Safe and Unsafe Human Foods for Dogs
Here’s a scenario I’ll bet you know all too well. You sit down with a sandwich or snack. A couple minutes later, your dog sits down next to you and starts licking its lips. You’re tempted to share, but you resist. Then your dog takes it up a notch and hits you with the full-on “begging face.” The craving eyes…the pleading expression…the tail wagging enthusiastically on the floor. Should you share? Is it safe to share?
Wanting to include our pets at mealtime is natural—after all, they’re part of the family. But when it comes to dogs and people food, you have to be careful. What’s good for us isn’t always good for them, and the last thing any of us wants is to give our best friends a “treat” that winds up making them sick (and costing us big time in worry and vet bills).
To help make sure you don’t accidentally give your dog an unsafe food, here’s a quick rundown of “people foods” dogs definitely should not eat, people foods dogs can eat, and people foods that fall somewhere in the middle.
STOP! – Red Light Foods – What Not to Give Dogs
The best rule of thumb is, that if I (or your personal doctor) wouldn’t recommend you eat it, then your dog shouldn’t eat it either! Think: foods high in sugar or artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and other highly processed chemical junk. Hot dogs? No way. Potato chips? Not a chance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all healthy people foods are okay, either. Here are four that you’ll want to steer clear of:
As tempted as you may be to share this guilty pleasure with your pooch, don’t. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine that can cause serious health complications – even death – in dogs. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is. While it may seem like a no-brainer to keep your stash out of paws’ reach, accidents happen – especially around the holidays when there’s more candy around. Learn more about why dogs and chocolate are a dangerous combination.
Grapes and Raisins
Grapes are small, sweet, and fun to toss in the air and watch your dog catch, but also can cause your dog’s kidneys to fail. Yes, you read me right. According to holistic veterinarians I know, there’s something in the flesh of grapes and raisins that makes them toxic to dogs. We can speculate that a fungus or pesticide might be the culprit, but we’re still not sure. What we do know, is that it doesn’t take much to bring on poisoning—just 0.7 ounces of grapes, and 0.11 ounces of raisins, for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. If your dog does gobble down grapes, symptoms to look out for include loss of appetite and increased thirst / urine output (or, paradoxically, no urine output at all), as well as vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea.
If you have kids in your house who like to snack on grapes or raisins—especially small children—keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t “share” with your dog.
Garlic and Onions
Dogs will eat a lot of unexpected things—and if one of those things happens to be onions or garlic, get to a vet immediately! Both onions and garlic—as well as leeks, scallions, and chives—contain a substance called thiosulphate. Exposure to enough thiosulphate can cause the dog’s red blood cells to burst—a condition called “Heinz body” anemia. Since red blood cells carry oxygen through the body, this slowly deprives a dog of air and causes difficulty breathing. Vets tell me it can take up to three days for onion- (and up to 7 days for garlic-) related symptoms to appear, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re in the clear if your dog gets into some of these and seems fine a day later. In terms of how much it takes to cause problems, any amount of onion can be risky. With garlic, most experts agree that dogs may be able to tolerate up to one small clove per 20 pounds of body weight. I believe it’s better to err on the side of caution, though, and seek a veterinary opinion with any type of exposure.
One of the things that make this sugar substitute great for us humans is that we can eat it, and it won’t drive up our blood sugar level. In fact, xylitol may even lower your blood sugar. For a dog, though, this can be deadly—and it’s why you should never, ever give your pet anything containing xylitol. Read labels closely, especially if you chew gum or eat sugar-free foods (that aren’t naturally sugar-free).
Even very small amounts of xylitol can cause a too-rapid decrease in your dog’s blood sugar, leading to severe hypoglycemia. Symptoms may include vomiting, lethargy, shaking, unsteadiness, and convulsions and seizures. If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, no matter how little, take him directly to the vet. Your pet likely will need a glucose drip to bring his blood sugar level back under control.
CAUTION! – Yellow Light Foods for Dogs
These foods aren’t necessarily bad for your dog, but they can be if you’re not careful with them. I wouldn’t feed any of them – even in limited amounts – on a daily basis, rather, I’d save them for an occasional treat:
This tends to be a canine favorite—my Chow Chow, Chewie, used to love peanut butter treats!
There are mixed opinions on peanut butter for dogs, though, for a number of reasons. One is mycotoxins. Many commercial peanut butters contain these naturally occurring fungi, which research shows can be harmful to a dog’s liver. And even if you go with organic peanut butter, it’s still going to be high in fats and protein, which can increase your dog’s risk for obesity, diabetes, and pancreatitis. That all sounds bad, I’ll admit. But my take—which is backed up by a holistic veterinarian—is that there’s nothing wrong with peanut butter as long as you alternate it with healthier treats, and treats don’t make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s diet. Also, be sure to read labels carefully. Some peanut butter brands contain xylitol, which as I mentioned earlier, can have potentially fatal side effects.
Is it cooked or raw? That’s the important question here.
Go ahead and feed your dog fully cooked and/or canned salmon with confidence. The omega-3s it contains are great for your dog’s bones, heart, mood, skin, and coat. Raw salmon (or tuna), though, is another story. It may contain parasites that can make your dog sick. Best to go with freeze dried salmon that has been produced under strict safety standards.
The key with cheese is moderation. Cheese can be a good treat, but like peanut butter, it’s high in fat—so opt for lower fat varieties. Cottage cheese is great. It has a lot of protein and calcium, but not as much salt and fat as other types of cheese.
GO! – Green Light Foods for Dogs
These foods, you can feed freely in moderate amounts —all of them are just as good for your dog as they are for you. That means nearly all fruits and veggies (except grapes/raisins and onions and garlic) get the green light for your pups. Some that I personally love are apples, blueberries, bananas, and cooked pumpkin. Cooked veggies like carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and string beans are also great options that bring lots of nutrients and fiber to the table. Cooked poultry and beef (especially the organs, which are more nutrient-dense than muscle) are also good options, just avoid really fatty pieces. Raw meats are more controversial – some vets I know think they’re great for pets, and others advise to stay away from them. Safest bet is to avoid giving your dog raw meat unless it has been safely freeze-dried.
I also like oats and chia seeds, which are great sources of fiber (good for your dog’s weight and blood sugar). Chia also contains calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals. Your best bet is to look for products that contain milled chia seeds, but you can also mix a small amount of seeds with your dog’s regular food. Just keep an eye on how much—no more than a quarter-teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight.
Overall, the most important thing to remember when it comes to human foods for dogs is not to share without thinking first. Resist the urge to mindlessly toss your furry companion a bite of whatever’s on your plate. Stick with all-natural treats designed for dogs, if not the green-lighted items above. It’s the best way to ensure that you can enjoy many meals together!
From my heart to yours,
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