Meat and dogs just seem to go together. Most dogs are happy to eat just about any kind of meat you put in front of them. So, it’s not really surprising if your dog shows interest when you make meatballs. As always, you have to wonder whether dogs can eat meatballs safely. That depends on the kind of meatballs you have and what you put in them. Read below to find out what kind of meatballs might be safe for your dog.
Meatballs can be made from almost any kind of ground meat. Most people are familiar with meatballs made from ground beef used in spaghetti. However, you can also find meatballs made from a mix of ground beef and pork or veal. Many different spices can be used in making meatballs depending on the food and sauces you prefer.
Nutritionally, meatballs have some benefits. Meatballs made from ground beef typically have about 20 percent protein, 11 percent carbohydrates, and 69 percent fats. They have lots of protein, iron, potassium, and calcium, as well as dietary fiber.
On the down side, meatballs tend to have a lot of total fat and saturated fat. They can also be high in sodium.
Four medium-sized meatballs (113 grams) have 324 calories with 227 calories from fat. They have 25 grams of total fat and 8.6 grams of saturated fat. They have 75 mg of cholesterol.
The four medium-sized meatballs have 755 mg of sodium, 336 mg of potassium, and 16 grams of protein. They have 9.1 grams of carbohydrates and 2.6 grams of dietary fiber and 3.9 grams of sugars.
If you are worried about the fat in meatballs, you can choose leaner meats for your ground meat to help keep the fat lower. If you are concerned about the sodium in meatballs, try to reduce any added salt in your meal.
The beef in meatballs is also a good source of micronutrients such as zinc and vitamin B12. Zinc is a powerful antioxidant that helps with DNA repair and replication. B12 helps with the health of nerve and blood cells.
We’ll discuss some of the other meats and ways you can make meatballs below.
Can you give your dog meatballs
Yes, you can give your dog meatballs – with caution. The high quality protein and some of the other nutrients in meatballs are great for your dog. You do need to be careful about some of the other ingredients that can be found in meatballs.
Most people are familiar with the kind of basic meatballs made from ground beef that are used in spaghetti. However, even these classic meatballs can vary, depending on the recipe you use. Betty Crocker’s classic meatball recipe calls for the addition of Worcestershire sauce which can turn some dogs off. The pepper and onion are also not advisable for dogs. Other familiar meatball recipes include red pepper flakes and spices that are not recommended for dogs.
Do you love meatball sub sandwiches? There’s a good chance that the meatballs on these Italian-style sandwiches are made with onions and garlic. These are often included as part of the “Italian spices” on a web site or label.
The safest way to give your dog meatballs is to make them yourself. You can take a basic recipe and omit the onion and garlic. You could use a recipe such as this one:
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup finely minced Italian parsley
- 1 pound ground meat (such as beef, pork, turkey, chicken, or veal, or a mix)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (or grated on a coarse grater) from 1 small yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic (finely minced)
When making this recipe for your dog, omit the ingredients that are highlighted to be safe. The onion and garlic are not considered to be safe for dogs. Your dog doesn’t need the added salt and most dogs don’t like pepper. The other ingredients are all safe for dogs. Plus, dogs love Parmesan cheese. It’s doubtful that lactose-intolerance will be a problem for most dogs with this recipe but if your dog is lactose-intolerant, you can use a lactose-free milk. Parmesan cheese is essentially lactose-free.
Keep in mind that your meatballs will have less fat if you bake them than if you pan-fry them.
We do suggest that you generally avoid giving your dog canned meatballs or other meatball-type foods that you buy at the store. Most of these foods are extra high in sodium. And, like other commercial foods, they usually contain preservatives that are not very good for dogs.
How many meatballs can you give your dog?
As we mentioned earlier, meatballs tend to be somewhat high in calories. Four medium-sized meatballs contain about 324 calories. That would be a lot of calories to give to most dogs. For some small dogs, that would be their entire day’s food portion!
