I recently received a question that has been asked and discussed for many moons between clients and their veterinarians. Is it OK to feed a dog human foods and, if so, what things are safe?
The reason this is an issue is because human foods can be detrimental, even dangerous, to our companions, especially if there are underlying diseases.
The digestive system is extremely complex and very different from species to species. The digestive system of a feline is totally different from that of a dog, which is totally different from that of a parrot, which is totally different from that of an iguana. Each has adapted to a specific diet provided in the specific environments in which they live. In the case of companion species, we provide their diets.
To understand more about proper nutrition in companions, study of their non-domestic counterparts in their habitats has been revealing. In the case of cats, we have learned much about their nutritional requirements by observing lions, tigers, jaguars and other wild cats. Wolves provide a non-domestic model for dogs. It’s hard to believe a chihuahua is related to a timber wolf, but metabolically they are brothers.
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From these observations, we know that dogs and many avian companion species are what we term omnivores. This means they are designed to eat a variety of foods of plant and animal origin. Humans fall into this category, too. Do not infer from this, however, that humans and dogs are identical in their nutritional needs. Cats, we know, are true carnivores designed only to eat meat-sourced foods.
Rabbits, guinea pigs, iguanas, horses and chinchillas, among others, fall into the group we call herbivores. These creatures are designed to eat plant material.
What does all this mean? Especially in the case of dogs and cats, it means we as caretakers should pay close attention to their diets and stick to foods specifically formulated for them. It is especially important to use specific diets for our companions with certain digestive problems. This is something you and your veterinarian can decide based on your companion’s condition.
I realize that for some of us it is impossible to keep from feeding our companions from our plates. I know how hard it is to resist them when they give you “that look” – you know the one: the anxious eyes, anticipating, hoping. How can you resist? I know that’s what my dog counts on. My bird is much more brazen. He flies right up to the plate and tries to snatch whatever he fancies.
To avoid inappropriate supplementation of your companion’s diet, I suggest a solution that has worked well for me. I do not eat in front of my dog and my bird is not within eye contact.
If avoiding your companion(s) during mealtime is not an option and you find it impossible to resist feeding them your food, please show discretion. At all cost, avoid foods that are high in fat. Meat and meat scraps can be especially dangerous and in my opinion should absolutely be avoided.
There are human foods that can be used as treats, although I personally prefer to stick to treats specifically formulated for your companion. I recommend baby carrots as a treat. They have no fat and are helpful in scrubbing a bit of plaque from the teeth. The key in my opinion is always to avoid foods that are laden with fat. Too many times, I have seen dogs become very ill, even fatally so, when treated with high-fat human food items.
Perhaps it is best to avoid all human foods for our canine companions, lest we begin to slide down that slippery slope to the point where we are being trained by our dogs to feed them what they want from our table rather than what is best for them.