By Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD
More formally known as Avena sativa, inexpensive and readily available oats have a long list of nutritional and health benefits. So, it's not surprising that oats have quite a history of being used to promote the well-being of people and pets, whether taken internally or applied directly to the skin.
Nutritional Benefits of Oats for Pets
Simply put, oats are nutritious. Compared to other types of cereal grains, oats are relatively high in protein and fat. Protein quality is also high in oats, meaning that that it can be digested and used by the body and provides a good balance of amino acids. Oats also contain a lot of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals (including vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, iron, and selenium), all of which play an important role in maintaining or improving health.
Oats can be a good source of nutrition for pets who have a dietary sensitivity to gluten. Oats that have not been contaminated with grains like wheat, barley, or rye contain no gluten. Also, oats do not currently undergo any genetic engineering or modification.
Of course, the nutritional value of oats needs to be judged in view of a pet’s overall dietary needs. For example, most cats do best when eating foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Even though oats do contain relatively large amounts of protein for a cereal grain, they are still high in carbohydrates and should therefore be limited to a small role in the feline diet. One way cats can safely enjoy oats is in the form of “cat grass.” Oats are easy to grow indoors. Simply stick some organic seeds in a pot or purchase a ready-made kit and add water and sunlight. Wait a few weeks until the stems are a couple of inches tall before you let your cat indulge in her natural instinct to nibble on grass.
Oat tea is another way to safely incorporate oats into your cat’s diet. To make oat tea, steep about one tablespoon of organic oats for 15 to 20 minutes in a cup of hot water. Mix a small amount of the tea into your cat’s canned food or apply enough to her kibble to thoroughly moisten it.
Due to their more omnivorous nature, dogs can thrive on a higher proportion of oats in their diets than do cats. Some commercially available dog foods are made with oats, or you can add a little cooked oatmeal to your dog’s current diet. If you are feeding a homemade diet, ask the veterinary nutritionist you are working with whether he or she can incorporate oats into one or more of your recipes. Alternatively, a tablespoonful of cooked oatmeal for every 10 to 20 pounds of your dog’s weight can be safely added to her diet in lieu of other treats. Talk to your veterinarian about the specifics of your pet’s nutritional needs.