I see these fresh-made meals for pets that look like "people food," and the food that I give to my pet says it's "human grade." Does that mean that it's actually good to give pets "people food?"
Animals have very different digestive systems from humans, and very different needs. "People foods" generally have higher levels of sugar and salt than animals can safely handle, which can lead to dehydration, diarrhea, and/or weight gain, among other issues.
And though those fresh-made pet meals may look the same as what you're eating at your own dinner table, there's been a lot of careful research that goes into what's in them (and what's NOT in them). It may be easy to miss out on some key nutrients your pet needs, even when feeding them foods that would be considered very healthy for people to eat. What's more - some foods that people eat with no problem are toxic to animals. (More about that later.)
That 100-calorie piece of cheese may not seem like it will make a difference to your dog's weight, but keep in mind dogs and cats have a much lower daily caloric need than humans. (An average 20-lb dog only needs about 500 calories a day.) A little goes a long way with human snacks.
Is it okay to give my dog bones from the table? What's the difference between the bones in my food and the ones that I would buy from the pet store?
It can be tempting to give your dog a bone from the table as you're finishing your meal, but unfortunately there is a big difference between those bones and the ones you would buy at the pet store. Bones that have been cooked in commercial or home ovens (or have been barbecued, smoked, steamed, or fried) are unsafe for pets to eat. This is because they have been cooked at temperatures that denature the bone, which means they can easily splinter and become dangerous inside your pet.
Raw bones are okay to share with your dog, but should be refrigerated when not being played with, and discarded after two days. Your best bet for safely giving your dog a bone is to stick with those from the pet store, and even those should be monitored to ensure that they are the correct size and type for your particular pet. Pets shouldn't be left alone with a bone, as there are dangers of breaking/chipping teeth, and choking.
Are there some "people foods" that are actually dangerous to my pet? What should I do if my pet eats these?
Many people know that chocolate is dangerous for dogs and cats, but there are some other food items that might be less well known. Garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts can all be extremely toxic to both dogs and cats, and your veterinarian should be contacted immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested any of these foods and/or is experiencing lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, orange/red urine, or other worrisome symptoms.
Other foods that can also cause issues (whether because of allergies, irritations, toxicity, or nutrition) include caffeine, raw dough, salty or sugary foods, large amounts of almonds, peach or plum pits, large amounts of dairy products, alcohol, avocado pits, and xylitol (which is a sweetener found in peanut butter, candy, gum, and toothpaste). In the end it's better to be safe than sorry, so when it comes to feeding your pet, if you're not sure if the food is safe, best not to share.
GOOD TO KNOW:
It's not just fresh garlic or onion that can be harmful; the powdered versions can be just as scary. So make sure to keep that onion soup mix safely tucked away in the cupboard.
My pet already likes table scraps. Is there a healthy way to feed them "people food" for their regular diet?
If your pet is just one of those pets that loves "people food," and you like giving it to them, there are a number of really great ways to do it.
Fresh frozen meals from JustFoodForDogs offers such "people food"-style choices as "Lamb and Brown Rice" and are easy to thaw and serve. Or you can make your own homemade dog food from scratch using their suggested recipes, and adding their nutrient blend to make sure your pet is getting everything they need. Or go halfsies, by adding an animal-focused base mix of dehydrated vegetables and vitamins and minerals (like that made by The Honest Kitchen) to your pet's favorite fresh protein.
And you can always try out pantry feeding, which means adding extras like bone broth or goat's milk to give your pet's regular food added nutrition, flavor, and moisture.
Does this mean I can't give my pet ANYTHING from the table?
We know it's fun. And they love it. And yes, some "people food" is just fine for your pet. Potatoes, green beans, cheese, bread, cooked eggs, unsweetened peanut butter, plain yogurt, fruits, and lean proteins are all foods that are not harmful to dogs or cats. It's just important to stay aware of those unexpected foods (like onion and garlic) that can cause problems, to always use moderation, and to stay ahead of the comparatively high calorie counts of these foods.
If you like feeding your pet a safe "people food," it's a good idea to do it away from the dinner table, so that they don't associate handouts with your meals. Give a blueberry as a treat on a walk, but not during your meal.
It may save you some grief down the road.
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