I regularly grow my own potato plants in a deep pot. My favorite potato varieties are the red ones (like Pontiac potatoes). Their pretty, reddish skins are smooth, easy to clean, and don’t come off easily even after boiling or baking. Whenever I harvest some, I treat myself to homemade baked tater strips.
That’s when my ever-inquisitive dog runs into the kitchen — she can smell everything, of course. So when I pull out the baking tray from the oven, she’ll stare at me, tail wagging, as if to say, “Are those for me, huh? Are those for me? Can dogs eat red potatoes, too?”
Potatoes in moderation
Once my baked tater strips are sufficiently cooled, I always give my dog a few of them to eat. (She loves munching on them!) And since I don’t add anything else to them (other than the tiniest amounts of vegetable oil and salt), it doesn’t harm her. (The sour cream-and-onion dip I use is just for me!)
But that’s as far as I go. Like all dogs, my dog isn’t supposed to eat a lot of starchy vegetables or grains.
Potatoes are a superfood for primates and humans. Malnourished children rescued from impoverished or war-torn areas are often prescribed an initial diet of milk and potatoes or sweet potatoes. That’s because potatoes are easy to digest and are a great source of vitamins and carbohydrates needed to trigger weight gain and power the voracious human brain.
Dogs are omnivorous. But they aren’t like humans. They may have adapted to eating scraps and treats from our tables, but their physiology still makes them largely carnivorous. So a nutritionally-sound diet for dogs has nutrients coming from a dog-friendly balance between meat, vegetables, and grains — and no less than 50% of that should be from meat.
Health and safety issues
Dogs become prone to certain diseases when they consume too many potatoes, too often. The dangers specifically stem from:
- Improperly prepared or stored potatoes
- The nutritional imbalance of having too many potato-based carbohydrates and too little animal-based proteins and other nutrients in their food
Here’s a shortlist of those dangers.
1. Solanine poisoning
Cause: Sprouted potatoes or improperly picked/stored potatoes.
Potato plants have solanine present throughout their leaves and stems, but its tubers usually have less of it while they’re underground. Once harvested and exposed to light, heat, and moisture, the tubers’ “eyes” will start sprouting and the flesh within will produce more solanine to protect the sprouts from infection.
Solanine is also highly toxic to lots of animals, including dogs and humans. Even the tiniest amounts are enough to cause the symptoms of solanine poisoning in both dogs and humans: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and paralysis. Larger amounts can kill.
Solution: It’s simple. Avoid green potatoes! Potatoes develop greenish-tinged patches on the skin and inner flesh when solanine starts developing.
Solanine isn’t easily broken down by heat. While high-heat frying does destroy some of it, there’s still a chance that some traces of it remain. That’s enough to harm you or your dog.
So if you see only a tiny part of a very large tuber turning green, you may chop that off and safely cook and eat the rest. But if we’re talking about smaller spring potatoes or baby potatoes, forget it. Once it starts turning a bit green, toss the entire tuber to the garbage. (Or plant it in a pot like I do — and start growing your own potatoes!)
Most potatoes sold in the supermarket have already been treated with an anti-sprouting chemical that delays or prevents the development of solanine. But to be on the safe side, always store your potatoes in a spot that’s dark, cool, and dry.
Note: It may be a little trickier to see green patches in red-skinned potatoes. So before using them, wash them well, examine them closely in bright light, then chop them up to see the flesh within. (No green skin or spots? Then it’s safe for you and your dog to eat.)
Obesity, diabetes, and hypertension
Cause: Eating potatoes that are fried or cooked with too much oil, butter, salt, or sugar, and consuming them too many times.
Potato-based snacks like French fries, potato chips, and hash browns are usually deep-fried in lots of oil, then laden with lots of salt. These are rich in fat from the oil, sodium from the salt, and carbohydrates in the potato itself.
If your dog eats too much of these, he’ll have more fat and carbohydrates in his system than he needs. Any unused amount gets stored as fat, causing obesity.
