It seems that potatoes are one of those foods that just about everyone loves, whether they’re mashed or scalloped, in the form of French fries or tater tots, or shredded and fried as hash browns. This starchy staple seems to be the ultimate comfort food, and better yet, when they’re prepared in a healthy way they can actually be a great source of nutrition for humans—after all, potatoes are technically a vegetable. But is it safe (or healthy) to share potatoes with our pooch?
Can Dogs Eat Potatoes?
While potatoes are rich in vitamins including C and B6 as well as minerals and nutrients like iron and magnesium, when they aren’t preparedly in a pet-friendly way—or if you allow your dog to over-indulge—they can actually cause adverse effects to their health.
A dog’s body was designed to function best when consuming animal protein, so starches like potatoes should only ever be offered occasionally and in moderation; consuming too many carbohydrates can lead to obesity as well as other health-related problems and diseases like pancreatitis and diabetes.
Can Potatoes Be Dangerous for Dogs?
Experts seem to agree that while potatoes aren’t toxic for your pooch, they may not be the best choice for their diets. Recent research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that the risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) increases in dogs who eat foods that contain peas, lentils, or other legume seeds, as well as potatoes, as primary ingredients.
A disease of the heart muscle, DCM causes reduced heart pumping function and an increased heart size—and, sadly, these changes to a dog’s heart function and structure can result in severe consequences, including congestive heart failure or sudden cardiac death. The most common cause of DCM is genetic, however it’s now believed that these other factors can result in the condition, particularly in breeds that aren’t typically affected.
How Should Potatoes Be Prepared for Dogs?
It’s important that if you’re going to offer your dog potatoes as an occasional treat, that they are never eaten raw, and your pet should never be allowed to eat potato skins, stems, or leaves. Potatoes are included as part of the nightshade family of vegetables (as are tomatoes) because they contain a compound called solanine, which can be toxic to some dogs. When a potato is fully cooked, the levels of solanine are reduced. If your dog accidentally ingests potato skins, stems, or leaves, among the side effects of solanine poisoning are blurred vision, stomach upset, and a slowed heart rate, and they will require immediate veterinary attention.
When offering potatoes to your four-legged friend, you’ll want to stick to simple preparations such as baked or boiled. Be sure not to add anything to the potatoes, such as salt, butter, or other seasonings, as these can be dangerous for dogs. Just like French fries and potato chips aren’t the healthiest foods for humans, they also aren’t the best food choices for our dogs; the digestive system will break down a potato down and store it as fat unless the dog burns off calories right away, and that's true for both humans and canines alike.
Can Dogs Eat Sweet Potatoes?
And what about sweet potatoes? Since these potatoes are a much more nutritious and healthier option, sweet potatoes are the best choice for our pets (in fact, they're often baked into many homemade and commercially-available dog treats). They’re rich in vitamin A, C, and B6, as well as many other nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron, so not only can they make a tasty treat but they can boost your pet’s health. Potassium, for example, can improve a dog’s blood vessel function, replace lost electrolytes, and strengthen their muscle development, while Vitamin C promotes the function of white blood cells and can boost a dog’s immune system.
Sweet potatoes are also believed to be very good for both a human and a dog’s heart health, and they can lower blood pressure, improve the digestive tract, and aid in weight management. However, since every dog will tolerate “people” food differently, just be sure to offer small amounts first to monitor your dog for any reactions, such as tummy troubles, and always consult your veterinarian before introducing any new food into your pup’s diet.
Finally, potatoes in general should always be avoided for certain dogs who already have health conditions such as diabetes, since potatoes can cause spikes in their blood sugar. You’ll also want to limit Fido’s access to potatoes (and other high-carb foods) if he’s already overweight.