Is it OK to feed your dog human food? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending upon the food. It would be impossible to list every food in the universe, so I’ll just hit some of the more common ones.
The “OK” Group
This group contains many of the foods we commonly give our dogs: peanut butter, leftover meats and fish, rice and other grains, bread, popcorn, and eggs.
Most fruits and vegetables are fine to feed your dog, with some notable exceptions (see below). In the fruit category are berries, melons, bananas, pears, and pineapple. Apples and stone fruit are also fine, but be sure to remove the seeds and pits, which degrade into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. 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 allow your dog to eat wild mushrooms. And don’t eat them yourself!)
The “Sometimes Okay, 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 people, 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.
Finally, there’s the question of raw meaty bones. Many veterinary experts give them 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, they can harbor salmonella and other bacteria. Raw lamb or beef bones are usually soft enough to chew and digest, but keep in mind that your dog could choke on any bone if it’s swallowed without being thoroughly chewed.
The “Never” Group
You’re probably well aware of some foods in this category, but 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, avocados, lemons and limes, 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 are also no-nos.
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 email@example.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.