Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds? (+ Butter & Shells Poisonous)


Does your dog race to snaffle up anything that gets accidentally dropped on the floor? You’re not on your own! Dog owners worldwide know the fear and panic that comes when you think your dog may have eaten something that could cause them harm. 

What usually follows is a frantic internet search to find out whether or not the food they’ve just gobbled up is toxic or totally safe. 

Sunflower seeds are one such food and, with their peanut butter-like smell and taste, they are something that any dog would willingly seize the opportunity to chow down on. But can dogs eat sunflower seeds? And are there any parts of them that could mean an expensive trip to the veterinarian or, worse, a fatality?

We decided to find out! Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at whether it’s safe for dogs to eat sunflower seeds. 

Can dogs eat sunflower seeds?

Let’s cut straight to the chase. It is safe for dogs to eat sunflower seeds as long as it’s in moderation. Sunflower seeds are not poisonous to dogs and, in fact, they actually have certain health benefits. These include reduced inflammation, lower heart disease risk, and providing loads of vitamins and minerals. 

However, the sunflower seeds should be unsalted as this will prevent both dehydration and sodium poisoning. They should also be peeled, and we’ll take a closer look at the reasons for this a little later. 

So, to be as safe as possible, if you’d like to incorporate sunflower seeds into your dog’s diet, it’s always best to grind them up in a pestle and mortar before sprinkling them on their food. 

Potential dangers of a dog eating sunflower seeds

While we know that sunflower seeds aren’t poisonous to dogs, it really all depends on the number of sunflower seeds they’ve eaten. The more they’ve consumed, the higher the risk of them becoming ill are. 

The side effects aren’t life-threatening, though. For example, if your dog has managed to get into your kitchen cabinets and has devoured an entire bag of sunflower seeds, they’ll likely suffer from a bad case of diarrhea or vomiting.

If you’re purposefully feeding your dog sunflower seeds as a way of giving them some extra vitamins and minerals, it’s advised not to give them more than one tablespoon of ground up, shelled sunflower seeds in any one portion of food. 

Why you need to peel sunflower seeds before giving them to your dog

There are a couple of reasons why you need to peel sunflower seeds before giving them to your dog. First of all, unlike birds and rodents, dogs have no way of de-shelling sunflower seeds themselves, so they need your help to do it.

Secondly, and most importantly, sunflower seeds are incredibly hard for a dog’s digestive system to break down. It’s the inside of the seed that holds all of the nutrients, the outer shell would usually be processed as a waste product. 

Since they are hard for a dog to digest, a sunflower seed’s shell could lead to gastrointestinal issues and will almost certainly result in them getting diarrhea. 

There is also the danger of a dog choking on a sunflower seed if it hasn’t been peeled before being given to them. We’re used to chewing on sunflower seeds and spitting out the shell.

Dogs simply don’t know how to do this and, if your dog is like most dogs, they will be blindsided by the delicious food in front of them and eat it as quickly as possible without thinking about the consequences. 

You can make life much easier by purchasing ready-shelled sunflower seeds. This means you don’t have to spend loads of time peeling them yourself. Simply grind them up and sprinkle them over your dog’s food. 

The health benefits of giving a dog sunflower seeds

Feeding your dog sunflower seeds in moderation (no more than one tablespoon per portion of food) can offer them some fantastic health benefits. 

To begin with, research conducted at Columbia University found that eating sunflower seeds can help reduce inflammation. This would make them a great dietary addition for an older dog that is starting to suffer from arthritis.  

Another study on the health benefits of sunflower sides, this time conducted at Harvard University found that they have huge heart-health benefits. 

It’s also a very well known fact that sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E, Magnesium, Protein, and Linoleic Fatty Acids. 

However, it is important to note that both of the studies listed above were conducted on humans rather than dogs. But, for the most part, since sunflower seeds are a naturally occurring food it’s safe to say that they would have a similar effect on our canine counterparts!

How to incorporate sunflower seeds into your dog’s diet

If you’re tempted to start incorporating sunflower seeds into your dog’s diet, there are certain things that you should do to make it safer for them. First and foremost, they should be peeled. We know we’ve covered this previously, but it’s worth reiterating that unpeeled sunflower seeds can create gastrointestinal issues and may be a potential choking hazard to your dog. 

It’s also important that you don’t give your dog whole sunflower seeds, even if they are deshelled. The reason for this is that they can get stuck in their teeth and this may lead to dental problems. 

The best, and safest, way to add sunflower seeds to your dog’s diet is to wash them and then grind them up using a pestle and mortar. Or, for ultimate convenience, you can also  add them to a spice grinder and they’ll be blitzed into a powder that can be sprinkled on top of their food. 

You can even make your own homemade dog treats using sunflower seeds! These will be much healthier than most of the store-bought alternatives and you’ll have complete control over the ingredients that your dog is eating.

Here’s a great recipe for Homemade Sunflower Dog Treats:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup of shelled ground up sunflower seeds
  • 2tbsp rolled oats
  • 2tbsp flax seeds
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup of milk
  • ½ cup of chicken broth
  • 2tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 325ºF
  2. Grab a large bowl and mix together the whole wheat flour, sunflower seeds, oats, flax seeds, and baking powder
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and milk until well combined and then pour into the dry ingredients
  4. Add the chicken broth and the olive oil and mix well until a dough has formed
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes before rolling out thinly and cutting into shapes with a cookie cutter
  6. Place each cookie on a baking tray and slide them into the oven for 30 minutes

Whether you take the direct approach by sprinkling sunflower seeds on top of your dog’s food, or you prefer to use them in snacks, the one thing you must keep in mind is moderation. 

