The humble Broccoli (or little trees as they’re known in our house) is one of the most nutrition-packed vegetables out there.
Excellent for humans and dogs (and in very small amounts cats too!), Broccoli is such an easy and readily available addition to your dog’s dinner bowl. In fact, I personally scrape it right off the kids dinner plates and into the dog’s bowl - win-win and no waste!
Here’s how to safely add it to your dog’s diet and some of the brilliant broccoli benefits (how’s that for a tongue twister!?):
Lean, Green Cancer-Fighting Machine
While dogs don’t actually need large amounts of fruits and vegetables to live healthy lives, certain ones do make suitable treats on occasion and can even provide health benefits.
Broccoli is full of nutrients that make it a great choice for your dog. It is safe for dogs to eat, raw or cooked, as long as no seasonings (like onions or garlic) are added. Lightly blanched is preferable to help it move through the shorter intestinal tract with ease. We add broccoli to our raw dog food meals.
Prevents oxidative stress, cancer and other chronic diseases
Oxidative stress happens when there’s a buildup of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules and a by-product of metabolism. They are also created by external factors like pollution. Oxidative stress is one of the major causes of cancer and chronic diseases.
Antioxidants stabilise these molecules to protect your dog’s cells. If your dog doesn’t have enough antioxidants, the free radicals will run rampant and may damage DNA, proteins and cell membranes. This can lead to:
- Premature aging
- Heart disease
- Brain disorders
- Other chronic diseases
Broccoli can help prevent oxidative stress because it is a powerful antioxidant. It contains two important compounds, Vitamin C and Sulforaphane.
- It is an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals. It’s also an excellent tool for strengthening the immune system. Dogs produce their own vitamin C but sometimes they need a boost especially if they’re sick, stressed or in their senior years.
- 0.15 kilograms of Broccoli contains more vitamin C than 1.13 kgs of oranges
- It is an indirect antioxidant. It doesn’t bind directly to free radicals like vitamin C. Instead, it activates important systems in your dog’s body that produce antioxidants.
- Sulforaphane is also one of the few nutrients that can cross the blood-brain barrier. This means it can increase antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the brain.
Balance The Microbiome
Your dog’s digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria, good and bad. This community of bacteria, along with other microorganisms is your dog’s microbiome.
You can help keep your dog’s microbiome balanced by taking care of the microorganisms that live there. One way to do this is with prebiotics.
Prebiotics are indigestible soluble fibers that travel to the colon intact where your dog’s bacteria will digest it. Bacteria then produce compounds that are an important part of your dog’s immune system. This includes short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that do the following:
- Slow the growth of harmful bacteria
- Provide energy to colon cells
- Maintain fluid and electrolyte balance
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce food allergies
- Support nutrient absorption
- Reduce inflammation
Broccoli has a high fiber content which makes it a great prebiotic choice.. If your dog eats broccoli regularly it may help feed his microbiome and keep your dog happy and healthy.
Helps Manage Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is a growing problem among dogs. All that separates your dog’s gut from the rest of his body is a single layer of cells. These cells link tightly together like the teeth of a zipper. It acts as a barrier. This barrier lets nutrients your dog needs to survive pass through. It also stops undigested food and harmful microorganisms from leaving the gut.
The problem is that sometimes the gut becomes irritated. When this happens, the junctions between the cells get bigger. Allergens, toxins, bacteria and yeast leak out of your dog’s gut and into his blood.
And a leaky gut can lead to chronic inflammation and disease throughout your dog’s entire body.
To prevent leaky gut in your dog, your main goals should be to reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy gut lining. If your dog eats broccoli, it can help achieve both of these goals.
Earlier I mentioned that broccoli contains anti-inflammatory compounds like vitamin C and sulforaphane. These can help reduce inflammation throughout your dog’s body, including in the gut. The less inflamed your dog’s gut is, the tighter the junctions between the cells are.
The same goes for the short-chain fatty acids that broccoli fibre helps produce. They may also reduce inflammation. Broccoli may improve the ratio of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes bacteria (essential for a healthy gut microbiome).
Your dog’s gut contains Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes bacteria. The problem is that Firmicutes can increase inflammation. They also reduce the proteins that help keep the cells of the gut close together. Improving the Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes ratio may help reduce inflammation and leaky gut.
To further protect your dog from leaky gut, broccoli can help enhance the gut lining. One way it may do this is by helping produce short-chain fatty acids that work more directly with the gut lining.
Helps support healthy liver function
Your dog is constantly exposed to chemicals, toxins and environmental aggressors.
Whilst complete avoidance is never achievable, you can take steps to protect your dog from many of them and certainly use whole foods to protect against the potential side effects.
Many toxins are fat soluble, which means they get stored in your dog’s fat cells. Over time they’ll accumulate in your dog’s body. This leads to constant low-grade exposure and eventually inflammation and chronic illness.
Luckily, your dog came with a built-in filtration system - his liver. It breaks down these toxins and pushes them out the gallbladder and kidney.
Studies show that sulforaphane in Broccoli increases the detox of airborne carcinogens by up to 61%.
Improves Eye Health
Broccoli has important carotenoids that help with eyesight. Carotenoids are plant pigments. They’re responsible for the red, yellow and orange colours in plants and other living things. Like vitamin C and sulforaphane, they are also rich antioxidants.
The three main carotenoids in broccoli are beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamin A is an important part of eye health. If your dog is deficient in vitamin A, it can cause many problems including blindness. Vitamin A is also responsible for the formation of light absorbing molecules (called visual pigments) that help with vision, protection of the cells lining your dog’s eyes and beta-carotene conversion to vitamin A in your dog’s body.
Caution: Dogs can also experience vitamin A toxicity so it’s important to check the ingredients of all the premade food and treats you’re feeding as many of these diets add Vitamin A.
Anxiety And Depression
If your dog seems more stressed out than usual, it may be linked to nutritional deficiencies. There’s a growing body of research to link poor gut health from nutritional deficiencies in highly processed diets to aggression, anxiety and behavioural issues. These hormones use up Broccoli is an excellent source of essential nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins.
Inflammation is also one of the causes of depression and anxiety in dogs. Sulforaphane in broccoli reduces inflammation and may help manage behavioral changes.
Reduces Risk Of Zinc Deficiency
Your dog needs certain nutrients to be able to live a healthy life, and low zinc levels has been linked to:
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal upsets
- Skin sensitivity
- Poor Eye Health
Broccoli is a good source of zinc, so regular feeding will ensure zinc levels are kept nice and high
How to Feed Broccoli to Your Dog
As with most new foods, try a small amount first, then if there’s no adverse reaction, included as often as you wish. Blanched, lightly steamed or finely chopped raw is the best way to feed. Vegetable matter is best kept to under 30% of their daily intake but it’s not an exact science so if your dog loves broccoli (and there’s a glut of leftovers from the small human fusspots), go ahead and feed as much as they’ll eat, and ease off on veggies the next day.