The days of giving dogs leftover, unhealthy table scraps of fatty meats and gravy are, fortunately, long gone. However, adding "people food" to your dog's diet can enhance the nutrients they receive as long as you're careful about what food you offer and in what quantities. Dogs can eat most foods people eat, with some very important exceptions.
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Toxic and dangerous foods to avoid
Some foods should never be fed to dogs because they are considered toxic to them. Toxic foods are not ones they are allergic to, or that could give them an upset stomach or diarrhea. These are foods that can make dogs violently ill, in need of emergency care, and even die after consuming them. Toxic foods include:
- Garlic, onions, chives, and other Allium family members
- Tomatoes — ripe tomatoes are OK; unripe tomatoes and the plant stems and leaves are toxic
- Macadamia nuts
- Almonds — choking hazard and can tear the esophagus
- Raw eggs
- Seeds and pits of fruits like apples and peaches (feeding the fruit is healthy)
- Chicken bones (and other bones that splinter) — can tear parts of the digestive system and cause internal bleeding
Be careful when providing other "people foods" that tend to cause gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, gas, and/or diarrhea, although they aren't likely to cause life-threatening illness. Some of these are:
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other cabbages — cause painful gas
- Raw meat — can contain parasites
- Sweet foods — food with added sugar or sugar substitutes are unhealthy
- Salty foods like ham, deli meats, salted nuts — can cause dogs to retain water
- Cinnamon — can irritate dogs' mouths and digestive systems
Safe, nutritious foods to add to diet
Veterinarians and canine nutritionists recommend that owners who want to serve their dogs human food do so by supplementing the dog's food with healthy people food, not replacing the diet your vet recommended with all human food. At most, strive to supply up to 25 percent of your dog's diet with human food. If you continue to give your dog the amount of dog food you've been feeding, and just add human food, you'll be feeding your dog too many calories and that's a prescription for weight gain. As with humans, dogs that are overweight are much more likely to suffer from illness, chronic diseases, and the orthopedic problems in hips and knees that plague many dogs (and humans). For variety and a balanced diet, try some of these:
- Meats for protein: Lean chicken, turkey, pork, and beef with visible fab trimmed, cooked. Cooked liver is quite nutritious if given in small amounts.
- Fish for Omega3: Cooked salmon, occasionally tuna (its high mercury level makes it unsuitable to give often.)
- Vegetables with vitamins A, B6, K, and fiber: Cooked fresh or frozen (canned are too high in salt) green beans, carrots, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. Peas can be given frozen, thawed (uncooked), or cooked for variety. Some dogs like dried split peas, cooked.
- Fruits add vitamin C and others: Strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, apples (cut small and look for any seeds and remove). Give fruit sparingly due to sugar content.
- Dairy for calcium and protein: Yogurt with active bacteria to act as probiotic, buy varieties without sugar or sugar substitutes; cottage cheese if dog is not lactose intolerant (symptom is diarrhea). Other cheeses have too much fat for dogs.
- Nuts: Unsalted peanuts, cashews.
- Treats: Freeze small pieces of fruit; freeze (in ice trays) the yogurt you buy. Hard-boiled eggs can also be a welcome treat or reward while training and provide protein, selenium, and riboflavin. Many dogs love popcorn; just keep it healthy by air-popping and don't add butter or salt. Put peanut butter on a toy for entertainment and vitamins E and B, protein, and niacin.
- Herbs: Parsley freshens breath and supplies calcium, protein, and beta carotene.
The scoop on feeding grains to dogs
Most dogs can eat all kinds of grains, and should because they are an important diet staple. If their dog food recipes say they are made with grains, they may get enough and you can supplement with other foods. But grain-free dog food has become popular since people started to cut back on grains themselves or even to eat grain-free. The 2007 scare where the wheat gluten in some dog food from China was found to be tainted also made pet owners fearful of grains and the fear stuck. A July 2019 article in The Atlantic reported on a study of the correlation between dogs eating a grain-free diet and suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which prompted a warning from the CDC about the possible danger when grains are left out of a dog's diet.
Nutritionists say that grains are healthy for humans and dogs. Of course, some grains may be healthier than others. When you feed your dog bread, for example, it doesn't have a lot of nutrients, and store-bought bread usually has a lot of additives. If you make it yourself, however, you can choose the grains you want to use. But, calorie for calorie, other grains are better choices than bread. Consider giving cooked grains to your dog in a variety of ways:
- Cooked oatmeal (unsweetened)
- Cooked rice (especially helpful for upset stomachs)
- Corn (off the cob)
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.