinach is okay to feed your dog in small amounts. The most common ways to serve it to your dog are:
- Raw spinach: This can be hard for your dog to digest. Cut it into bite-sized pieces so it won’t pose a choking hazard.
- Boiled spinach: Boiling spinach makes it softer and easier to digest, but you lose many of its nutrients.
- Steamed spinach: This is the best way to serve this leafy vegetable to your dog. It’s soft enough to prevent any choking hazards, and the nutrients are still present in the plant.
Anytime you want to offer your dog spinach from your salad or dinner, make sure it contains no extra ingredients. Onions, garlic, fats, and seasonings are toxic to your dog. (Onions and garlic are the most dangerous.) The compounds in these vegetables can cause damage to your dog’s blood cells and lead to severe anemia. You can read more about the risks of the allium family of root vegetables here.
Add a small amount of steamed spinach to your dog’s regular food. Most dogs will gobble it up. Just make sure the treat doesn’t include any additional ingredients.
There are many tasty recipes that include spinach on the internet. Here are a few I found that seem dog-worthy.
Grain-free Spinach and Carrot Dog Treats
Spinach, Apple & Carrot Treats
You can also make your pup a spinach smoothie on a hot summer day. Add some fresh baby spinach to plain Greek yogurt or peanut butter, along with healthy fruits like blueberries, bananas, apples, carrots, etc. Puree this mixture for a delicious and hydrating pup smoothie.
During the cold winter months, you can make your dog a nutritious soup out of green beans, sweet potatoes and unsalted chicken broth or unseasoned meat. Your dog will thank you and get some added hydration too!
Can Your Dog Eat Spinach?
Yes. Spinach is a superfood with a bounty of vitamins and minerals that can benefit a healthy dog and protect them from the effects of aging. But it’s not for dogs with kidney or heart disease because of its oxalates and high sodium.
Even though spinach is a controversial vegetable among dog parents, many agree its nutritional benefits outweigh the risks. It’s safe to offer your dog this vegetable in small amounts. Your best bet is to discuss it with your veterinarian to make sure it’s acceptable for your specific canine.