Easter is one of the most colourful holidays of the year, store shelves (and homes!) are loaded with chocolate eggs and various bunny-related items. Aside from chocolate egg hunts, one activity that children enjoy over the holiday weekend is leaving carrots out for the Easter Bunny. Carrots are considered a healthy food for humans, but have you ever wondered if they are healthy for your pet too?
The carrot is a nutrient-dense root vegetable that is high in fibre and several vitamins, including Vitamin A and Vitamin K. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), carrots contribute 30% of the vitamin A intake in the average human diet.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for humans, dogs and cats. It is necessary for normal bone metabolism, healthy eye function, and optimal skin health. Vitamin A is found primarily in two forms: ready-made vitamin A and carotenoids that will be converted to vitamin A. The major type of carotenoid found in carrots is beta carotene which gives the carrot its bright orange colour. Cats are unable to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, and thus require ready-made vitamin A in their diet.
Vitamin A deficiency
The most common signs of vitamin A deficiency in dogs and cats are related to skin and can include a poor coat, alopecia (hair loss) and generalized scaling. A deficiency of vitamin A is rare when pets eat commercial pet food because these diets are often formulated to contain all essential nutrients. When feeding a home-prepared diet using human food ingredients, it is necessary to supplement vitamin A. But keep in mind, over-supplementing is dangerous too.
What happens when we have too much vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be stored in fat tissue and released when needed. When large doses of vitamin A (1000 times daily nutritional need) are consumed over several months, vitamin A toxicity can occur. This can overwhelm the liver’s capacity to store and break down vitamin A. Chronic toxicity can lead to skeletal malformations, spontaneous fractures, and internal bleeding.
Carrots as a source of vitamin A
The daily requirements of vitamin A for humans and animals are shown below in Table 1. Dogs need a minimum of 5000 IU of vitamin A per kg, and carrots contain about 21,000 IU of vitamin A per cup. A 10kg dog would need to eat about 2.5 cups of carrots to obtain all of its vitamin A requirements from carrots! Even though carrots are a good source of vitamin A, they are not enough on their own to meet vitamin A requirements. Carrots, however, do offer some other benefits which make them excellent treats for dogs and cats.
Benefits of carrots
Immunity: Dietary beta-carotene can enhance the immune response in dogs as shown through increased production of antibodies and white blood cells.
Vision: It is commonly thought that carrots can improve vision. This is only partially correct. Carrots will not suddenly restore your animal’s eyesight if it is already weakening. However, carrots may maintain healthy eyesight and prevent eye diseases in dogs that already have normal vision. The beta-carotene can protect the tissue of the eyeball from damage.
Digestion: Carrots are an excellent source of fibre as they include both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibres help feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Insoluble fibers bulk up the stool and help the digestive tract operate smoothly, reducing constipation.
Palatability: The crunchy feel of a carrot makes it fun to chew and the sweet taste of carrots can add extra palatability to a dog’s meal. Cats are picky about texture and may prefer carrots to be given in cooked or mashed form.
How to include carrots as part of your pet’s diet
Can’t wait to try treating your pet with carrots? A baby carrot is only about 4 to 5 calories which makes it an excellent low-calorie treat for pets. However, it is important to remember the 10% rule.
Pet dogs and cats need to eat a diet that is complete (contains all essential nutrients) and balanced (in the correct proportions). To prevent unbalancing the diet, calories from treats or human foods (including carrots!) should total no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie intake. Too many treats or additional food items can not only unbalance the diet. Additionally, too many treats can lead to a calorie intake that is too high, which can contribute to the development of obesity.
As an example, a 10kg dog needs about 550 to 625 calories per day. From this, 55 to 62 calories can come from treats. This 10kg dog could have 11 to 12 baby carrots per day, if no other treats were fed.
Carrots are a safe low-calorie treat for dogs and cats, that can even benefit their health. Even though carrots are a great source of vitamin A, they do not have a complete nutrient profile. When fed with a complete and balanced commercial pet food, carrots should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s diet. Remember to consult your pet’s veterinarian, a veterinary nutritionist or a companion animal nutritionist for advice on safe and healthy treat options for your pet.
Written by: Yawen Zhu, Undergraduate Studies
Edited by: Dr. Caitlin Grant, DVM, DVSc
Shoshana Verton-Shaw, RVT, VTS (Nutrition)
Alex Rankovic, MSc, PhD Candidate
hew et al (2000). Dietary β-carotene stimulates cell-mediated and humoral immune response in dogs. The Journal of Nutrition, 130(8), 1910–1913. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/130.8.1910
Johra et al (2020). A Mechanistic Review of beta-Carotene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin in Eye Health and Disease. Antioxidants, 9(11), 1046–. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9111046
Gerald F. Combs. (2012). Chapter 5 – Vitamin A. The vitamins. Academic Press. Page 93-183. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-381980-2.00005-0.
Green et al (2016). Meeting the Vitamin A Requirement: The Efficacy and Importance of β-Carotene in Animal Species. TheScientificWorld, 2016, 7393620–7393622. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/7393620
Royal Canin. Feline Nutrition Encyclopedia. (2010). Page 70
Sanderson, S. Nutritional requirements and related diseases of small animals – management and Nutrition. Merck Veterinary Manual Sept. 2013
Simon, P. W. (2020). Simon: Carrot Facts : USDA ARS. USDA. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.ars.usda.gov/midwest-area/madison-wi/vegetable-crops-research/docs/simon-carrot-facts/