Ever noticed your dog takes a regular feast of grass or other little sprouting plants when out and about? There may be many reasons why our dogs may do this, but I think one must almost certainly include nutrition.
Some years back I had some whole spelt seeds leftover from some cooking venture I had been on and I threw them into a herbal pot plant I had on the balcony which was near dying off. I’d completely forgotten about then until a couple of weeks later I noticed my dog Daisy at the time regularly trotting out to that pot plan and taking a nibble on some fresh green shoots that had sprung from those seeds. Little did I realise I had just given my dogs their first serve of spouts!
Sprouts are an excellent way to give your dog a nutritional super hit regardless of what you are feeding him as his base meal. In fact, the more processed the food you feed to your dog, the more I recommend adding a few sprouts to his diet.
So what are sprouts?
Sprouting is essentially preparing a plant seed to the point where it can germinate and start the process of plant growth. You can feed your dog whole seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin, crushed up for a good dose of vitamin, minerals and essential fats, but sprouting seeds can release and intensify important phytonutrients that would otherwise stay locked within those little parcels.
Sprouts have been used for centuries by civilisations to boost their nutrition. According to Sally Fallon (2001) in one of my favourite books “Nourishing Traditions”, the Chinese served sprouted beans to seafarers to stave off scurvy on long sea voyages, due to the Vitamin C it produced. Sprouted and ground wheats have also been a very regular staple in Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. It is speculated that sprouted grains were probably the norm for most people prior to modern farming techniques, and may explain why there were fewer health issues that we see today with heavily processed, ungerminated grains used as a staple in many foods (including processed kibble!).
Why is soaking the seed necessary?
Most seeds, including grains, have enzyme inhibitors which allow them to stay dormant until conditions are right for them to sprout. They also contain a compound called phytic acid in their bran, the main storage form of phosphorus for the plant. When it binds with other minerals (referred to a phytate), it prevents the absorption of calcium and other important minerals including magnesium, iron and zinc.
These defences are nature’s way of giving the plant a fighting chance to survive through any animal’s digestive tract, rendering them indigestible. It is likely that the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors contribute to gut irritation in animals, including humans and dogs alike, as they can affect our digestive enzymes. I suspect that many people who think they are gluten intolerant (seems like many these days) may actually just be experiencing a reaction to the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.
Kicking off the process of germination changes that seed’s composition to a digestible and highly nutritious package of goodness. Soaking neutralises those enzyme inhibitors, and results in the production of a range of enzymes and probiotics that help break down the phytic acid. Different seeds require different soaking times. I’ve included a guide for recommended soaking times in my recipe for sprouting your own seeds.
What are the benefits of sprouts?
Sprouting not only produces Vitamin C from the seed, but can drastically intensify other important nutrients including vitamin A, several B vitamins, E and carotene. With the inhibitors neutralised, it also means that those crucial minerals can be absorbed more readily by the digestive system. They have an extra boost of enzymes and a great source of pre- and pro- biotics for healthy gut flora, antioxidants and amino acids. Wow, what’s not to love about sprouts?!
If you are a dedicated, true prey style raw feeder who thinks dogs don’t need vegetable matter in their diet, firstly I suggest reading my blog on why I think dogs can benefit from vegetables (Should my dog eat vegetables and fruits?), then perhaps consider whether sprouts may be a good compromise to that rule, particularly if you try the pot spouting method to allow your dog to choose whether to eat them or not.
How to make sprouts
Sprouts are so easy to make and you don’t need any special equipment – although there are plenty of sprouting kits out there if you’re really keen. You can sprout just about any seed, grain or legumes as long as it is intact (ie hasn’t had the outer germ removed) and the method is fundamentally the same for all types, except the soaking time varies.
I also recommend you go for organic seeds where possible and while rarely an issue here in Australia, go for non-GMO.
I have two main ways of growing sprouts:
- Grow in a shallow pot in soil; or
- Spout in a jar
1. Growing in shallow pot for your dog
Grab a handful of the seeds or your choice, dig some shallow channels and throw the seeds in the channels. Cover lightly with the soil and give a good soaking. Water daily (more frequently in warmer seasons), keep them protected from hungry predators, and wait for the magic! The most tricky thing with this method is keeping the birds away from it!
2. Sprouting in a jar or sprouting container
Check out out recipe here for how to sprout seeds and grains in containers.
There is another method of sprouting which results in ‘micro-greens’. This is effectively growing the seeds in a small container with a thin layer of seedling potting mix, watering to keep moist and allowing them to sprout, cutting of the green component and leaving the seed.
How much should my dog have?
With the pot and soil methods, I generally let me dogs free graze and go to the pot when they feel like it. They probably have a better idea than I do when they feel like a pick-me-up! But if you have a dog that is just a little too crazy for them and wants to polish them off in one go, portion them to about a 1/8 cup of sprouts per 5kg of body weight.
Try and use your sprouts as soon as possible (generally within a few days) and store them in the fridge, as leaving them out too long can result in some nasty moulds and bacterias taking hold, ruining all that goodness you’ve generated.
I would suggest starting with sunflower or pumpkin seeds for your dog, particularly if grains have been an issue in the past and resulted in reactions. Perhaps try some legumes next and then some sprouted grains.
Some additional sources of information you made find useful:
Fallon, S ( 2001), Nourishing Traditions, New Trends Publishing, USA
Middle, C (2008), Real Food for Dogs and Cats, Fremantle Press, Australia