We tend to think of health food as a concept of fairly recent origin, but in the late-19th century, physicians, theologians, and social reformers in the United States and Europe were trendsetters. In 1863, James Caleb Jackson invented the first breakfast cereal in New York; a name now synonymous with breakfast, Michigan’s John Harvey Kellogg, followed with his own. And, in 1900, Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner developed muesli. All were interested in exploring how diet affected health.
Since those early days, combinations of whole grains, nuts, and dried fruits have become integral and common parts of our daily healthy food plans. High in calories and carbohydrates for energy, granola bars were the next phase in the development of breakfast. Bringing the best of these nutritional elements into a portable and delicious format, granola bars are now ubiquitous and can be found everywhere from gas stations to health food boutiques.
With the rising epidemic of obesity in our pets, including our dogs, it’s perfectly natural to wonder whether our canine companions might derive benefits from whole grain treats. Can dogs eat granola safely? Can they eat cereals safelty? With “human” foods, the answer is always context-dependent. The individual ingredients make a difference, as do additives such as salt and sugar. Let’s take a closer look!
If your dogs are anything like mine, they love to chew and gnaw. Typically a simple and crunchy treat, granola bars may interest dogs for the chewing challenge they present, along with satisfying basic canine curiosity. Because granola itself, and granola bars, contain a mixture of foodstuffs, we’ll need to ask whether they are safe for dogs on their own, as well as in combination.
Two of the most common ingredients in granola are rolled oats and puffed brown rice. These whole grains are safe for dogs in limited amounts. Indeed, whole grains like ground yellow corn meal are found in many brands of dog food, not only as filler and to provide cohesion for kibble, but also as a source of what limited carbohydrates and dietary fiber dogs require for energy and digestive health.
The greatest risk that a chunk of a plain granola bar presents to your dog is that its fiber content may be a cause of temporary diarrhea. Digestive irregularity in dogs is a reason that some people turn to whole grain foods such as oatmeal and brown rice. Cooked plainly — without salts, sugars, or other additives — a few meals of brown rice and boiled chicken breast is often recommended as a way to help dogs overcome constipation. The same tact can be taken with warm oatmeal.
Of course, all granola bars are not extremely simple. Many contain a variety of nuts, which can not only be high in fats that dogs have difficulty processing, but are also potential allergens, both for people and dogs. Avoid giving your dog a piece of granola bar that includes almonds, cashews, pecans, or walnuts, which are among the fattiest nuts. Depending on your dog’s tolerance of peanuts and peanut butter, some may enjoy peanut butter sprinkled with plain granola grains.
Another dog-safe treat, a plain yogurt with a dash of granola bits, may also appeal to your dog on special occasions. Granola products are much less safe for dogs, and they should be avoided if their ingredient lists become too complex. By this, we mean especially those that contain raisins. We still do not know why grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, but whether it’s a granola bar or a bowl of oatmeal, if it contains raisins, it’s best kept away from your dog.
No matter your stance on dogs and chocolate toxicity, offering your dog a granola bar that features chocolate, nuts, and raisins is a recipe for gastrointestinal upset at the very least. Rather than run the risk of causing diarrhea or vomiting on the one hand, or necessitating a trip to the vet on the other, keep your dog’s exposure to whole grain products as simple and unadorned as possible.
That includes granola bars, cold cereals, hot cereals, and other breakfast staples that are high in sugar, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. Most cold cereals marketed toward our children should be avoided by our dogs. Honey-nut varieties, and those featuring marshmallows, chocolate, or fruit flavorings are out as well.
According to the Whole Grains Council, January 21, 2015, is National Granola Bar Day. Do you make your own granola bars at home? Do you have a dog-safe recipe for granola that your dogs enjoy? Do you cook regularly for your dog, whether it involves granola or not? Please share your favorite recipes in the comments below!
Remember that human foods — breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack-time favorites — are best shared with our dogs in moderation. Even the healthiest foods should be united with healthy habits, including smaller portions and regular exercise, to have the maximum intended effects, both for us and for our dogs!
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