Break out your grinder, dust off your food processor, find your power blender. You’ll need it to help your dog take advantage of a humble pantry staple: seeds. Whether big (pumpkin and sunflower), small (sesame, hemp, chia, flax) or grain-like (quinoa, amaranth), seeds supply an extra buzz of protein, along with fiber, amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals and other useful micro-nutrition morsels. You can add them as an ingredient in your dog’s home-cooked meals or sprinkle them on as a topper.
Caveats: In order for your dog to benefit from their many pluses, seeds should usually be ground; some should also be refrigerated to avoid rancidity. Raw and unsalted are best. Because they tend to be calorie-rich, use them judiciously. Finally, try a single variety at a time in small quantities until you know how your dog responds to and tolerates them.
Quinoa and amaranth are “ancient grains,” seeds from plants that have been cultivated the same way for thousands of years. (If your dog has arthritis or kidney problems, it’s probably best to give quinoa a miss; it’s fairly high in naturally occurring oxalates, which can exacerbate these conditions.) Amaranth contains all nine amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Chia and flaxseeds are best refrigerated. Chia is said to be an immune-system booster and is credited with supporting dogs’ electrolyte balance. Flax is high in fiber, and both are high in anti-inflammatories.
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In addition to being mineral-rich, sesame seeds have two unique elements, sesamin and sesamolin, which have been shown to increase vitamin E in animals and to protect the liver from oxidative damage.
Hemp seeds are a high-protein, easily digestible source of immune-system support.
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds both supply extra anti-oxidants. Pumpkin seeds rank high in zinc, a mineral recommended for dogs with copper toxicosis, aka copper storage disease. (Sunflower seeds, on the other hand, are high in copper, so if your dog has liver problems, check with your vet before feeding.) Pumpkin seeds are unusual in that their nutritive value has been shown to improve with age—those pumpkin seeds that have been languishing in the back of your pantry since Halloween are better now than when you bought them!