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Human Food for Dogs: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

dog eating human food that is healthy for dogs

Whether they’re giving us those “begging eyes” or stealthily swiping our food when we’re not looking, our dogs ALWAYS seem to be more interested in what’s on our plate then theirs…but when it comes to sharing human foods, not everything that we eat is necessarily a “green light” food for our dogs.

Sure, it may tug on our heartstrings when they sidle up beside us and expectantly wag those tails, but as pet parents, it’s our job to make sure we’re protecting our dogs’ health – which means knowing which human foods dogs can eat and which foods are bad for dogs.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up all the mealtime fun and stop sharing with your dog entirely. You just need to know some basic guidelines. After all, we want to keep dinnertime fun and stress free – which means avoiding stressful and costly visits to the vet’s office.

To help make sure you don’t accidentally give your dog an unsafe food, here’s a quick rundown of “red light” human foods that are bad for dogs, “green light” human  foods dogs can eat, and  “yellow light” foods that fall somewhere in the middle. Scroll to the bottom for our “quick picks” list you can save to your phone as an easy reference guide! 

STOP! – “Red Light” Foods that are Bad for Dogs

A good rule of thumb to go by, is that “junk foods” (the type you’d be hesitant to let your doctor see in your fridge or pantry!) shouldn’t be shared with your dog either.

Think: foods high in sugar or artificial sweeteners, trans fats, sodium, preservatives and other highly processed chemical junk. Cookies? No way.  Potato chips? Not a chance.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all healthy people foods are okay, either.

Chocolate & Coffee

As tempted as you may be to share these guilty pleasures 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 here about why dogs and chocolate are a dangerous combination.

Similarly, coffee can also be a serious hazard to our dogs, due to our pets’ sensitivity to caffeine toxicity. Our pets are MUCH more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than we are, and symptoms of caffeine toxicity can include increased heart rate, “jitters,” restlessness, excessive vocalization, loss of muscle control, GI distress and seizures. If left unchecked, caffeine toxicity can lead to cardiac issues, a fever or even death – definitely not something to take lightly!

The amount ingested to make an impact does depend on the size, health and age of your pet but better to play it safe than sorry with this one – try not to let your pet slurp any coffee or other caffeinated beverages out of your mug, and absolutely keep any coffee grounds safely out of reach if you have a curious dog inclined to “sample” from the countertop! Also be sure to clean up coffee spills immediately so an opportunistic pup doesn’t lap them up.

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 veterinarians I consult with, 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 can cause serious negative effects for your dog. 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. These fruits may be small but the consequences can be life threateningly serious.

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, as well as other sulfur-containing oxidants that are toxic to dogs including n-propyl disulfide, 2-propenyl thiosulfate. 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.

Xylitol

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, reduced-sugar or diet foods that aren’t naturally sugar-free. It’s not uncommon for Xylitol to be found in otherwise “safe” foods that are marketed towards dieters, such as peanut butter, yogurt or ice cream (which means doggy bowl licking is a definite no-no!)

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 human foods aren’t necessarily “bad” for your dog, but aren’t nutritionally ideal, either and should be shared with discretion. I personally wouldn’t recommend any of the following for daily feeding – instead, consider these an occasional treat saved for special circumstances.

Nuts and Peanut Butter

Peanut butter tends to be a doggy favorite—my Chow Chow, Chewie, used to love a dollop of peanut butter as an impromptu treat! The caveat with peanut butter is that it’s high in calories, too much of which can increase your dog’s risk of weight gain and obesity. So exercise moderation with peanut butter (as you’re dog likely won’t). Also, be sure to read labels carefully- I know I said it before, but some peanut butter brands contain xylitol, which as previously stated can have potentially fatal side effects.

Shelled peanuts and most other unsalted nuts are also okay for dogs as special treats. The one exception is macadamia nuts, which are toxic to dogs in small amounts.

Salmon & Other Fish

Is it cooked or raw? That’s the important question here.

Go ahead and feed your dog fully cooked and/or canned salmon and sardines with confidence. The omega-3s they contain are great for your dog’s bones, heart, mood, skin, and coat. Raw salmon (or tuna), though, is another story. It could potentially contain parasites that can make your dog sick. Best to go with freeze dried salmon that has been produced under strict safety standards.

Ageless Paws healthy, single ingredient freeze-dried treats and food toppers for dogs and cats

Cheese

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, and always sharing sparingly. Cottage cheese is great because it has a lot of protein and calcium, but not as much salt and fat as other types of cheese.

Yogurt

The right variety of yogurt – plain, WITHOUT any sweeteners (including sugar or the deadly Xylitol), and rich in live cultures – can be a savory treat for special occasions, but I don’t recommend regular feeding. Why? Because in spite of the fact that yogurt is rich in calcium and protein, it also contains lactose which certain dogs may have trouble digesting…which rather counteracts the “probiotic” upside.  I generally recommend sauerkraut (some dogs will eat it!) or probiotic supplements specifically formulated for dogs rather than yogurt.

Mushrooms

Obviously, the only mushroom that would ever be safe to share with your dog would be one from the grocery store and NEVER the yard. Wild mushroom poisoning can be fatal, and if you believe your dog has been foraging and consumed wild mushrooms, it’s best to err on the side of caution and contact your vet immediately. Symptoms of wild mushroom poisoning can include increased salivation, tremors, seizures, diarrhea and lethargy. I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t mess around with wild mushrooms!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s focus on the good side of mushrooms. Interestingly, certain edible mushrooms have been shown to have a range of positive properties, including potentially supporting liver and kidney function, stabilizing blood sugar and boosting immune function. Just as certain mushrooms are healthy for us, they can also be healthy for our dogs!

The following varieties can be safely shared with your dog, so long as they are cooked (as dogs lack certain digestive enzymes that we have which would help them to comfortably break down a raw mushroom) and in moderation.

