Can Dogs Eat Papaya?
Written by: Savannah Welna, Dogly Nutrition Advocate & Canine Nutritionist
Papaya fruit is an excellent, safe addition to your dog’s diet and provides unique benefits to the digestive system. Given that this is often considered an exotic fruit, most dog owners don’t think to add this to their dog’s food. However, papaya is a great source of fiber, moisture, nutrients, and contains a kind of enzyme that may help alleviate indigestion, excessive gas, and occasional bloating (bloating here does not refer to the condition of Bloat which requires immediate veterinarian attention).
Is Papaya Safe for Dogs?
While feeding papaya to your dog is generally safe, you will want to make sure you do not feed papaya seeds or skin to avoid unwanted side effects. Because papaya is rich in fiber, too much can cause an upset stomach so you’ll want to feed in small pieces. Dehydrated papaya will be extremely concentrated and can increase the risk of digestive problems. Simply stick to fresh papaya.
Papaya contains compounds that compete for the use of an enzyme called DAO. DAO is used to break down histamine. Therefore, dogs with histamine related issues (such as mast cell tumors or environmental allergies) should avoid large amounts of papaya. Dog owners should consider the pros and cons of each fresh food item they add to their dog’s food.
Of course, any food can become a choking hazard if not properly cut up according to the dog’s size. Make sure that the size of the papaya prepared can be swallowed easily.
As with any new food, start by providing small amounts to test tolerance. If you feed your dog papaya and notice any itching or loose stools, discontinue and perhaps consider a low histamine risk option.
The sugar content of papaya is actually relatively lower compared to apples, cherries, and even blueberries. This makes papaya an ideal choice for dogs who are prone to weight gain and do better with less natural fruit sugars.
What are the Health Benefits of Papaya?
Papaya can be a great addition in supporting your dog’s health. Papaya includes essential and nonessential nutrients- vitamins A, K, and C. While nutrients are always beneficial, papaya stands out due to its incredible phytonutrient profile and unique digestive support properties that are unlikely to be found in most commercial and homemade dog foods.
Papain: Papain is a digestive, plant-based enzyme that helps break down protein (proteolytic). The flesh of papaya is an excellent source. In fact, papaya enzyme supplements are widely available for purchase. You can provide a gentle digestive boost from feeding whole, fresh papaya. This may be especially beneficial to older dogs who see a natural decline in digestive abilities with age. Papain is heat sensitive, so ensure you are feeding the fruit raw. Because commercial processed dog food (like kibble) is made with high heat, it is unlikely that most dogs are benefitting from this tropical fruit.
Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene): Dogs eating a commercial or balanced homemade diet will be getting enough Vitamin A from the diet. However, papaya contains a precursor to Vitamin A called Beta-Carotene. When the dog is consuming enough Vitamin A, Beta-Carotene can be used as an antioxidant rather than turned into the essential nutrient form of Vitamin A.
Lycopene: Lycopene is a phytonutrient that is classified as a carotenoid, but has no Vitamin A activity. However, lycopene still functions as an antioxidant with a special affinity to the heart, skin, lungs, brain, and eyes. Human research has been looking at the role of lycopene in prevention of Parkinson’s Disease. There also is some association of reduced risk of bladder cancer. Because lycopene is not found in food items traditionally fed to dogs, it is unlikely that most dogs are consuming any level of lycopene.
Lutein: Lutein is also a carotenoid and is known for its potential role in preventing the progression of macular degeneration. However, there is still ongoing research in determining its beneficial role in cancer prevention (particularly non-hodgkin’s lymphoma) and Parkinson’s Disease. There is also research being done regarding Lutein’s role in preventing excessive decline in cognitive abilities that come naturally with age, making Lutein another excellent choice for older dogs.
Vitamin C: While most think of oranges when they think of sources of Vitamin C, papaya actually has 25% more Vitamin C than an orange when comparing on a gram to gram basis. While dogs can synthesize vitamin C, not every dog can synthesize Vitamin C at an optimal rate. Moreover, synthesizing nutrients requires the use of other resources. Providing dietary vitamin C in moderate amounts from whole food sources can help spare some of the resources used to create Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a role in immune system support, but it is also essential in preventing free radical damage to the joints and can therefore be thought of as a food-based choice for preventative joint care.
Fiber: Fiber helps dogs maintain normal bowel movements. Additionally, a variety of fiber sources helps support a wider diversity of good bacteria that live in the gut. Because papaya is not commonly fed to dogs, it is quite likely that papaya can help support the gut microbiome. Of course, too much fiber or a sensitivity to fiber will mean that papaya should be fed in careful moderation.
Feeding Papaya as a Healthy Treat to Dogs
Papaya can be made into a healthy snack or added right into your dog’s food. Because of its lower sugar content, you can start feeding one half gram of papaya per pound of dog weight. If you are feeding other fruits and veggies, you may need to adjust this number down. Given its antioxidant properties, papaya is best fed fresh and if stored, it should be stored in an airtight container.
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