Are Lentils Bad For Dogs?
The simple answer to can dogs eat lentils is – Yes, they can, but the real question should be – “Why would I choose to feed lentils to my dog?” Lentils come with both benefits and adverse effects for dogs, and the key to finding the right answer for your pet is to ask the right questions.
This hot topic could be a recipe for disaster if not handled with tact because it can stir up a lot of opinions and leave a few people with a bad taste in their mouths.
What Are Lentils?
Lentils are part of the legume family, which also includes beans and peas. The lentil plant produces seeds in pods that are lens-shaped. Lentils are readily available at most supermarkets, especially health shops because they are regularly used in eastern dishes, soups, dips, and a high protein source for plant-based diets.
Lentils are never eaten fresh; typically, they are sold dried in packs and need to be soaked or cooked before being eaten. There are several different types of lentils and their color classes them. Red, green, black, yellow, and brown lentils are most often used in cooking, and each type has a specific characteristic that lends itself to the type of dish being made.
The type of lentils used is essential as each variety has its own cooking time and consistency. Be sure to check the type of lentil you are using because they contain lectins which are broken down through cooking.
Lentils And Their Nutritional Content
One of the keys to good nutrition is moderation, and another is balance. Lentils contain a high amount of fiber and protein. They also have several critical micronutrients like Vitamin C and several B vitamins.
Other important minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and zinc also feature in this versatile little legume’s repertoire.
Lentils take longer to digest due to their high fiber content and complex carbohydrates, which offer a more steady, slow-burning energy to the body.
Associated Health Benefits For Dogs Who Eat Lentils
Research in canine nutrition is regularly misconstrued and lumped together with human nutritional data. Often owners look at health benefits listed and assume that they apply to their own pet but always bear in mind – individual variation.
Each animal will have a varying degree of benefits depending on its underlying conditions, general health, and the gut microbiome.
Lentils have been seen to have the following benefits for dogs:
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Reduced risks of heart disease and reduction in blood pressure
- Weight loss
With low starch and high fiber content, lentils are beneficial in diets that require dogs to feel satiated (fuller for longer), which applies to dogs trying to lose weight or dogs with lousy satiety centers (always appear hungry), like labradors.
Diabetic dogs also benefit from lentils due to the low-calorie and high-fiber content, which aid in keeping dogs satiated for more extended periods and avoid glucose (blood sugar) levels from rising too steeply after a meal.
Lentils are also a great alternative protein source for dogs with hypersensitivities or food-related allergies. In addition, high-quality prescription dog foods can sometimes contain alternative protein sources like lentils as a supplement for potential protein allergens.
Selenium is an essential mineral and antioxidant that is not found in many other foods. Some selenium functions reportedly observed include reduced tumor growth, inflammation prevention as well as immune response support.
Lectins in Lentils For Dogs
Lentils contain a group of proteins called lectins. Lectins are not digestible in the canine gut, so it is essential to boil lentils as they break down the lectins. Lectins are also found in a host of other foods like other legumes, potatoes, tomatoes, and seafood.
Lectins can be harmful to dogs if they have not been broken down by heat processes such as cooking. If dogs are fed raw legumes, like red kidney beans, they can be pretty toxic.
A dog’s gut flora – also known as bacteria or microbiome, can break down the lectin’s molecules, but this reaction produces a lot of gas. So it is crucial that if a dog is being fed lentils, owners should add probiotics to support digestion if their dog’s gut health is compromised or very gassy.
The unimpeded movement of foreign molecules like lectin can result in an immune overreaction that may result in the following symptoms:
- Gut lining inflammation
- Gastroenteritis signs like vomiting or diarrhea
- Joint pain
As soon as lectins are broken down and excreted from the body, they no longer affect. However, if adverse reactions are noted, it is essential to stop feeding your pet lentils, find an alternative protein source, and possibly avoid legumes.
What do Vets Say About Plant-Based Proteins For Dogs?
Veterinarians receive training in basic nutrition as well as medicine during their studies. This means that vets understand the vital link between good nutrition and good health.