  • White button
  • Cremini
  • Portobello
  • Porcini
  • Reishi
  • Shiitake
  • Maitake

Rhubarb, Spinach, and Avocados

While there are plenty of vegetables that are perfectly safe and even encouraged to share with your dog (see below), these three deserve special mention as they fall into a bit of a gray area.

Admittedly, these aren’t foods our dogs seek out in the same way as say, cheese or peanut butter, but if we do share table food with our dog, some of these may be on your plate – and it’s important to know where they stand, both for your dogs’ health and your own peace of mind.

Spinach is rich in Vitamins A,B,C, and K, as well as other nutrients such as iron and antioxidants but should only be shared in small quantities as it is also high in oxalic acid which can lead to kidney damage in high quantities. A few pieces here and there won’t impact a healthy dog’s kidney function, but just remain mindful of how much – and how often – you share this leafy green with your dog.

As for Rhubarb, like spinach, it all depends on quantity and what part of the plant your dog eats. While stems are just fine for consumption, the leaves can potentially be poisonous but a large quantity would have to be eaten to take a difference. Basically, a few nibbles from your plate won’t pose a threat, but if you garden and your dog eats the whole plant, that’s another story!

Lastly, avocados…there’s a lot of good stuff in them, but watch how much your pooch eats. A little bit isn’t going to hurt them, but there’s at least one report of a dog getting sick after eating MASSIVE amounts. The bigger threat, really, is if they eat the seed because it can cause obstruction.

GO – “Green Light!” Foods Dogs Can Eat

Now on to the good stuff – literally! These foods are just as healthy for our dogs as they are for us, which means you can share freely and generously with your doggy friend – and feel great about it!

Fruits and Vegetables

We all know fruits and veggies are an essential part of a healthy diet for us, but most varieties (excluding the aforementioned grapes/raisins, onions and garlic) are great for our dogs, too! This includes raw apples, blueberries, bananas, and cooked pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and string beans…these are all packed with fiber and nutrients, so if your dog shows an interest and wants to have a bite – feel free to share! I’ve found that some dogs LOVE vegetables seasoned with a little bit of olive oil and pinch of sea salt, so if you want your dog to eat more veggies, try that combo.

Rice & Oats

Rice – particularly the brown variety – is full of natural fiber, and rich in vitamins D and B. If you think this is an odd choice to share with your dog, think again – brown rice is actually a common ingredient in many brands of commercial dog foods and is an excellent source of carbohydrates.

White rice can also be shared with your dog, but bear in mind that by removing the hulls, there are less nutrients – and subsequently, more starch. Just like with us humans, more starch can easily lead to weight gain, so I personally recommend saving the white rice for “special occasions” – such as when your dog is experiencing tummy trouble, as many veterinarians recommend white rice as a simple home remedy to assist with calming GI upsets.

Oats are similarly also a fantastic source of soluble fiber, and are best enjoyed by our dogs cooked – so if they’re curious about your oatmeal, there’s no harm in sharing a spoonful!

Eggs

Eggs are, in my opinion, a near perfect health food – they are rich in satisfying protein, essential amino acids, and nourishing fatty acids. And guess what – all of these things make them a fantastic treat for our dogs, too! I’ve even known some individuals who feed their dogs soft boiled eggs daily as a supplementation to “regular” dog food – and they love ‘em!

Just bear in mind how the eggs you’re sharing are prepared (for dogs, we’ve noticed that scrambled, soft boiled or hard boiled are best) and make sure that no red light ingredients – like onions, scallions or garlic – were mixed in.

And while we’re on the topic of what dogs REALLY love when it comes to food, we had to save the best for last…

Meat! Chicken, Beef, Bison, Venison, Duck, Turkey…

When it comes to what gets those tails a waggin’, and those noses pressed up against our dinner plate, there’s one food our dogs beg for more than any other – MEAT!

Thankfully, meat is one of the most biologically ideal foods discussed here for our dogs to enjoy – so we can feel great about sharing! Cooked poultry and beef (especially the organs, which are more nutrient-dense than muscle) are particularly good options – just avoid really fatty pieces.

Raw meats are more controversial and opinions tend to be mixed – some vets I know think they’re great for pets, and believe the nutrient benefit outweighs any potential downsides, but others advise to steer clear. In my experience, the safest bet is to give your dog raw meat that has been safely freeze-dried.

Freeze drying is a process which removes moisture and extends the lifespan of meat, preserving the nutritional integrity while also mitigating many of the bacterial concerns that may accompany handling literal “raw meat” (some people understandably get a little queasy). Pets can still enjoy the savory flavor of raw meat, and all then nutritional upsides but without the mess and inconvenience traditional forms of raw feeding can present for us humans.

Now, don’t get me wrong – freeze dried raw meat is not something I recommend humans eat, but for our pets, freeze dried meat treats and food toppers are one of the easiest ways to share clean, pure nutrition with our pets…and keep those begging eyes in check come dinnertime!

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!

“Can I Feed My Dog That” Quick List 

Red Light Foods – NEVER feed these to your dog! 

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee (or any caffeinated beverages or snacks)
  • Grapes & Raisins
  • Garlic & Onions
  • Xylitol
  • Macadamia nuts

Yellow Light Foods – safe to share occasionally, in moderation: 

  • Peanut Butter
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Store-Bought Mushrooms
  • Rhubarb, Spinach and Avocado

Green Light Foods – Safe to Share! 

  • (Cooked or Freeze-Dried) Salmon & other fish
  • Meat and poultry – chicken, turkey, bison, beef – muscle and organ meats
  • Most Fruits & Veggies (except any listed above!)
  • Rice & Oats
  • Eggs

*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners

© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.

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