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Should you feed your dog table scraps?

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Should you feed your dog table scraps?

Experts agree that the wrong table scraps, especially when given too often, can result in digestive upsets, obesity and sometimes even life-threatening reactions. However, carefully selected human foods may actually benefit dogs and cats because they add extra nutrients and variety to the diet.

You should already be feeding your companion a healthy, natural premium food, so whatever the time of year, look on table scraps as treats rather than a substitute for a balanced diet. The basic rule of thumb is that if your table scraps are too unhealthy for you and your family to eat, they belong in the compost or garbage bin – not in your animal’s bowl.

Good judgment can make the difference between a healthy treat and an emergency trip to the vet’s office. Before you let your cat or dog sample table scraps this holiday season, refer to this chart to see what’s good for him, and what could make him sick.

Healthy choices

  • Turkey and chicken – Cooked chicken and turkey are excellent holiday treats for pets, but watch out for bones, salt, and seasoning made with onions.
  • Lean red meat – Both cats and dogs adore the flavor and texture of red meat. Shreds of lean beef and mutton are chock full of highly absorbant nutrients.
  • Boiled or scrambled eggs – Free-range eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Sweet potatoes A great source of beta carotene, which dogs convert into a non-toxic form of vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are a healthy way to satisfy an animal with a sweet tooth.
  • Carrots – Another great source of beta carotene, carrots have a satisfying texture that cats and dogs both enjoy.
  • Green vegetables – Broccoli, green beans, turnip greens, etc. are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals – but shy away from anything that has been heavily seasoned or covered with rich sauce.
  • Fish – Fresh and frozen cooked fish can provide a dog or cat with lean protein and highly absorbable vitamins. Cold water fish is also a good source of omega-3 oils. Cats will ind the treat especially satisfying.
  • Apples – Animals, especially dogs, can benefit from fresh apples as an occasional treat. Avoid giving cooked apples that have been heavily sweetened.
  • Unsweetened yogurt – Yogurt contains “friendly” bacteria that facilitate digestion and enhance the immune system.

Foods to give in moderation

  • Whole grains – Brown rice, corn, quinoa and whole wheat bread can be healthy sources of fiber and vitamins, but on their own do not contain an appropriate nutritional profile for cats or dogs.
  • Cheese – Cats and dogs digest cheese products more effectively than milk. However, it can still cause gas, bloating and stomach cramps. Cottage cheese is easier on their digestion.
  • Cooked potatoes – Peeled, cooked ripe potatoes can be an enjoyable snack, but cats and dogs get little nutritional value from them. Unpeeled and unripe potatoes contain phytotoxins that are dangerous to your animal.
  • Beef liver – Liver can be a healthy source of many important nutrients, but too much may be hazardous. Because liver contains such large amounts of vitamin A, it can actually be toxic when given in very large quantities.
  • Beans and soy products – Many animals become gassy after eating beans and soy-based foods. However, a bite of tofurkey can be a healthy source of protein and key minerals.
  • Tomatoes – Unripe tomatoes contain tomatine and atropine, both of which are toxic to dogs. In moderate amounts, ripe tomatoes contain too little of these compounds to be harmful.
  • Ham – This holiday tradition contains too much sugar, fat and salt to be healthy. If you choose to give ham to your companion, limit it to a few small bites.
  • Cow’s milk – Cats and dogs lack the digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down milk sugars, so cow’s milk may cause diarrhea, gas, bloating and vomiting.
  • Canned fish – Canned tuna and salmon often contain a lot of salt. Select low-sodium options.

Avoid completely

  • Tea and coffee – Cats and dogs are very sensitive to caffeine. Many have died after eating coffee grounds and tea bags, so keep these well out of your animal’s reach.
  • Grapes and raisins – Contain potent kidney toxins for dogs. While a dog may not show obvious symptoms of poisoning immediately after eating them, a single serving of these sweet fruits can cause long term damage.
  • Salty foods – Hotdogs, tinned soups, deli meats, etc., contain far too much sodium for a cat or dog’s body to process. They can cause electrolyte imbalance, kidney disease, tremors, seizures, vomiting and in some cases even death.
  • Alcohol – Cats and dogs are highly susceptible to alcohol’s toxic effects. Wine, beer and mixed drinks can cause vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea and even liver failure. This holiday season, be sure not to share your nog with your dog.
  • Sweet desserts – Cats and dogs are poorly equipped to handle sugary foods, and are uniquely prone to developing diabetes. Holiday desserts like pecan pie and fruit cake offer no nutritional benefits to your companion.
  • Onions – This common veggie, often used in turkey stuffing, can destroy a dog’s red blood cells. This can lead to anemia, breathing problems, muscle weakness and death.
  • Chocolate – This favorite holiday treat contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which can over-stimulate a dog’s central nervous system and cause life-threatening problems. Dark chocolate contains the strongest concentration of these stimulants.
  • Spoiled or moldy food – It goes without saying that spoiled leftovers are never an acceptable pet food, unless he happens to be a vulture. They can contain toxic fungal compounds and infectious bacteria.
  • Cooked bones – Avoid all cooked bones, poultry or otherwise. They easily splinter and snap and may cause serious internal problems if swallowed.
  • Gravy and sauces – Most are too rich for a dog or cat and may contain fat, seasonings, sugar and/or cream that can upset your companion’s digestion.

You don’t want to leave your companion out of your seasonal celebrations, of course, but keep in mind as you’re serving Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner this year that not all those table scraps make good treats for your dog or cat. Feed her only what’s healthy and safe, and you’ll both have a happy holiday.

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