Good quality proteins are the body’s building blocks and provide essential amino acids that the body needs to maintain its physiological balance. When you compromise on the quality or the quantity of the protein, it can lead to deficiencies, decreased energy levels, muscle loss, and poor body condition.
The key difference between animal and plant-based proteins lies within the amino acid composition. Animal-based proteins are referred to as complete proteins as they contain the correct ratio and design of amino acids that a dog requires to perform critical physiological functions.
Plant-based proteins also contain a large variety of amino acids. Still, they do not include the complete set of amino acids required by most dogs to perform said physiological functions. So it is essential to consult with an animal nutritionist or vet when considering plant-based proteins because they should be fed in combination with a complete protein as well.
Reputable dog food companies spend significant sums of money on researching the best combination of plant and animal proteins, and they also employ the best nutritionists to formulate balanced rations. Therefore, many vets may prefer to recommend reputable dog food brands as these companies have invested in the science of nutrition in the consumer’s best interest.
Less reputable companies may use plant-based proteins such as lentils to “fill out” a ration because it is a cheaper protein source than animal-based proteins. The quantity and quality of the protein is a very important element to consider when examining a prospective dog food for your pet.
If home cooking or raw feeding is being considered, always consult a veterinary nutritionist to help formulate a balanced ratio. It is also imperative to be informed of the associated responsibilities, risks, and consequences of unbalanced diets and health complications often affiliated with home cooking and raw diets.
Legumes and DCM in Dogs
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a cardiac condition that results in the widening of the cardiac chambers due to dysfunctioning heart muscle fibers, this “widening” in turn results in the heart’s inability to adequately pump blood out of the heart. This then sets off a chain of events that inevitably lead to congestive heart failure.
The exact cause that leads to the development of DCM in dogs is not known yet. Still, certain factors such as genetics, breed predisposition, and possibly nutritional links are being investigated. Breeds commonly affected include Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Great Danes, Dobermans, and Labradors.
Dogs will sometimes show early symptoms of cardiac disease, so it is vital that any large breed dog goes in for regular checkups at the vet as they can start early treatment to slow down the progression of the disease. The golden standard to diagnose DCM is through a heart scan known as an echocardiogram and basic blood test, and possibly thoracic x-rays.
Early symptoms of DCM include:
- Exercise intolerance – lying down during play or turning around on a walk
- Difficulty breathing or panting excessively
- Coughing, especially at night if they are lying on their chest (sternum)
- Distended belly
- Weight Loss
- Fainting episodes if stressed or suddenly falling down when getting up from the floor
Suppose DCM is detected early, and it is due to a possible taurine or thyroid hormone deficiency. In that case, the disease’s effect on the heart muscles can be reversed with appropriate treatment and nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, only symptomatic treatment can be provided if it is at the chronic heart failure (CHF) stage.
The prognosis for dogs diagnosed with DCM is relatively guarded if not detected early as the signs of CHF are usually end stages of the disease. Still, dogs love to surprise us with their resilience, and each animal is different.
Owner compliance with regards to medication administration and follow-up consultations are imperative in slowing down the progression of CHF symptoms.
The current link between DCM and nutrition is suspected to be due to amino acid deficiencies of Taurine and Carnitine. The condition in cats has become even scarcer due to the addition of taurine into almost all commercial cat foods.
The nutritional composition of certain dog foods has also come into question as the FDA has investigated the possible link between grain-free diets or home-cooked/raw rations and DCM. Due to a number of cases of DCM that were reported to the FDA that also had grain-free diets or diets with high concentrations of peas or lentils.
In this investigation, correlation is not causation – meaning that just because several animals had correlating diets, it could be a coincidence and not necessarily the cause. However, statistics is all about unbiased numbers, and if the sample group is skewed – the statistical interpretation will be too.
Speculation is not science, so the FDA is simply announcing that there is an investigation underway. They are only “alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals” about the reports they have received.
Some people have speculated that large pet food industry leaders have tried to use the investigation as a means to criticize boutique dog food companies, home cooking, or raw diets. Regardless of speculations, what dog owners choose to feed their pets is a very personal decision, but it is also an owner’s responsibility to be informed about good quality nutrition.
