Who doesn't love potatoes? Whether they're fried, mashed, or scalloped, both humans and their canine companions love them. But while this starchy staple is considered to be one of the best comfort foods, it's healthier counterpart--the sweet potato--actually packs more of a nutritional punch.
But can dogs safely eat sweet potatoes? And can they provide our pets with the same health benefits as they do for humans?
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Though your dog's body will function best when eating a diet that consists primarily of animal protein, carbohydrates are still often used in moderation. Sweet potatoes contain an array of beneficial vitamins and minerals and, as a result, they're becoming an increasingly common ingredient in many homemade and commercially-available dog treats and food.
They’re particularly rich in vitamin A, B6, and C, as well as several other nutrients including magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.
This sweet orange starch can be offered occasionally as a treat and may even provide your pet with some health benefits.
Vitamin C can promote the function of white blood cells and even boost a dog’s immune system, while potassium can improve a dog’s blood vessel function, strengthen muscle development, and replace lost electrolytes.
Sweet potatoes have also been associated with improved vision and even cancer-fighting antioxidants, and they have natural anti-inflammatory properties--which means they can be great for dogs with food allergies.
Sweet potatoes may also be able to help with lowering blood pressure and, being an excellent source of dietary fiber, improved digestion.
Potential Health Concerns
However, that definitely isn't to say that Fido should be snacking on sweet potatoes every day. At the end of the day, they are a carbohydrate that, if fed too much, can lead to health-related problems ranging from pancreatitis to diabetes.
You'll want to avoid offering any kind of potatoes to dogs with pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, since potatoes can cause spikes in blood sugar and lead to weight gain.
According to experts, while white and sweet potatoes aren’t toxic for our dogs, they may not always be the best choice as a regular part of their diet. Research being conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that foods that contain peas, legumes, lentils, and potatoes could increase the risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
This condition of the heart muscle causes reduced heart pumping function as well as an increased heart size, which can result in congestive heart failure or even sudden cardiac death.
Though it's generally considered to be a genetic disease, diets high in carb-rich foods like potatoes could play a role, particularly in breeds that wouldn't typically be affected.
How to Feed Sweet Potatoes to Your Dog
Your dog will most likely gobble up sweet potatoes no matter how they're prepared, but you'll want to keep a few key considerations in mind. The potatoes should be either baked or boiled without any additional seasonings, including butter, oil, or salt, as they can cause health issues in dogs.
Of course, you can also bake them into your own homemade dog treats or slather a bit of potato inside a Kong or other puzzle toy.
Both dogs and humans have a digestive system that will break down a potato and store it as fat unless the calories are burned off right away, so you may want to take your dog for an extra-long walk or have a romp in the backyard on a day they've snacked on sweet potatoes.
Always Avoid Raw Sweet Potatoes
Raw sweet potatoes should always be avoided. Along with tomatoes, potatoes are considered to be part of the nightshade family of vegetables. They contain a compound called solanine, which can prove to be toxic to certain dogs. Cooking a potato will help significantly decrease the levels of solanine.
Some symptoms of solanine poisoning (which can occur if your dog accidentally consumes considerable quantities of sweet potato skins, stems, or leaves) are upset stomach, blurred vision, and a decreased heart rate--all of which require immediate veterinary attention.
Potato skins, stems, and leaves are all off-limits, especially when considering that they can lead to intestinal blockages or choking since dogs might not be able to properly digest them.
Always Feed Sweet Potatoes in Moderation
Of course, every dog will tolerate individual food types differently, so you'll want to be sure to offer only small amounts of sweet potato at first so you can monitor your dog for any reactions such as symptoms of stomach distress.
It's also a good idea to consult your veterinarian before introducing new foods into your dog's diet, especially if they have known gastrointestinal issues or allergies. Encouragingly, however, sweet potatoes have actually been known to help each digestive issues in puppies and reduce loose stools.