As an eco-conscious animal lover, I’ve long been looking for ways to reduce my pet’s impact on the environment and make owning a dog more sustainable. In the U.S. alone, pets are linked to the release of more than 60 million tons of greenhouse gases every year! Commercial foods and treats are responsible for the majority of these emissions, although collecting their waste in plastic bags and throwing it in the garbage also has an impact.
Starting a garden for your dog and composting their poop are easy and efficient ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Feeding your dog fresh produce may even help boost their health and make owning a dog more affordable.
Depending on the diet and treats you’re feeding, owning a dog can be the equivalent of driving two all-wheel-drive vehicles in terms of their carbon footprint. Ironically, we also tend to overfeed our dogs, leading to obesity and other health problems. Choosing a more ethically sourced commercial diet and supplementing it with fresh, homegrown veggies and fruits can go a long way in reducing your omnivorous dog’s CO2 pawprint!
5 Types of Fruit That Dogs Enjoy
You might not think of growing fruit for your dog, but most canines enjoy a sweet treat, and even many commercial products include dried fruits, purées, or juices. While pieces of fruit may contain a lot of sugary carbs, they’re also low in fat, packed with fiber, vitamins, and nutrients, and help with your pooch’s hydration.
Apple trees are usually planted in the spring and may take a few years to mature before they bear fruit, but most dogs love treats of seed-free sliced apples or applesauce-based baked snacks. If you’re short on space, consider growing a columnar variety and you’ll see your first apple harvest that fall.
Full of antioxidants, blueberries are a perennial flowering shrub whose fruit is used in many commercial dog foods and snacks! They’re easy to grow and usually planted in the spring, although it may take up to six years before you have a proper crop to harvest.
Sweet slices of orange cantaloupe make a great summertime treat for humans and canines alike. Start the seeds indoors at least four weeks before the last frost or wait and plant the seeds in the warm spring soil, and in an average of 80 days, you can start harvesting melons to share with your pup.
Nothing says summer like a cool slice of watermelon, and once you’ve removed the hard rind and seeds your dog can enjoy this sweet red fruit too! Consider planting a seedless variety for sweeter fruit and earlier harvests, and freeze pieces to make a quick and easy doggy “pupsicle”!
Easier to grow than apple trees, pears make an excellent snack for dogs in moderation as long as you remove the pit and stones from the fruit, and are chock full of vitamins and fiber. There are even varieties you can grow in a container if you don’t have space to plant an orchard.
A Vegetable Garden for Your Dog
Dogs are naturally omnivorous and enjoy snacks of both raw and cooked veggies, so why not swap out some of their kibble with your garden produce? Here’s a list of the best vegetables to grow in the garden for your dog!
High in protein, vitamin B, and thiamin, peas are commonly used in commercial pet foods — particularly for vegetarian and hypoallergenic diets. My golden retriever enjoys harvesting snow peas right off the vine! These easy annuals can be sown in the ground in early spring or grown in containers, too.
I’ve met very few dogs who don’t enjoy crunching on a raw carrot, so consider planting a few rows for your pack. Carrots are a natural dental snack that’s low-calorie and high in fiber, and they grow best in the cool spring and fall weather once the night temperatures drop to 50°F.
Low in calories, fat, and carbs, cucumbers are high in magnesium and make a great snack for overweight dogs, and even help freshen their breath. Start your seeds indoors and transplant outside once the threat of frost has passed. You can trellis the vining varieties or grow bush cucumbers in containers, so you have a variety of options.
Often found in commercial foods, sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients like vitamin C, iron, and calcium. Remove the indigestible skin and steam the potatoes before feeding as a snack or using them in baked treats, or dry the slices to make an all-natural dental chew. Raw potatoes can cause stomach upset, so be cautious and offer in moderation. Plant sweet potatoes as a weed-blocking cover plant or grow in containers on a patio.
Raw, steamed, and frozen green and wax beans are a great high-protein dog treat and make an ideal low-calorie snack. Once the summer sun has warmed things up, you can plant vining or bush bean seeds right in the ground or in containers, and these nitrogen-fixing plants will also enrich your soil.
Sweet, crunchy, and packed with vitamins and minerals, seeded bell peppers are a tasty treat most canines go crazy for! Bell peppers are actually a tropical fruit and grow best in the southern climates, so you may need to start them indoors six to eight weeks before your last estimated frost and transfer them once things warm up.
Rich in vitamins, magnesium, and potassium, zucchini is a versatile dog treat that can be served in so many ways. Try grating a pile on top of their kibble or using the shreds in a baked treat, or offer cooked zucchini as a snack. Zucchini and other summer squashes are easy to grow in the ground or in containers.
If you don’t have room to plant a garden, you can probably find a sunny window or porch to grow some small herb plants for your dog! Mixing fresh herbs with your dog’s foods and baked snacks can make their breath smell better and add trace vitamins and minerals to their diet. Safe herbs for dogs include basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, coriander, ginger, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and sage. But avoid alliums like chives, garlic, and onions, which can be toxic to dogs.
Tips on Gardening for Your Dog
- Always wash fruits and veggies and remove the seeds, pits/stones, and any hard rind or peel from produce before you offer it to your dog. Seeds and pits often contain cyanide and can block their intestinal tract, so only feed your dog the safe parts.
- While many fruits and veggies are safe for your dog to eat, it’s best to use a fence or other barrier to keep your dog out of your garden, and to prevent them from harvesting their own treats. Plants often contain toxic substances in their pits, leaves, seeds, or roots that could be dangerous to your dog, and garden compost is a recognized hazard.
- There are many ways to compost your dog’s solid waste so it doesn’t end up in a landfill, but unless the compost pile gets hot enough to kill off pathogens and parasites you should avoid using it in a vegetable or fruit garden. Most of the commercial dog compost systems just don’t get warm enough to kill pathogens, but you can still use the compost for your ornamental plants.
- To allow your dog to harvest their own beans or peas, consider growing them in containers and moving the pots to your yard when it’s snack-time (after a good rinse with the hose)! Or pull up a few plants in the gated garden area and let your dog pick the veggies off the vines for a fun activity!
About the Author
Tammi Avallone grew up in the countryside on her parents’ farm where animals, including dogs, always surrounded her. Tammi’s first love was a beautiful chocolate Labrador retriever named Toby, who enjoyed snacking on the farm’s fresh produce. Tammi is a writer and managing editor of FiveBarks.com.
This article was originally published on May 18, 2021.