Q. Can I feed fermented food to my dog?
A. Fermented food has become very popular lately. Humans have been fermenting foods for centuries. This was mostly done to prolong the “shelf life” of the food, but it also brought some other benefits.
Fermentation is the process of brining vegetables at room temperature which allows bacteria and yeast to break down starches and sugars into alcohol and acid. Over time the sugars in the vegetables are broken down to lactic acid resulting in making the carbohydrates easier to digest for the dog. The predigestion of the vegetables by fermentation is an efficient way to supplement your dog’s diet with extra enzymes and vitamins, plus it is a good source of food source probiotics.
Dogs’ digestive tracts are shorter than humans. They have evolved as carnivores and eating meat is a more efficient way to get the nutrients they need to be healthy. Vegetables are difficult for dogs to digest. To get the benefit of eating plant material, vegetables need to be broken down by cooking or grinding before feeding them to Fido. Fermenting veggies does this for you.
Fermented vegetables last a long time in the refrigerator allowing you to add a small amount a few times a week to your pup’s meal. Like meat, vegetables, fermented or not, should be rotated to have the most benefit for your best friend. Just one half to 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight is all that is needed. It is a good idea to alternate between fresh and fermented vegetables.
There are pros and cons to feeding fermented food to your best friend. On the pro side fermented foods are a simple way to promote healthy bacteria and replace harmful bacteria. If you feed processed food or your dog does not get enough exercise, Fido can develop digestive issues. Adding fermented foods to the diet may help. Besides a healthier gut flora, fermented veggies break down nutrients, increase prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in the gut, prevents diabetes, and are a good source of antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients. Minerals, vitamins, and enzymes are more bioavailable. Feeding these foods can create a more robust immune system and a boost to natural melatonin, which regulates Fido’s sleep cycle and may reduce anxiety.
The downside of feeding fermented vegetables is that it can cause more harm than good to a dog fighting gut issues, infections, or yeast. If your dog has an overgrowth of yeast in his gut, fermented veggie’s prebiotics will feed the yeast potentiating the problem.
Fermented vegetables should only be fed to healthy dogs and in small amounts. During the fermentation process, proteins are broken down and produce histamines. When your dog has an allergic reaction, histamines are released from cells called mast cells. These histamines cause inflammation allowing more blood flow so immune cells can react. You can see the change by skin rashes or a change in your dog’s breathing. If your dog has a histamine intolerance, you may see nausea, diarrhea, farting, inflammation, skin rashes, itching, and lethargy. More severe symptoms can be irregular heart rate, anxiety, aggressiveness, dizziness, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
There are many pluses to feeding fermented veggies to your best friend. Like many good things, there can be too much. Remember to feed fermented vegetables to healthy dogs in small amounts a few times a week not every day. Avoid products with onions and a lot of garlic. If you see any of the symptoms mentioned above, stop immediately. If those symptoms persist, see your veterinarian.
Judith K. Herman, DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center