Why Dogs Eat Sunflower Leaves

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Introduction

By the middle of the summer and continuing into the beginning of fall, bright yellow sunflowers can be found growing both naturally and in personal gardens all across North America. Humans have come to cherish the large, bright blooms of the sunflower, and have been cultivating savory sunflower seeds as a snack for many years.

Humans aren’t the only ones who like treating themselves to sunflower seeds. Dogs who live near a place where sunflowers grow have been known to snack on a few seeds—usually along with the flowers, leaves and stems. Though you might be worried about health risks, there is little reason to be worried about your dog’s new vegan diet. Here are some reasons why dogs eat sunflowers and what you can do if your dog’s diet becomes destructive.

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The Root of the Behavior

Although dogs will eat the entire sunflower, including the leaves, they are probably only after the seeds. They are also not the only animals to go after sunflower seeds. If you grow them in your home garden, you may have already had to defend your flowers against birds, squirrels, mice, and other small creatures. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists sunflowers as a non-toxic plant, meaning that your dog can eat an entire sunflower and not experience any health risks due to toxicity. This doesn’t rule out risks associated with eating a lot of plants or eating large objects, but the flower itself is not poisonous to dogs. 

There are, in fact, several health benefits to dogs consuming sunflower seeds safely and in moderation. The seed contains omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient which promotes healthy skin and hair in both humans and animals. A study conducted by Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine showed that a dog’s skin and coat can improve noticeably in approximately one month if sunflower seeds make up 3% of the dog’s daily diet. The study also suggested that dogs may experience both inflammatory and psychological benefits after consuming the seeds, although the results were not conclusive. Regardless of these health benefits, your dog might enjoy munching on the seeds simply because they are a good, healthy, natural snack. 

Most people become concerned when dogs eat more than one or two flowers whole, and for good reason. Dogs cannot break through the shells of sunflower seeds the ways that humans do, nor do they differentiate between the seeds and the rest of the flower. This can lead to a risk of intestinal blockage, especially if the dog in question is a small dog. Raw plant material isn’t easily digestible for most non-vegetarian animals. In most cases, a dog will simply pass the plant without harm, but there are cases in which a plant will fail to pass through the intestines. A blocked intestine could cause your dog severe discomfort and could be fatal If proper action is not taken quickly.

Encouraging the Behavior

Even though sunflowers are not toxic to a dog’s health, you might not appreciate it when your dog starts munching and mowing down your flower garden. Furthermore, although your dog may enjoy snacking on plants and flowers, too much vegetation could upset your dog’s stomach. If you notice your dog throwing up plants, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is sick or poisoned, but it does mean that you should intervene in your dog’s dietary choices. You might consider fencing off areas of your home garden to keep your dog out. If this fails, or if you would like to keep your garden open, consider behavioral training to keep your dog out of garden areas.

Should you decide to add sunflower seeds into your dog’s diet, you will need to figure out what amount of sunflower seeds is healthy for your dog. Using your dog’s weight and your dog’s general activity level, you can come up with an estimate of your dog’s daily caloric requirements. From there, treat sunflower seeds like a treat! Add sunflower seeds into your dog’s diet without the seeds taking up more than five to ten percent of your dog’s diet. Take the shells off of the seeds before feeding them to your dog, and don’t feed your dog heavily salted sunflower seeds. If you are feeding your dog too much, you will know by watching for signs of diarrhea, sickness, and weight gain. Since seeds are high in fat, you will want to manage your dog’s diet personally in order to prevent overindulgence.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Sunflowers are sometimes protected from insects and small animals with various types of pesticides. If your dog ingests flowers treated with pesticides, they could show signs of serious poisoning. Those who treat their gardens with pesticides, even a light application, should preemptively prevent their dogs from consuming the flowers. When considering seeds to buy and feed your dog, you are best off searching for pesticide-free seeds. This is true when buying for yourself as well! Additionally, if your dog throws up after eating sunflowers, there may not be an immediate reason to assume that your dog is poisoned. Dogs throw up naturally after eating too many plants, and they will generally think little or nothing about it after the fact. You should only take action if you notice persisting or more serious symptoms.

Conclusion

Though your dog may be trying to trade its kibble diet for a kernel diet, it is up to you to make sure that your dog is getting all the nutrients that it needs. In moderation, sunflower seeds are one of a few food items that are healthy for both dogs and humans. Next time you are snacking on a bag of pesticide-free, unsalted sunflower seeds, share a small bunch with your dog and treat the both of you.