Is it OK to feed your dog human food?
The answer depends upon the food. Many human foods are perfectly safe, while others can create havoc with your dog’s digestive tract, and some are even outright toxic. It would be impossible to list every food in the universe, so I’ll just hit some of the more common ones. I’ve broken them down into three categories: OK, Sometimes OK, and Never.
The ‘OK’ Group
These are the foods we commonly give our dogs: peanut butter, leftover meats and fish, rice and other grains, bread, popcorn, and cooked eggs.
Fruits and vegetables are fine to feed your dog, with some notable exceptions (see The “Never” Group). Many dogs enjoy fruits like berries, melons, bananas, pears, pineapple, and even the flesh of oranges. Fresh apples and stone fruit are also fine, but be sure to remove the seeds and pits, which contain a chemical that degrades into hydrogen cyanide when ingested, and could be fatal. Most of our most common veggies are healthy for Fido: carrots, green beans, potatoes, broccoli and brussels sprouts, squash, lettuces, beets, peas, and store-bought mushrooms. (Unless you’re an expert mycologist, never let your dog eat wild mushrooms. And don’t eat them yourself!)
The ‘Sometimes OK, Sometimes Not’ Group
Chief within this group is dairy. As humans, we may all scream for ice cream … but do your dogs? More importantly, should they?
Just like many humans, some dogs have trouble digesting these foods and end up with G.I. upsets. The culprit is lactose. The only way a dog — or a human — can digest lactose is if it can produce the enzyme lactase: if that enzyme is missing, you end up with the well-known lactose intolerance, featuring gas, abdominal cramping and bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting. The condition isn’t dangerous for us Homo sapiens or our Canis lupus familiaris (the family dogs), but it’s sure no fun.
Again, just like humans, some dogs can digest certain dairy products more easily than others. The reason is that different dairy foods contain different amounts of lactose: for instance, your dog may be just fine eating cheddar cheese, because an ounce of it contains less than a gram of lactose. Give that same dog a half-cup of ice cream, which contains 11 grams of lactose, and you may end up with a pretty miserable pup.
Cottage cheese is usually well-tolerated by most dogs because it’s low in lactose. Low-fat or nonfat yogurt can also be a a nice treat: even though it often contains as much as 8 grams of lactose, the live bacteria in most yogurts can help break down that troublesome lactose.
Avocados are also in this “maybe” group. Avocado leaves, skin, and pits hold a high concentration of a toxin called persin, which can cause serious gastrointestinal problems. Avocado flesh, however, contains only a negligible amount of this toxin, and is safe for your dog to eat — but its high fat content could lead to pancreatitis, so give your pup only small amounts.
Many veterinary experts give raw meaty bones the thumbs-up, but others advise caution. While it’s probably safe for your dog to chew on raw chicken or turkey necks and raw chicken wings, remember that poultry can harbor bacteria such as salmonella; the infection usually harmless in dogs, but can lead to gastroenteritis and septicemia. Salmonellosis is also zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted to humans.
Raw lamb or beef bones are also soft enough for your dog to chew, eat, and digest. Keep in mind, however, that your dog could choke on any bone if it’s swallowed without being thoroughly chewed, and that very hard bones can result in tooth damage or loss.
The ‘Never’ Group
While you’re probably well aware of some foods in this category, others may come as a surprise. By now, we all know that dogs should never eat chocolate, grapes, and raisins. But did you know that onions, garlic, black walnuts, and macadamia nuts are also on the forbidden foods list? Coffee and tea, alcoholic drinks, any foods containing Xylitol, yeast dough, raw eggs, and foods high in sodium should also be avoided.
As humans, we know that too much fat is unhealthy, and the same is true for dogs. Avoid giving your pup fat trimmings and poultry skin, which can lead to pancreatitis and of course, obesity.
Never give your dog cooked bones, especially those from poultry, as they can splinter and severely damage the mouth and intestinal tract.
As a general rule, human foods should be fed to humans, not dogs — but dog lovers being dog lovers, we sometimes like to give our pets something special from the table or fridge or cupboard. That’s fine, as long as it’s not harmful … just remember the old saying, “everything in moderation.”
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue