When you eat something, and if it looks like you are enjoying it, it is not unusual to see Robbie look at you with great interest and some optimism. Maybe a treat will come his way.
If you are having a meat dish, then there is no question on your mind. But if it is a vegetable, and an okra at that, you may be wondering whether you can share it with your loyal friend. More importantly, will he actually like it and will it be safe?
The image people carry of a dog in their minds is that this canine, a descendant of the wolf family, is a carnivore. Therefore, many feed their dogs only with meat.
However, having been domesticated from wolves at least 33,000 years ago, dogs became dependent on human food scraps. This caused them to adopt a more varied diet as they adapted behaviorally and physiologically to the changing circumstances. The adaptation process introduced them to plant-based foods and dogs have learned to thrive on such a diet as part of the evolutionary process.
Unlike their carnivorous wolf ancestors that can only survive on meat or partially digested vegetarian matter absorbed from their prey, dogs evolved to become omnivorous and can metabolize carbohydrates to subsist on a diet lower in protein. This has been facilitated by biochemical adaptations to increase the gene expression for pancreatic amylase. This converts maltose to glucose and increases the intestine’s capacity to absorb glucose.
So when you give them plant-based dishes or vegetables like okra, they will be able to digest it. They may even enjoy it and ask for more!
Okra and Its Benefits
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is an important vegetable and quite a favorite too. It can be had in so many tasty ways!
It is cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical climates and is a highly nutritious vegetable. Not just the vegetable, but even its leaves, buds, flowers, pods, stems and seeds are useful. Okra, popularly called as lady’s finger, can be consumed in many ways including stews, fresh or dried, fried or boiled, soups and salads.
It is considered the “perfect villager’s vegetable” since it is high on dietary fiber and has an ideal seed protein balance of lysine and tryptophan amino acids. A part of its fiber is soluble and known to lower serum cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart diseases. The insoluble part keeps the intestinal tract healthy.
Okra is also a rich source of different types of carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, phenolic compounds, high in antioxidants activity and so on.
Another study shows that okra has long been popular with the health conscious because it contains potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, folic acid and calcium. In recent times, studies have shown it to be great for managing blood sugar in cases of type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
In addition, the okra is said to have purgative properties while its mucilage can flush out toxins from your body.
Some of the other health benefits of okra are that it cures ulcers and inflammation, promotes healthy skin and is also seen to have a positive effect on people suffering from depression and weakness.
So overall, okra is a superfood and definitely healthy for the human body.
Is Okra Okay for Your Companion Animal?
Having established the omnivorous nature of dogs as well as the benefits of okra, our answer to your question, ‘Can dogs eat okra?’ would be, yes, of course. You can give your dog okra. His body will be able to process the protein and the other nutrients okra has to provide.
If he rejects it, it is more to do with his personal aversion rather than any ominous reasons. If he has never had it before, he may simply ignore it, for dogs are known to take time to take to new foods.
He may also not like the mucilage that makes it gooey. How you serve it will make a difference.
We recommend moderation in serving your loyal friend this healthy vegetable and also preparing it appropriately. Their main source of nutrition is meat and it is only in recent times that the question of feeding them vegetables has risen.
It is a reflection of the ethical concerns the dog parents have about how the meat industry functions. They are themselves moving away from a meat-based diet and also transferring that choice to their pets. So even the idea that vegetables can form part of the dog diet is a recent development.
If you want to include okra in your pet’s diet, here are some of our recommendations are:
- Serve in small quantities. Though canines can digest veggies, they are still primarily meat eaters and their system needs getting used to a plant-based diet.
- Do not serve pickled or fried okra as they are not safe for dogs to consume.
- Steaming or cooking on low heat is said to be the best way to protect okra’s nutritional value while cooking.
If you are still giving dog food to your loyal companion, you may treat her to a bite or two of okra but don’t try to make it a replacement. Don’t get him too hooked to it by making it a treat either, like giving a tasty, fried one.
Related: Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds?
What Can Go Wrong?
A bloated stomach, gas, diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress are some of the common signs of increased vegetable matter in dog diets.
Second, use of too much salt, butter or fatty flavor enhancers is harmful for your pet.
Third, fried okra can cause obesity and heart issues in your loyal friend.
Lastly, when introducing okra, don’t overdo it. Give some and then wait to make sure there are no allergy reactions. And the worst part is, sometimes allergies manifest later in life. So even if there is no evident reaction right away, recurring skin problems and gastrointestinal issues later could have been triggered by some okra indulgence in earlier years.
Okra does have nutrients that your pet can benefit from and it is not harmful. All we are cautioning you against is going overboard. Remember, dog food is already well balanced and ideal for your loved one. You don’t need anything additional. Okra is not part of dogs’ natural diet. So don’t go beyond a few cubes.
Is a Wholly Vegetarian Diet Okay?
If, as a vegan or vegetarian, you believe in giving your pet only vegetarian food, then okra can be a good ingredient to add to their meal. But, okra alone will not be enough to meet all the nutritional needs of your pet in such a case and can only be a part of the larger meal plan.
Here, it is interesting to note that studies reveal the importance of nutrients rather than ingredients when it comes to feeding your dog. According to one study, theoretically diets made solely of plants, minerals, and synthetically-based ingredients should be able to meet the necessary palatability, bioavailability and nutritional requirements of dogs. This is, after all, what commercially available dog foods try to do.
What about Raw Okra?
The jury is out on this. There are some who advocate that raw okra is perfectly safe for dogs just like it is for humans. But some believe that there are major risks in feeding raw foods to pets. The risk of infectious diseases, especially bacterial and parasitic, is very high as well as the potential for imbalance in nutrients.
The canines are omnivores because of their long association with humans. They thrive on scraps and treats and have a slightly more varied diet than cats.
Okra is a rich source of several important nutrients and can help in promoting overall health not only of humans but the canines too. So, it is fine to feed your dog okra.
But here it is important to keep certain things in mind. One is that it should preferably be cooked, either steamed or in low heat. It should not be deep fried, definitely, spiced up or pickled. Preferably, do not give it raw. Give in small quantities and wait to check for allergies and any other reaction like gastrointestinal distress.
If you are introducing it for the first time, you may find your pet ignoring it. The dog may not like the mucilage. You can mix it with their dish so that the taste is camouflaged.
If you have changed your pet’s diet to vegetarian or vegan, make sure you give more than just okra. They need a balanced diet and the right quantity of essential nutrients. Though okra is a rich source, that alone cannot meet all the nutritional needs of the dog and so look up good diets for dogs and include okra for maximum benefit.
For dogs still on a meat diet, the okra may add little value. Of course, it will not cause any harm if you serve it right after cooking it appropriately, but in terms of nutrition, it may not make a big difference. Dogs do not naturally seek vegetarian food and so, if you are giving dog food, you can give okra a miss.