Sunflower seeds are a summer staple for people and a popular mix-in for bird feed. Whether your dog’s begging for you to share your snack or has broken into a bagful of sunflower seeds, you’re probably wondering: are sunflower seeds okay for dogs?
The short answer is yes, sunflower seeds are safe for dogs to eat. However, that doesn’t mean you should pour them right into your dog’s bowl of kibble or ignore a puppy who’s gotten into shelled or roasted sunflower seeds.
In some cases, sunflower seeds and products can be bad for dogs. And if you’re worried about your dog’s well-being or see signs of distress (like vomiting or diarrhea) after he’s gotten into something, it’s always best to contact your veterinarian for help.
Here, we’ll share the potential health benefits and risks associated with feeding dogs sunflower seeds, and whether dogs can have other sunflower seed-based products like sunflower seed oil and sunflower butter.
Can Dogs Have Sunflower Seeds?
Yes! “Sunflower seeds are safe to feed to dogs,” says Dr. Nancy Welborn, an assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge. That said, dog-friendly sunflower seeds are probably not the kind you regularly buy.
“They have to have the husk off, you can only feed them the kernel, and they need to be unsalted because [salted sunflower seeds] can be way too much extra sodium for a dog to eat,” says Welborn.
If sunflower seeds are okay for dogs, you might also be curious about other sunflower seed products like sunbutter and sunflower oil.
Can Dogs Have Sunflower Oil?
Oil pressed from sunflower seeds isn’t dangerous for dogs to eat, but it’s not a good idea either. Like sunflower butter, it’s high in calories and most pet parents should be concerned with weight maintenance for dogs, not packing on more pounds.
Unless your veterinarian recommends sunflower oil as a supplement to your pup’s diet, keeping this cooking oil on the “no” list for your dog is best.
Can Dogs Have Sunflower Butter?
If you’re looking to fill up a treat toy for a hungry boy, you’re in luck: Sunbutter can be a safe alternative to peanut butter in households where someone has a peanut allergy.
“Sunflower butter can be safely consumed by dogs as long as the amount isn’t excessive,” says Alex Schechter, a Detroit-based veterinarian. “However, sunflower butter is exceptionally high in calories, so it should only be given as a special treat.”
Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds in the Shell?
Hearing a dog munching through sunflower seeds in the shell isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s also your cue to take them away ASAP, no matter your pup’s enthusiasm.
“The shelled sunflower seed can pose a choking hazard,” says Schechter. “Dogs unable to ingest shelled seeds run the risk of a gastrointestinal blockage or obstruction.”
If you notice your dog has signs of an upset GI tract, like vomiting and diarrhea, after munching on shelled sunflower seeds, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Unsalted, unshelled sunflower seeds are typically fair game for dogs. Even better, they may come with some health benefits.
Are Sunflower Seeds Good for Dogs?
Sunflower seeds are a great source of healthy fats, protein, fiber and essential nutrients for dogs, including vitamin E, B6 and magnesium.
“They’re beneficial for canines’ overall health and well-being […], and sunflower seeds are considered significant for their skin and coat,” says Schechter.
One study found that dogs whose diets were supplemented with sunflower seeds experienced improvements in their skin and coat health compared to dogs that didn’t have sunflower seeds added to their diet. The boost appears to be linked to higher levels of healthy fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids.
If you’ve heard about health benefits linked to sunflower seeds, it’s tempting to assume the pros mean you should sprinkle them onto your dog’s food regularly. “Many of us think, ‘if it’s good for me, I need to feed it to my pet,’” says Welborn. “But if a little bit is a good thing, a lot doesn’t always mean better.”
When Are Sunflower Seeds Bad for Dogs?
Dogs and sunflower seeds don’t always mix well. Sunflower seeds can pose a danger to dogs when they eat them with the shell on or get into snacks designed for humans, like roasted sunflower seeds which are often covered in salt, oil, and seasonings.
“Avoid feeding salted seeds as they can lead to health complications such as sodium toxicosis [toxic levels of sodium] and symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and excessive thirst and urination,” says Schechter.
While unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds are safe for dogs, it’s also important not to give them too much. Here’s what you need to know about safely giving your pup the occasional treat.
Sunflower Seeds and Dogs: Helpful Feeding Tips
Although sunflower seeds are safe for dogs, think about why you’d want to feed them to your dog: are you trying to improve their health? Do you want them to have a shinier coat? Before you mix sunflower seeds into your dog’s food, follow these tips to keep them safe and healthy:
Consult with your veterinarian first. No matter the reason, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian before adding anything new to your dog’s diet, especially if you’re concerned about food sensitivities or special health needs, says Schechter. They may have specific recommendations for medications or supplements that can be more helpful.
Consider the alternatives. While sunflower seeds may impart some health benefits, dog food and treats are specifically designed to be nutritionally balanced for dogs and might be a better option.
Reserve them for special occasions. Sunflower seeds shouldn’t be an everyday food for dogs. “Think of them as a treat once or twice a week,” says Welborn. The same goes for sunbutter. Because these foods are high in calories, it’s best to limit them, even more so if you’re watching your dog’s weight.
Stick to small snack sizes. For a healthy and happy dog, Welborn recommends about 10 to 20 sunflower seed kernels for a dog that weighs less than 30 pounds or about 30 to 40 kernels for larger dogs a few times a week at most. For sunflower butter, stick to a maximum of one to two spoonfuls for special occasions, Schechter says.