Over time, as your dog’s body becomes overweight, its metabolism gets less efficient, especially when breaking down carbohydrates and dealing with glucose levels in the blood. He can then develop diabetes from frequent blood sugar spikes.
Simultaneously, the abundance of sodium in your dog’s bloodstream could exacerbate his condition and cause high blood pressure and hypertension.
Solution: Keep it simple! If you’re cooking red potatoes for your dog, just bake chopped up bits or strips in the oven, with only a drizzle of oil and only a little salt.
Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
Cause: Unconfirmed yet possible association with consuming a lot of legumes and starchy vegetables (like potatoes).
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a public announcement to pet owners about canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a medical condition where the heart becomes enlarged. It is then inefficient at pumping blood throughout the body, and the heart rate increases or becomes erratic. According to the FDA, there have been repeated observations and reports that dogs suffering from DCM tend to have diets dominated by legumes (i.e., peas, lentils, green beans, specific seeds) and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
If a strong correlation is proven, it’ll be just one more piece of evidence that dogs still need more animal-based proteins and nutrients than plant-based carbohydrates.
Solution: To avoid this heart disease, your dog’s diet should never be more than 40% -50% of carbohydrates from potatoes or grains. The rest should be meat or animal proteins and nutrients. So keep track of what you feed your dog. (Go easy on the red potatoes!)
Cause: Bad food preparation and improperly stored cooked potatoes/potato leftovers.
If you’re cooking potatoes — whether boiled, baked, or fried – be careful about storing any leftovers. If you don’t store it properly, the leftovers could encourage the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria.
C. botulinum is an anaerobic species of bacteria (microorganisms that don’t need oxygen to survive) that produce a deadly neurotoxin that causes botulism. This is an illness that brings about gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurological damage within 12 to 36 hours after the toxin is ingested. Typical symptoms (for dogs and humans) include vomiting, nausea, drooping eyelids and face, difficulty in swallowing or breathing, and paralysis. If left untreated, it could lead to death.
According to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), most incidents of botulism have been caused by improperly prepared or stored baked potatoes, especially those that were sealed in aluminum foil right after coming out of the oven, and immediately refrigerated.
Any C. botulinum living on raw potato skins get killed in the process of cooking. However, the bacteria’s endospores still survive and can live in sealed, moist, and warm environments. By sealing hot potatoes in foil and subjecting them to the fridge, the temperature within that sealed environment doesn’t go cold and dry enough. The endospores can then germinate.
Solution: Make sure to wash, scrub, and clean potatoes carefully before using them. Cook completely — don’t ever serve your dog raw potatoes! — then allow the potatoes to cool down before storing any leftovers in your refrigerator, without any tight foil or cling wrap covering. (You may use a loose-fitting cover, as long as it’s not air-tight and the potatoes can “breathe.”) For extra safety, make sure all potato leftovers are consumed within the next 10-12 hours.
Here’s a better alternative to red potatoes: sweet potatoes!
Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index (GI of 44) than potatoes (GI of 89 or more) and a better range of nutrients (e.g., Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium). So while they have an equal amount or more of carbohydrates and sugars compared to potatoes, they don’t cause that much of a spike in blood sugar in your dog’s system when eaten. It makes it easier to avoid diabetes and allows your dog a few more munches without going overboard.
And because they’re naturally sweet and have a smoother texture than red potatoes, you don’t even have to add oil, salt, honey, or sugar for sweet potatoes to taste delicious.
Just wash and clean the sweet potatoes, cut them into thick strips or bite-sized pieces, throw them on a baking tray, and bake in an oven until tender. Or you can bake them specifically at 225 degrees F (around 107 degrees C) for about 3-4 hours or more until you get cooked and dried sweet tater strips.
So to sum it up: yes, dogs can eat red potatoes, but only in moderation. (Or all types of potatoes.)
If your fur baby loves those homemade munchies a bit more than he or she should, I recommend switching to sweet potatoes instead. They’re more nutritious, won’t upset your dog’s diet as much as regular potatoes, and have a sweet flavor that doesn’t even need extra oil, sugar, or salt to enhance.