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Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds? Are They Safe or Toxic For Dogs?

If Fido snuck some sunflower seeds off the counter while you weren't looking, you may be concerned about your pup's health. Veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt looks at if sunflower seeds are safe for dogs, and when to be concerned.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2021 | 6 min read

Can Dogs Eat Sunflower Seeds

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not substitute as contact with a trained professional. If your dog ate sunflower seeds and is reacting adversely, contact your local veterinarian immediately.

Sunflower seeds are a healthy and tasty snack for humans, and it’s only common to want to share the food we love with our pets. But can dogs eat sunflower seeds too? Are they safe for dogs?

First and foremost, like the sunflower plant, sunflower seeds are generally safe for dogs, within moderation. However, there are also some key things you’ll need to watch for, which include sunflower seed husk ingestion, and if the seeds are flavored with any type of flavoring that contains artificial ingredients.

There are plenty of better alternatives for your canine companion’s snack, but if your dog just ate some, you have little to be worried about. Let’s look at what you can expect, and signs to look for if you are worried.

What are Sunflower Seeds?

Large Yellow Flower and Seeds
Sunflowers produce seeds that are often eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient in some foods.

Sunflower seeds are a popular and readily available product cultivated from the sunflower plant with its recognizable bright yellow flower and tall stem. There are different types, classified as black (oilseed) or striped (confectionary).

The seeds are commonly produced for:

  • The food industry
  • Pets and wild birds
  • Cosmetics industry
  • Planting in gardens
  • Making sunflower oil

Some people may refer to the seed as the edible middle part, also called the kernel. Others will include the husk (or hull), which is the outer shell. They can be sold with their husks or without them.

They can also be prepared in different ways, such as roasted, seasoned with salt or spices, or mixed with other ingredients.

It is essential to consider all these differences when talking about how safe it is to give them to your pup. Some of these preparations may harm your dog. Before you feed them to your pet, it is always best to seek the advice of your veterinarian.

Are They Safe for Dogs?

Light Brown Dog With Yellow Flower in Mouth
Sunflower seed kernels are safe for dogs to eat and even have nutritional value.

Sunflower seeds are not toxic to dogs and can be safe in small amounts. Make sure they are clean, dry, and not spoiled. The sunflower kernels are the edible part so remove the husks before feeding. Discard husks where they are out of reach.

They can be roasted for dogs but should be prepared unsalted and without oil or seasoning. If you are roasting seeds at home, cool them before feeding them to your dog. Alternatively, you can feed commercial dog treats or complete diets that have sunflower seeds added to them.

In humans, these seeds have lots of nutritional value. The most abundant nutrients are:

  • Linoleic acid
  • Protein
  • Fiber
  • Vitamins (B & E)
  • Minerals (magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, potassium)

Dogs need all of these nutrients in the right amounts to ensure they stay healthy and free from disease.

Linoleic Acid

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid (omega-6) and vital for your dog’s health. Dogs cannot make essential fatty acids and needs to get them from the food they eat. Sunflower seeds are nearly 50% linoleic acid making them a rich source of omega-6. Linoleic acid is supplemented in dogs with skin and coat issues.

Essential fatty acids also help protect them against heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, but flaxseed oil or fish oil has shown better protection against these diseases in dogs.

Protein

Dogs need protein to keep them active and energetic and to support muscle growth and repair. A well-muscled active dog will have healthier bones and joints, which reduces the risk of muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries, as well as arthritis, as they age.

Fiber

The right amount of fiber in their diet keeps a dog’s gut healthy. Diets higher in fiber can also help dogs that are overweight by making them feel full sooner. Dogs without enough fiber in their diet can suffer from diarrhea. However, too much fiber can cause stomach upset or constipation, so you need to be careful before supplementing their diet.

Vitamins and Minerals

Giving your pup the right vitamins and minerals will boost his immune system and protect him against illness. They are also needed almost anywhere in the body, such as the eyes, muscles, nervous system, bones, joints, skin and hair, and internal organs. However, you have to be careful not to overdo it with supplements, as vitamins can be toxic to dogs in too-high amounts.

There is some evidence that they may improve a dog’s skin and coat, but research for other benefits is poor. We do not know if dogs can use all nutrients contained in them, or get the same health benefits as humans do. Without this information, it is impossible to know how beneficial it is to feed them to your dog.

Instead of supplementing their diet, provide healthy, balanced meals that have been formulated with all their nutritional requirements in mind. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best diets for canines.

Can They Be Bad for Dogs?

Dog With Floppy Ears Looking at Tall Yellow Flower
There are a few instances where they are not OK for canine consumption.

A few seeds as a treat can be safe for your dog. However, there are dangers to be aware of. Some hazards are:

  • Unhusked seeds
  • Large quantities
  • Birdseed
  • Seasoned or flavored
  • Mixed with harmful ingredients
  • Underlying conditions

Unhusked Seeds

Seeds eaten in their shells can irritate your dog’s gut and cause vomiting and diarrhea. The husk does not digest in their stomach, and they have very sharp edges. They are also a choking hazard, so be sure to remove the husk or shell if you are tempted to feed any to your pup.

