Delicious, nutty, crunchy sunflower seeds are a snack synonymous with summertime. Sunflower seeds are much more than just a pastime; these seeds are also a nutritious source of elements that are necessary to human function, including fatty acids, protein, minerals, and vitamins. But can dogs eat sunflower seeds just as we can, or are sunflower seeds bad for dogs?
If you've been asking yourself, “can I give my dog sunflower seeds,” the answer is YES – dogs can eat sunflower seeds, with a few caveats. You need to pay attention to moderation, size, and that all sunflower seeds are unsalted and peeled.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what sunflower seeds are, what nutrition can they provide, can dogs eat sunflower seeds safely and what are the possible side effects.
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What are sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds are grown from the sunflower, a tall, herbaceous plant that belongs to the family Asteraceae. Sunflowers are native to the middle regions of America and became an important crop that has since spread worldwide.
This plant consists of two flowers: a perimeter flower that contains the highly recognizable yellow petals and the central section that is made up of hundreds of tiny fertile flowers. It is from this part of the sunflower that the edible seeds grow.
The sunflower’s seeds are conical in shape, have a black exterior shell, and a single edible kernel inside.
This is what peeled sunflower seeds look like:
Most of us love the taste of sunflower seeds and the products made from this food. But can dogs eat sunflower seeds and reap some of the benefits of this nutritious food? It turns out that they can, provided you feed them safely. It's a good source of healthy fats as well as other minerals and compounds that we'll investigate below.
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Sunflower Seeds for Dogs 101
Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds?
Most importantly, remember that any seeds (not just sunflower seeds) that are fed to your pup should always be peeled and should not have any added salt as high sodium levels can result in health issues such as high blood pressure.
A dog can eat sunflower seed’s kernel, but should not ingest the actual black shell of the sunflower seed. If your dog eats the shells, severe diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress may occur.
By themselves, sunflower seeds are very nutritious and it's a powerful antioxidant (PDF). 1/4 cup of peeled sunflower seeds contains 190 calories, 6 grams of protein, 16 grams of fats and 4 grams of fiber. They're full of vitamins and minerals, too:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Like most other seeds and nuts, sunflower seeds are considered great for skin. While there is little research available on the effects of sunflower seeds of dog's skin and coat, human trials show clear improvements. Can dogs eat sunflower seeds then and get the same benefits? Turns out that yes – sunflower seeds have been studied in dogs and they do in fact improve dog's hair coat and skin (Rees et al. 2001).
Here's some more the research behind sunflower seeds:
- Sunflower seeds improve dog's skin and hair coat (1)
- Magnesium in sunflower seeds may help manage diabetes (2)
- Sunflower seeds may help in stopping tumor growth (3)
- Linoleic acid in sunflower seeds may help an aging skin (4)
- Vitamin E in sunflower seeds helps to manage cholesterol levels (5)
It's important to note that dogs can in fact benefit from the components of sunflower seeds, and this has been observed in research, too. For example, one study showed how linoleic acid from the sunflower seed oil affected Beagle puppies (Campbell et al. 1992).
That should answer the questions can dogs eat sunflower seeds, but let's take a look at some other potential benefits of sunflower seeds for dogs that haven't yet been observed in studies but are mostly based on theory.
5 Benefits of Sunflower Seeds in Dogs
1. Sunflower seeds improve your dog’s coat and skin.
As already mentioned above, studies show improvements in dog's hair coat and skin after ingesting sunflower seeds for a period of time. Because they are high in essential fatty acids, continuous supplementation with sunflower seeds can help your dog maintain healthy skin and coat.
The fats in these seeds are natural and healthy, free from saturated, or “bad” fats. These fatty acids will allow your dog to have a full, shiny, healthy coat that is less likely to exhibit roughness or skin ailments like rashes, hot spots, and dry skin.
2. Sunflower seeds support the production of good cholesterol.
The beneficial fatty acids within sunflower seeds also encourage the body to lower production of bad cholesterol and promote good cholesterol. What this means for your dog is lower blood pressure and less likelihood of heart disease or stroke. This mostly comes from a high level of Vitamin E in sunflower seeds.
3. The Vitamin E in sunflower seeds is an important antioxidant.
Just one ounce of sunflower seeds will give your dog his daily dose of Vitamin E. Other than managing cholesterol levels, this vitamin is essential for the formation of fat metabolism, the respiration of cells, and the creation of the membranes that surround cells. Vitamin E also helps to protect dog's skin from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
4. Sunflower seeds can relieve stress and depression in dogs.
Recent studies suggest that sunflower seeds, like its relative the chamomile herb, can produce a calming effect in dogs who experience anxiety. The key ingredient is magnesium, a mineral which has been proven to alleviate fatigue and depression (6).
Sunflower seeds are also chock full of B-complex vitamins, specifically niacin and pyridoxine, both of which can be credited with enhancing brain activity and reducing neurosis and anxiety.
Additionally, sunflower seeds are high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid which increases the amount of serotonin in the dog's brain. Serotonin, in turn, improves a dog’s recovery from stress and decreases aggressive behaviors.
5. Trace minerals in sunflower seeds promote overall body health in canines.
Sunflower seeds contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other vital nutrients as noted above. All of these make sunflower seeds for dogs a great addition to the diet, because they may promote healthy bone growth, hemoglobin production, brain function, hormone production, and immune system function, proper protein, enzyme, and carbohydrate use as well as reproduction, strengthen immune system and help the development of red blood cells, collagen, connective tissue, and bone.
“So, can dogs have sunflower seeds and reap the benefits?”
The answer is undoubtedly yes, and there are proven benefits of feeding sunflower seeds for dogs. You only need to make sure you give them in moderation, peel the seeds and pick the ones with no salt on them. Dogs usually love sunflower seeds, so it can make a good treat snack for them, or can be added to their meals. But are sunflower seeds bad for dogs in some other circumstances? There are a few side effects to watch out for.
3 Potential Side Effects of Sunflower Seeds for Dogs
We've answered the question “can dogs eat sunflower seeds” with a resounding yes, but are sunflower seeds bad for dogs under some specific circumstance, and if so, what do pet owners need to keep in mind?
Here are the things to be aware of in regards to feeding sunflower seeds to your dog:
1. Many commercial sunflower seeds are salted.
Sunflower seeds designed for human consumption are often salted. Feeding salted seeds to your dog can result in serious health complications such as sodium toxicosis, which may range from mild to severe in diagnosis. Symptoms include imbalance, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and excessive thirst and urination.
2. Shelled sunflower seeds can be dangerous for your dog.
When you purchase sunflower seeds from the store, they tend to be shelled. Feeding shelled seeds to your dog is problematic as the shells are not easily digestible and can pose a choking hazard. A dog who ingests too many shelled seeds runs the risk of a gastrointestinal blockage or obstruction, which can quickly become a life-threatening situation.
3. A dog should be fed limited amounts of sunflower seeds.
The amount and frequency that you give your dog sunflower seeds should be severely limited. These seeds are high in fats which can be harsh on a dog’s stomach and difficult to break down.
Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds?
So can dogs have sunflower seeds with no issues? Yes, dogs can eat sunflower seeds without any problems provided they are fed in moderation and with strict care. When sunflower seeds are fed to dogs in an appropriate amount, sunflower seeds can boost your dog’s health because of the multitude of vitamins and minerals that they contain.
Pet owners must ensure they only buy natural sunflower seeds that have no added salt or any other spices and flavors to them. All sunflower seeds must be peeled before you give them to your dog. If you follow these directions, sunflower seeds can be very healthy and beneficial to your dog, and particularly improve his skin and hair coat.