Canine Digestion And Lentils
Dogs are all exposed to different elements in their environments, and therefore each animal will have its own individual colony of microflora in its digestive tract. Some dogs, like many humans, may also have more sensitive digestive tracts due to genetics or their individual physical constitution. This means that feeding lentils may have different effects for different dogs.
Lentils have low digestibility, which means they take particularly long to digest.
When considering adding lentils to your pet’s diet, always introduce a small portion slowly. This will help the gut to adapt itself and its flora to the newly introduced protein. A small portion of a novel protein will also result in a smaller adverse effect should your dog show intolerance or allergy to lentils.
The high fiber content of lentils leads to prolonged digestion time. It may also lead to the production of gases when broken down, so you can expect to hear some borborygmi (the sounds of gas or fluid moving through the guts during peristalsis) and higher incidences of gases flatulence.
Possible Side Effects to Feeding Your Dog Lentils
Just as with any new food, there may be some side effects if not slowly introduced with moderation or if your pet has an underlying hypersensitivity to a component of lentils.
Possible side effects can include:
- Increased gut sounds
- Loose stools or constipation (if fed excessive amounts)
If the following serious side effects occur, your dog may be allergic, and it is essential to stop feeding lentils immediately:
- Swollen lips, Inflamed gums, or pawing at the face and lips
- Swelling of the abdomen or painful cramps
- Bloody stools
- Severe vomiting
Also, remember to purchase raw lentils without any additives, as commercially prepared lentils can contain high amounts of sodium and other additives that may be toxic to dogs. In addition, certain dehydrated powders that are found in instant lentil soups can contain garlic or onions, which could cause life-threatening anemia.
Properly Preparing Lentils For Dogs
When serving lentils in your dog’s food, preparing them correctly is extremely important. Due to the high concentration of lectins in raw lentils, they need to be served safely for them to be boiled.
It is important to note that each type of lentil has a specific boiling time to reach its optimal consistency and get rid of the lectins. Each varietal also differs in consistency depending on what kind of meal you want to serve.
The most common lentils and have a creamy texture which is excellent for purée.
It breaks down easily when cooked and is excellent in broths or sauces as they have a slightly sweeter taste.
Green and black lentils
Relatively firm texture and good as a food topper.
Try to avoid putting any salt, soup powders, or stocks into the lentil mixture when cooking because it can have severe adverse effects.
Serving Ideas For Canine Lentil Cuisine
When it comes down to feeding dogs lentils, you can cook up a storm and serve them in a variety of different ways as long as they are:
- Purchased raw and without additives.
- Prepared correctly.
- Introduced slowly and fed in moderation.
- Gastrointestinal health is closely monitored by checking stools, occurrence or frequency of vomiting, flatulence, cramping, or signs of food intolerance.
- Stop feeding lentils if they disagree with your dog’s constitution.
Here is an excellent adapted recipe for homemade dog treats:
- 1 cup of brown lentils
- 1/4 cup peanut butter unsalted and unsweetened
- 1/2 very ripe mashed banana
- 1 whisked egg
- 1 Mixing bowl
- 1 baking pan
- Boil the lentils in water for 30 minutes–drain them.
- Add cooked lentils to a food processor, blender, or use a fork and mash well. Combine mashed lentils with peanut butter, banana, and whisked egg. Mix together until smooth consistency and well combined.
- Cover the mixing bowl with a dishcloth and place it into the fridge for one hour until cooled and slightly thickened. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 160 degrees Celsius. Use a tablespoon to spoon the mixture onto baking paper or a greased pan.
- Makes approximately 15-20 medium biscuits. Bake for 15 mins, then briefly remove from the oven and apply a fork to flatten the biscuit and add some character. Place back into the oven for 10 mins and then flip over to finish baking the other side for another 15 mins. The total baking time is 30 to 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before serving to your pet – also ensure they are stored in an airtight container.
- These biscuits can even be frozen after being baked – thaw them out and serve them to your pets for a quick and easy treat.