During earlier, more agrarian times, bacon and cabbage was a traditional Irish meal. When Irish immigrants began arriving in America during the 19th and early-20th centuries, beef was more plentiful, and recipes were adapted to reflect the shift in available food resources. Here, the staple Irish meal has become corned beef and cabbage, which today is part of a tradition all its own, largely associated with and served on St. Patrick’s Day.
Similar to consuming black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day, Americans and tourists in Ireland enjoy eating and sharing corned beef and cabbage with friends and family when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. The matter at hand now is, are these dishes associated with the Emerald Isle safe to offer our dogs as well? Let’s investigate the meal’s six most common ingredients: bacon, corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and onions!
In agrarian Ireland, cows involved in cattle farming were raised primarily to provide milk and other dairy products. Their delicious meat was only consumed when cows were spent, or past lactation. Pigs during this time were far more frequently raised for their meat. Hence, the traditional recipe called for bacon and cabbage.
Dogs love bacon as much as humans do, but the kind of bacon that we tend to eat, whether it’s pre-prepared and microwaveable, or the sort we fry in a pan, is just not good for our dogs. It is too high in fat, and, served right off the frying pan, contains too much grease. Over time, both can lead to heart and pancreatic problems in dogs. Best to stick to bacon-flavored treats, which are readily available at pet and grocery stores.
Corned beef is even worse for dogs to eat than bacon. Dogs do not react well to an excess of sodium, which is what corned beef is all about. Preparation methods for corned beef call for it to be treated with rock-salt, which seeps over time into every square inch of the meat.
Depending on how the beef is cured, the brining solution may also contain large amounts of sugar, salt, pepper, and saltpeter. Excessive sodium in a dog’s regular diet can lead to salt poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. If you must share corned beef with your dog, let it be only rarely and in very small amounts.
Yes! In limited amounts, and preferably cooked or boiled, cabbage can be a healthy treat for dogs. This extends to all forms and colors of cabbage. Even raw is not too bad, though it is worth noting that raw cabbage contains an anion called thiocyanate. In large enough quantities, thiocyanate can negatively affect the thyroid, causing it to become inflamed. If you feed raw cabbage to your dog, chop it fine and serve in small quantities.
The other potential drawback to cabbage for dogs, whether cooked or raw, is something that humans regularly experience as well. Eating cabbage causes an increase of flatulence. If dog farts are a regular occurrence in your home, you may want to avoid encouraging more of them.
Finally, an unqualified yes! Carrots are perfectly safe for dogs to eat. I find my own dog enjoys a carrot stick when we’re all out of her usual chew treats. If your dog is a chewer, a fresh carrot or carrot stick, washed off to remove any hint of pesticides or other chemical treatments, is perfectly safe and healthy for your dog.
Raw potatoes are dangerous for dogs to eat. As I’ve written in detail elsewhere, they are in the nightshade family, and a raw potato plant’s skin and vines contain a toxin called solanine, which is perilous to a dog’s nervous system. Prepared plainly, on the other hand — baked, cooked, or boiled, without any additives or toppings — potatoes served in moderation present no real problems to a dog’s health.
For every unqualified yes, there are so many corresponding no’s. Onions are, by far, the worst thing on this list for dogs. Onions appear frequently in recipes for corned beef and cabbage. In any form — whole, cooked, powdered, or otherwise — onions cause the integrity of dog’s red blood cells to break down. This causes a condition called hemolytic anemia, which prevents a dog’s blood from providing oxygen to the body.
Rather than perpetuate the debate over whether corned beef and cabbage is actually an Irish culinary tradition, let’s ask the important question: Can we safely share corned beef and cabbage, or its component ingredients, with our dogs? As we’ve seen, in standard recipes for bacon or corned beef and cabbage, only cabbage, carrots, and potatoes can be considered truly safe for our dogs. Even then, these ingredients shouldn’t be served to dogs in the way humans prepare them for themselves.
Do you have a favorite corned beef or bacon and cabbage recipe? Is there a family recipe for this popular St. Patrick’s Day dish that you can share with our readers? I for one am always looking for a new recipe to try out in the kitchen. Even if I cannot share the finished meal with my dog, I’m more than happy to tell her about it on our next walk!
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About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.