Dogs eating hay? Surprisingly enough, it’s not as preposterous as it may sound! Alfalfa hay can actually make a splendid supplement for dogs as well as cats.
Hay can generally be divided into two categories – legumes and grasses. Alfalfa hay, aka lucerne hay, originally descended from the Middle East where it was used as a medicinal herb for centuries. In the U.S, it’s mainly used to feed horses, cows, goats and small pet rodents.
Legend has it that alfalfa hay was discovered by an Arabian horse owner who gave it to his horses without really knowing what it was.
He noticed, however, that the hay greatly improved his animals’ energy levels and performance.
From that time, alfalfa hay has been a regular staple in a horse’s diet. Turns out alfalfa hay has great nutritional value, containing such nutrients as protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and an alphabet soup worth of vitamins that can be beneficial to your dog’s health.
However, alfalfa can only be used as a supplement for dogs. Dogs are carnivorous creatures by nature. Your canine’s system can’t be sustained by plants alone or plant protein.
Mixed in with your dog’s food, however, dried alfalfa plants, alfalfa powder or alfalfa tea can enrich your pup’s diet, giving it extra nutritional value.
If you read the ingredients on commercial dog foods, you may find some brands that contain alfalfa hay or alfalfa meal in their product.
Can Dogs Eat Hay?
According to veterinary experts, dogs can safely consume two different types of hay – Timothy hay made of grasses and Alfalfa hay, which comes from legumes – in moderation.
That’s not to say they eat the plants, per se, (although some dogs may), but rather the plant meal which may already come in their dog food or alfalfa supplements in the form of powder, dried alfalfa leaves or alfalfa tea which can be mixed with your pup’s food or water.
Commercial alfalfa supplements are a fairly inexpensive food source for your pup and can be readily found in any pet shop.
In moderation, dogs can consume alfalfa plant supplements safely. In excess, however, this same product that contains so many healthy nutrients, can be harmful to your dog’s health.
Coumarin and saponin are two chemicals found in the plant that can be harmful to your dog if consumed in excess.
Alfalfa seeds contain canavanine, another harmful chemical to dogs, which is why seeds aren’t found in commercial alfalfa products. Grown in the wild, alfalfa pollen can trigger dog allergies.
Sprinkling alfalfa powder over dog food is perhaps the easiest way to enrich your dog’s diet with this supplement. Before offering alfalfa to your pup, however, it’s important to consult your vet.
Dogs are different in how they assimilate food and health products and what’s good for one pup may not be the best for another due to differences in their age, size, breed or state of health.
Once approved by your vet, you’ll find it easy and affordable to supplement your pup’s diet with alfalfa and it can be an additional way of sustaining your dog’s health as he ages.
Does Hay Offer Any Nutritional Benefit to Dogs?
To say alfalfa is nutritious is an understatement, taking into consideration how nutrient-dense this legume plant is.
By giving your dog alfalfa supplements, you can enrich his diet with plant-protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, betacarotene and vitamins and minerals galore.
Alfalfa contains the antioxidant chlorophyll that helps with kidney function to prevent urinary infections and improves blood circulation to prevent skin problems in your dog and enhance his coat.
Many premium dog food brands contain small portions of alfalfa as a boon to your pet’s diet.
Alfalfa is rich in vitamins and minerals essential to a dog’s growth and development, such as vitamin K and calcium for healthy bones, beta carotene for a strong immune system and antioxidants for heart health and the prevention of cancer.
Alfalfa has also been known to reduce cholesterol and arthritic joint pain in dogs due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
In moderation, nutrients from the alfalfa plant can improve the function of your pup’s digestive, circulatory, urinary and immune systems, making it a plus to a dog’s diet.
If your pup’s a picky eater, alfalfa supplements can boost his appetite and reduce gastro-intestinal problems. The chlorophyll in alfalfa has even been known to combat doggie odors.
Should You Let Your Dog Eat Hay?
Although a dog’s primary source of protein should be meat, as dogs are carnivorous animals, that doesn’t mean your pup can’t benefit from protein or other nutrients derived from plants such as alfalfa.
In fact, many commercial dog foods contain alfalfa meal to boost their nutritional value. Alfalfa protein alone, however, is not enough to keep your pup healthy and strong as it lacks essential amino acids your dog needs for his growth and development.
That’s why it should only be given as a supplement.
Feeding your pup dog food with alfalfa meal mix is one way to incorporate this supplement into his diet. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula and dehydrated dog foods from The Pet Gourmet both contain alfalfa meal, making them nutritious options.
Another way to supplement your dog’s diet with alfalfa is sprinkling a pinch of dry alfalfa leaves or alfalfa powder over his food, following the instructions of your vet. Keep in mind it doesn’t take much for your dog to get the nutritional value from this plant.
Lastly, you can make alfalfa herbal tea and give it to your dog to drink. Simply add 4 tsp of dried alfalfa leaves to about a quart of boiling water and let steep for approximately 10 minutes. Strain the leaves and cool the tea down before offering it to your pup.
Any leftover tea can be refrigerated for later use, preferably within a few days. It’s best to start slow when introducing alfalfa supplements into your dog’s diet and monitor his reaction to it to ensure there are no side effects before making alfalfa a permanent part of his diet.
So, in answer to the question, “can dogs eat hay,” surprisingly, the answer is “yes, they can.” Alfalfa hay in the form of dried leaves, powder or herbal tea added to your pup’s dog food will increase its nutritional value. You can also choose dog foods that contain alfalfa meal as part of their ingredients to boost your pup’s diet. Keep in mind, however, that dogs are carnivores and thrive on meat and meat protein in their diet. Alfalfa supplements are just a way of adding a bit more nutrition to your dog’s diet.