It’s also important to remember that not every dog is the same. There is a chance that, no matter how hard you try, your dog simply won’t want to eat sunflower seeds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’d like to provide them with the health benefits they would get if they did like them, you can always give them a supplement. We’ll look into this in more detail a little further down the page. 

Calories

A quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds contains around 204 calories. This means that even a small number of seeds has quite a high calorie content and, if you’ve got a small-medium sized dog, this will be around 30% of their recommended daily intake. 

Luckily, it can be quite easy to work out how many sunflower seeds is the right amount for your dog. Across every single breed, a dog should be eating 25 calories for each pound that they weigh every day. 

So, if you have French Bulldog that weighs 25lbs, they shouldn’t be eating any more than 625 calories a day. Likewise, a Labrador weighing 70lbs should only be consuming 1,750 calories per day. 

If their current food meets this number, but you’d like to feed them sunflower seeds, you’ll need to reduce something accordingly. As sunflower seeds have such a high calorie content, it really won’t be long until your dog is packing on the extra pounds unless you make some adjustments. 

If you’re giving your dog sunflower seed treats or sunflower seed butter as a treat, it’s a good idea to follow the 90/10 rule. This means that 90% of your dog’s daily calories should come from their food and any other essential treats (such as dental chews), and 10% should come from treats. 

Following this rule will keep your dog from putting on too much weight, while still giving them the opportunity to enjoy the taste and the health benefits they’ll get from eating sunflower seeds. 

Can you give a dog sunflower seed butter?

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance way to give your dog the health benefits that come from eating sunflower seeds, you can give them sunflower seed butter instead. However, as with the seeds themselves, this is something that must be done in moderation. 

The reason for this is because sunflower seed butter actually has an even higher calorie and fat content than unprocessed seeds. So, with that in mind, it’s often a better idea to reserve sunflower seed butter as a once-in-a-while treat. 

If you’re headed out of the house for a long period of time and your dog is going to be on their own for longer than you’d like, you can spread some sunflower seed butter inside a toy to keep them occupied while you’re gone. 

Despite its higher calorie content, however, lots of dog owners prefer to give their furry friend a dollop of sunflower seed butter over peanut butter. This is because some peanut butters contain xylitol, which is incredibly toxic to dogs. Sunflower seed oil doesn’t contain any xylitol, so you get more peace of mind over their safety. 

This Organic Sunflower Seed Butter from Once Again is an excellent choice for keeping your dog entertained with the occasional treat. It’s also salt-free and unsweetened, so you don’t have to worry about them eating any nasty chemicals. 

Can you give a dog sunflower seed oil?

Sunflower oil is actually quite a common ingredient in dog food and, as such, it’s totally safe for canine consumption! It’s also lower in saturated fats and it contains omega-6 fatty acids that can help keep your dog’s joints healthy, boost their immune system, and give them a beautifully glossy coat. 

It doesn’t only provide internal benefits, though. If your dog’s nose is looking a little dry and cracked, or the pads on their paws are dry, you can use sunflower oil as a super-effective moisturizer!

With all of this in mind, sunflower oil is something that you can give to a dog. However, it’s not recommended to do so at home. The main reason for this is that, if you get the portion size wrong, they can consume too many omega-6 fatty acids. When this happens, the effects are reversed and it can cause joint inflammation.

Eating too many omega-6 fatty acids may even increase the risk of developing certain cancers as they suppress some of the cells that are needed for fighting cancer, including cytotoxic T cells. 

So, while it may be tempting to drizzle some sunflower oil over your dog’s dinner, it’s not worth doing. Instead, look for dog food that has sunflower oil amongst its ingredients and make sure that you’re only feeding them the recommended amount every day. 

Alternative supplements

If your veterinarian has told you that your dog has an omega-6 fatty acid deficiency, you can get more sunflower oil into their diet safely by using a supplement. This will improve their joint health, strengthen their immune system, and boost their skin and fur health.

There are loads of different omega-6 supplements to choose from for dogs, but Zesty Paws Salmon Bites are among the very best. These don’t only contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but they’re also packed with loads of other nutrients including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Biotin, and DHAgold. They’re also super delicious, and you’ll have very little trouble convincing your dog to eat them!

Pawfect Chow Omega Treats are also a great alternative supplement to sunflower seed oil. They don’t contain any sugar, dairy, corn, or soy-derived products either, so they are a good choice if your dog suffers from certain allergies or intolerances. 

Conclusion

The main takeaway here is that it is absolutely safe for dogs to eat sunflower seeds as long as you’re putting certain steps in place to monitor the amount they are eating. You’re also entirely responsible for making sure that any sunflower seeds you give them are shelled and ground up. 

Of course, life isn’t always straightforward and you may find yourself faced with a situation where your dog has managed to get into a bag of unshelled sunflower seeds and eaten all of them. This may give you cause to panic, but there’s no real need to. At worst, they may have a case of diarrhea as their digestive system tries to process the seeds. 

They’ll also have eaten far more calories than they should have, which means they’ll have to skip dinner that night. But, given the stomach issues they may be struggling with, you may not have too much of a protest on your hands as far as that’s concerned!

You should also note that, unless you’re feeding your dog a raw diet, there isn’t really any real need to feed them sunflower seeds on a regular basis. The reason for this is that they are already used in some shape or form in loads of different dog foods already.

Instead, reserve sunflower seeds or a big spoonful of sunflower seed butter as a special treat that they can look forward to every once in a while. 

Jacquelyn Kennedy

PetDT was founded by Jacquelyn Kennedy, a dog lover and pet admirer. She built the website to provide pet owners with information, experiences, and opinions on breeds, temperament, personalities, health, nutrition, products, and care.

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