Large Quantities

Although packed full of nutrients, if Fido has too many, you could reverse the benefits. You can prevent the most essential minerals from being absorbed if too many are in the gut at the same time. Before you supplement minerals, it’s important to remember that their food already has enough minerals — adding more, particularly in high quantities, can be dangerous.

Vomiting or diarrhea may also occur if they eat too many. The high oil content can put them at risk of developing a painful and life-threatening condition called pancreatitis. If your pup is sick after eating them, contact your veterinary clinic for advice.

Birdseed

Bird Feed Close Up
A common ingredient in bird feed, they can be harmful to your pup.

Sunflower seeds are often used in bird feed either on their own or mixed with other grains or fats. They can be bought as sunflower hearts (the kernel), black oil sunflower seeds, or striped sunflower seeds. There are several dangers to dogs if they eat birdseed. Both black oil and striped seeds are sold in their husks, making them more hazardous.

A large amount of birdseed can cause gut problems. The seeds produce gas as they digest in your dog’s stomach, causing a painful condition called bloat. The stomach can twist (called gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV), which is life-threatening, and requires urgent veterinary attention.

Your dog could also get a gut blockage, vomiting, or diarrhea. These seeds’ high oil content can also cause pancreatitis, especially if they are mixed with other fats.

Birdseed can grow mold. These molds produce toxins, called mycotoxins, causing serious illness if eaten by canines. The symptoms of mold toxicity are:

  • Restlessness
  • Staggering
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • High temperature

Some toxins, especially aflatoxin, found in spoiled birdseed can also damage your dog’s liver and lead to death.

If your pup is prone to eating the bird waste that falls to the ground at the base of your feeder, this can also be a problem. Some dogs find this irresistible, but it is full of harmful bacteria, and can cause severe tummy upset. So, be careful where you place birdseed in your garden and keep it well out of reach.

Salt and Seasoning

Sunflower seeds for human consumption are often salted or seasoned. These are usually best. Too much salt in your dog’s diet can lead to poor health, including heart disease and kidney disease. Other seasonings will upset their tummy, so avoid any seeds that have additives.

Mixed With Harmful Ingredients

Sunflower seeds are a popular ingredient in human foods such as granola bars, muesli, spreads, salads, and cakes. Only small quantities may be used in these recipes, but you need to be aware of other ingredients. These can harm your dog if eaten.

Fruit and nuts are often paired with seeds. Raisins can cause kidney failure if eaten by canines, even in small amounts. While all nuts can be a potential choking hazard, macadamia nuts and others are toxic to dogs. They can cause tremors, lethargy, a high temperature, and staggering.

Ensure you check all ingredients are safe for canine consumption before being tempted to feed your pup a human snack. If Fido has eaten a snack and you are unsure if it’s safe, call your veterinarian.

Underlying Disease

Some nutrients can be harmful if your pup has underlying diseases. Similar to sesame seeds, The high oil content can make dogs unwell if they have gut problems or have had pancreatitis in the past.

Too much oil or fats in the diet will make them overweight, increasing their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Some of the minerals, such as copper, can worsen liver conditions if eaten in excess. Always check with your veterinarian before you feed them to your pup.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sunflower seeds toxic to dogs? 

    No, they are not toxic to dogs but should be fed in moderation. You should remove the husk before feeding and do not add salt or seasoning. Don’t give sunflower seeds mixed in with other fruits or nuts, as these could cause harm.

  • Can dogs eat sunflower seeds without the shell?

    Yes, it is always best to remove the shell (or husk) of a sunflower seed before feeding them to your furry friend. Take care to put the husks in the garbage where they can't be reached. If eaten, these can irritate your dog’s gut.

  • Can sunflower seeds make dogs sick? 

    Yes, they can make your canine companion sick if they eat too many. They may vomit, have diarrhea, or even a gut blockage. Your pup may be more at risk if they have gut problems or other underlying diseases like pancreatitis.

  • Is sunflower oil bad for dogs? 

    A small amount of sunflower oil may not cause harm, but too much oil can cause an upset tummy. Sunflower oil is full of essential fatty acids, which can be great for dogs, but avoid supplementing their diet without speaking to your veterinarian. If you give supplements incorrectly, you can cause more harm than good.

  • Is birdseed bad for dogs? 

    If your dog eats a small amount of fresh birdseed, they could get an upset tummy, but if they eat large amounts, they can become bloated or blocked, which is a serious problem. Spoiled birdseed contains dangerous bacteria and toxins, which make them sick and can be fatal if not treated. If your dog is unwell after eating birdseed, call your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

In small amounts, sunflower seeds can be fed to most dogs as a treat. Make sure you remove the husk and do not give seeds that have been seasoned with salt or other flavors. If your pup has eaten birdseed, you should call your veterinarian for advice.

They should not be fed if mixed with other ingredients such as fruit (especially raisins) or nuts. Sunflower seeds are not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet. If your dog is unwell after eating them, call your veterinary clinic right away.

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