Quinoa is a gluten-free seed that offers an ideal alternative to grains—and also happens to be a nutrient powerhouse for humans. From protein to calcium, the edible seed is loaded with vitamins, essential amino acids, and minerals that support everything from improved digestion to a healthier coat.
But just because a food is healthy for humans doesn't always mean it's dog-friendly. The good news is that, when it comes to quinoa, it actually is safe to spoon some up for your pup—in fact, it's a common ingredient in some high-quality dog foods, since it's a healthier alternative to corn, wheat, or other starches that are often included in kibble.
The Benefits of Quinoa for Dogs
Quinoa is by far one of the healthiest seeds available for human consumption; it originated in South America and has been consumed for more than 4,000 years. Today it's become one of the most popular superfoods, and those nutritional benefits extend beyond humans—quinoa offers an array of health benefits for our dogs.
The list of nutrients packed into quinoa is seemingly endless, but they include complex carbohydrates and essential amino acids, fiber, Vitamin E, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, cooper, manganese, thiamin, magnesium, and potassium, among others. These nutrients have been associated with everything from boosting your dog's energy and sharpening their brain function to improving metabolism and regulating blood sugar, and when it comes to their looks, the vitamins in quinoa can help keep your dog's coat, teeth, and nails shiny and healthy. Quinoa makes an even better treat for active breeds, as its nutrients can aid in muscle building and repair while promoting strong, healthy bones.
Potential Health Concerns
There is a type of chemical called saponin that's naturally found on quinoa that could be harmful to dogs. The quinoa plant produces saponin in an attempt to protect itself from insects, and it's considered to be potentially irritating to the intestines for both humans and their canine counterparts. While it's not a huge concern since the amount of saponin that would typically be found on quinoa is more than likely not enough to lead to any health concerns, it's possible that a dog's digestive system is more sensitive to it—however, washing the quinoa thoroughly prior to cooking should remove any trace amounts of saponin.
Another consideration is that animals typically don’t have digestive systems that easily process plant-like food. Some dogs can't tolerate oxalates, an organic compound found in many plants, as they're often insoluble and can cause inflammation. That means you may want to be especially careful about offering quinoa to a pet who already suffers from arthritis. Although it's technically the seed of a plant, reactions from eating plants might include drooling, oral pain and swelling, poor appetite, or pawing at the mouth, so be sure to notify your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any of these symptoms after consuming quinoa (and, of course, stop offering it to your dog).
As far as sharing quinoa with your four-legged friend, be sure to make your dog their own batch without spices or other additives—it may not taste so great to you, but there's a good chance your dog will devour it. Most quinoa preparations call for ingredients like salt, onions, and garlic (most likely to mask its somewhat bitter taste), and all are potentially toxic to dogs. Also be sure you only offer cooked quinoa, as it's easier for dogs to digest.
How to Serve Quinoa to Your Dog
As with any "human" food, you'll want to check in with your veterinarian before offering quinoa to your dog. If your dog has never eaten the seed before, you'll want to start by only offering a small amount—it may be healthy for both humans and dogs alike, but that doesn't mean that every dog will be able to digest it. A teaspoon (or slightly more for larger breeds) is a good place to start. It can be mixed into their food, served directly on a spoon, or even baked into a homemade dog treat.
After feeding quinoa to your pet, be on the lookout for signs of stomach distress like vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea. If any of these symptoms occur, alert your veterinarian.
El Hazzam, Khadija et al. An Insight into Saponins from Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd): A Review. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 25,5 1059. 27 Feb. 2020, doi:10.3390/molecules25051059
Oxalates (Insoluble). Pet Poison Helpline