As legend has it, the discovery of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) was, in fact, pet related. Centuries ago, an Arabian horse owner was struck by increased performance and energy levels in his horses when he fed them alfalfa. Today, alfalfa is a common food, ingredient and supplement for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, horses, cows and goats, but is also found in some dog, cat and aquarium fish food.

As a dietary item, alfalfa consumption is often limited for adult animals to prevent weight gain, and due to the high magnesium and calcium:phosphorus ratio. Excessive intake is also suspected to cause bloat in some animals.  The key is moderation, which is why an alfalfa supplement is often preferred.

As a supplement, alfalfa is an excellent source of plant protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K, chlorophyll, fiber, carbohydrates, antioxidants, digestive enzymes, amino acids, saponins, flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives.

Studies indicate the following health benefits:

  • Cardiovascular system – lowers cholesterol and prevents artery plaque buildup.
  • Alkalizing effect reduces overly acidic urine
  • Supports optimum liver function
  • Digestive aid & prevents constipation.
  • Saponin constituents assist the small intestine in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.
  • Improved immune function
  • Supports brain and nerve function
  • Anti-cancer – May inactivate chemical carcinogens.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Anti-fungal properties
  • Supports bones and joints
  • Treats bleeding disorders – High in Vitamin K and its coumarin constituent is known for its anticoagulant qualities.
  • Aids in intestinal ulcer healing
  • Supports the pituitary gland and stimulates growth hormones.
  • Increased insulin production
  • Increased milk production
  • Reduces breath odor – Chlorophyll
  • May improve eczema-type skin conditions

It’s important to note that benefits may be proven in one animal (or humans) but not be effective in another. For example, Goldfish can be fed up to 15% alfalfa for the carotenoid benefits of improving pigmentation, while maintaining acceptable growth and feed utilization. Results for other species of fish have been mixed, however, with some experiencing growth retardation and reduced feed utilization efficiency even at a fish meal replacement level of only 5% alfalfa meal. Cytoplasmic alfalfa protein concentrate has been used in fish feed as a fish meal replacement with greater success.

Alfalfa products may be leaves, sprouts, flowers, or a combination. Available forms include fresh sprouts, dehydrated, component extracts, and alfalfa meal. Pharmaceutical grade dehydration must meet nutritional standards and is a far more reliable source of nutrients than processed alfalfa meal. You’ll also find alfalfa in various mixed pet supplements, such as the popular Spark Greens.

Notes of caution:

  • Excessive doses of fresh alfalfa or concentrated extracts may irritate the stomach lining and intestinal mucosa due to saponin constituents.
  • Excessive doses of fresh alfalfa or concentrated extracts may be contraindicated in animals with anemia.
  • Excessive doses of fresh alfalfa or concentrated extracts may interfere with blood clotting due to anticoagulant coumarin.
  • Alfalfa should not be used in animals with conditions requiring acidic urine.
  • Seeds contain l-canavanine, a toxic amino acid.  Harvest before flowering.
  • May cause allergic reaction in pollen-sensitive pets.
  • Herbicides are often used on alfalfa, so organic alfalfa is preferred.
  • Alfalfa sprouts have a higher than normal incidence of salmonella contamination.
  • Heat processing will reduce many active components and vitamin content.

??? Do you supplement your pet’s food with alfalfa? Please share your story in the comments below.

Rodiek, Anne. Hay For Horses: Alfalfa Or Grass? 2001.
Mahmut Yanar. The use of alfalfa, Medicago sativa as a natural carotenoid source in diets of goldfish, Carassius auratus. 2008.
Stavros Chatzifotis. Fishmeal replacement by alfalfa protein concentrate in sharp snout sea bream Diplodus puntazzo. 2006.
Ali, A. Effect of Feeding Different Levels of Alfalfa Meal on the Growth Performance and Body Composition of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) Fingerlings. 2003.
Nutritional Data from the Nutritional Research Center
Molgaard, J. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. 1987.
Charles, Jeffrey M. Chronic Dietary Toxicity Study on Dichlorophenoxybutyric Acid in the Dog. 1998.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements. 2001.
Harris, Viv BVSc Natural Remedies Dogs and Cats Wish You Knew: A Holistic Care Guide. 2008.
Tilford, Gregory. Wulff, Mary. Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life. 2009.
Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2010.


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21 thoughts on “Alfalfa as a Natural Ingredient or Supplement for Pets

  1. Thank you! I’ve been looking for info about alfalfa for tropical fish and it’s not easy to find. I think it’s used for goldfish but its a filler for tropical fish food.

  2. I appreciate your realistic viewpoint and fair reviews. I’d do anything to kee my dog healthy but some of the info you find online is questionable at the best. Alfalfa sounds like one that’s worth trying.

  3. As usual you’ve grabbed my interest not only for my pets but for me too. We’ll all try alfalfa!

  4. We like to explore natural options for pets and wade through the hype for solid information. Sharing your experiences helps us and our visitors find out what is truly beneficial, and we thank you for taking the time to post. 🙂

  5. Nice article!

    Your comments about healthful benefits of alfalfa are very interesting. As most people who have horses know, there is a tendency to feed a lot of alfalfa to horses here in the West (I am in Utah)and it seems that horses on the East Coast tend to get fed a diet based on varied grasses. Over the years as I have had horses I started to feed mostly grass with some supplemental alfalfa and that seemed to work quite well.

    Your article has now inspired me to look into potentially giving one of our dogs (and take it myself!)some alfalfa supplementation. He has a very delicate system and is suffering form some allergies and has had some intestinal issues due to the allergies. The benefits of alfalfa are worth looking into. Also, the anti-inflammatory effect is very interesting.

    Thank you for posting this very informational article. I will share this with people I know.

  6. I’ve seen alfalfa in dog food too but it isn’t in my brand…….maybe it should be!

  7. I have alfalfa here for my rabbit so I’ll try mixing some of that into my dog’s food. I’ll write again if I see any change.

  8. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of feeding alfalfa to dogs because when I went searching I found lots of information. Thanks for turning me on to it.

  9. My dog has been taking an alfalfa supplement for about a year and it really seems to help him.

  10. It appears that I should add alfalfa to my family’s natural supplement arsenal. My dogs will eat anything so that shouldn’t be a prob.

  11. Another item of great research, good job. I think alfalfa is good for a supplement for some animals.

  12. I was surprised to find alfalfa on a fish food label recently but I guess it must be more common than I thought since you mentioned it. Or maybe you just read the same label ;-).

  13. Companies assume that if a little bit of something natural like alfalfa is good than more must be better…or maybe they simply count on us assuming that. Either way it’s dangerous!

  14. I’ve been seeing alfalfa on more ingredient lists lately so this is great to know, thanks.

  15. I’m loving your forthright style & fair opinions about pet food. It’s a welcomed happy medium between industries & exploiters. 🙂 We have three dogs, a cat and fish. 🙂

  16. Alfalfa is definitely one ingredient that can be too much of a good thing but I agree that it’s a good supplement for most animals.

  17. Nice article. Got a very good information. For the pets requires the proper food to maintain them healthy. Have to select proper food which gives energy and healthiness to pets.

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