We suggest that you only give a small dog one meatball. Medium and large dogs can have 2-3 meatballs.
Meatballs do vary, depending on the kind of meat used, the size of the meatball, and how they are cooked, but you should always remember that they tend to be high in calories and fat.
There are some cases where you might encourage your dog to eat a couple of meatballs. Senior dogs that have a hard time retaining weight, female dogs that have recently had puppies, and dogs that are recovering from illness are cases where dogs can benefit from eating more calories. We suggest that you check with your veterinarian in these cases to make sure the meatballs won’t be harmful to your dog’s medical condition.
How often can you give your dog meatballs?
Because of the calories in meatballs, it’s usually a good idea to only give them to your dog about once per week.
If you are giving your dog meatballs to help him gain weight, talk to your veterinarian about how often you can add meatballs to your dog’s diet.
Since making meatballs can be time-consuming, it’s a good idea to make an entire batch and freeze some. That way you can take out 1-2 at a time and heat them up as you plan to serve them to your dog.
What about Swedish meatballs?
There are other meatballs besides the regular American ground beef version we see so often. Swedish meatballs are also a favorite with some people. So, how are they different from other meatballs? And, can you give them to your dog?
Both kinds of meatballs usually contain ground beef. However, Swedish meatballs usually contain pork, too. They are usually smaller than ordinary meatballs. Like other meatballs, they may use onions and breadcrumbs (or panade – a milk-soaked bread). However, they really differ in their spice palate.
Swedish meatballs traditionally use spices such as allspice, nutmeg, white pepper, and sometimes ground ginger as flavoring, along with salt and pepper.
Some of these spices, especially nutmeg (and, to a lesser extent, allspice), are harmful to dogs. We would recommend that you avoid giving your dog Swedish meatballs if they contain these ingredients.
What about sweet and sour meatballs?
Sweet and sour meatballs are usually made with regular meatballs. It’s the sweet and sour sauce that makes them different. Unfortunately, the sweet and sour sauce contains ingredients that are not recommended for dogs.
We looked at one popular sauce for sweet and sour meatballs online and found these ingredients:
- brown sugar
- soy sauce
- pineapple juice
None of these ingredients are good for dogs. Most dogs probably won’t want to eat this sauce even if they are interested in the plain meatballs.
What about Italian meatballs?
For most of us, American meatballs are the same as Italian meatballs. For people who are true aficionados, Italian meatballs are something very special. Ground beef is not enough. You need to include pork and Italian sausage in the meat. Breadcrumbs are not enough. You need a panade or breadcrumbs soaked in milk until it becomes a paste to make the meatballs moist. Don’t forget the extra virgin olive oil, sauce, and onions and garlic …
That’s right. Italian meatballs are just about unthinkable without onions and garlic. If you are going to the trouble of making real Italian meatballs with all of the wonderful (and expensive) ingredients, it needs onion and garlic. Don’t bother giving these meatballs to your dog. Eat them yourself. Give your dog the plain meatballs made from ground beef.
What about turkey meatballs?
If you are concerned about giving your dog meatballs because of the high fat and calories, turkey meatballs may be the perfect solution.
Turkey can be an excellent meat for dogs. It’s high in protein, low in fat, and has zero carbohydrates. It’s a terrific source of niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, and choline.
Turkey is already leaner than many other meats. You can further reduce the calories by purchasing lean ground turkey in the store.
Use breadcrumbs and egg to bind the ground turkey. You can add Parmesan cheese for more flavor.
Basic turkey meatballs are a great way for your dog to enjoy a healthy protein treat.
Meatballs come in so many different versions. Virtually every cuisine in the world has their own kind of meatball. In many cases, the difference in the meatballs depends on the spices used. Some spices are not safe for your dog to eat, especially any recipes that include onion and garlic. The meat protein in meatballs is usually healthy for dogs but it’s always important for you to know what other ingredients are included. The best way for you to let your dog enjoy a meatball is to make them yourself and keep them plain.