Is Human Food Safe for Dogs?

“Sharing is caring.” It’s a concept that most of us learned at a very young age. And if you own a dog, chances are, you’ve shared your food with him or her on more than one occasion. Maybe you leave a small bonus in her dish on some mornings, or maybe you always offer him your mealtime leftovers.

Is it actually okay to do this, though? Is human food really safe for dogs?

The answers to those questions are a little more complicated than a simple “Yes” or “no.”

Health Hazards

First and foremost, there are some human foods that your dog should never eat. Do not feed them to him, and if you have these foods in your house, make sure that Ranger can’t access them. Toxic treats include:

  • Think of every negative effect that alcohol can have on a human body and amplify it. The idea of a drunk dog may strike some people as “funny,” but there’s really nothing humorous about a dog succumbing to alcohol poisoning.
  • Candy or baked goods sweetened with Xylitol. Though xylitol is safe for humans (to the point where it’s a very common sugar substitute), even small amounts of it can cause a major insulin spike in smaller animals. Dogs that ingest xylitol can very easily become hypoglycemic.
  • Chocolate, Coffee, and other Caffeinated Beverages. All of these foods contain natural (as opposed to added) chemicals called methylxanthines. Less than 20 mg of that stuff per pound of your dog’s body weight can be fatal, which means that Rover getting his paws on a few ounces of chocolate will likely end in a trip to the emergency vet.
  • Grapes and Raisins. These have been linked to kidney failure in dogs. Veterinarians are still unsure of what, exactly, makes grapes toxic to canines, but the fact that they can also be a choking hazard is reason enough to keep them away from your furry friend.
  • Macadamia Nuts. Like grapes, experts are not 100% sure as to why these nuts are dangerous. Whatever the cause, though, they’ve been known to cause neurological issues, including tremors, dizziness, and temporary paralysis.
  • Onions, Garlic, and Chives. Cats are more vulnerable to poisoning from onions and garlic than dogs, but that doesn’t mean that dogs are safe. Eating large amounts of onions can cause stomach problems and severe damage to red blood cells.

It’s worth mentioning that a tiny lick of beer or a single taste of Macadamia nut is probably not going to hurt Fido too badly. However, there’s no truly “safe” amount of any of these substances—while one dog may ingest an entire chocolate bar and suffer absolutely no ill effects, another dog could spend the rest of the afternoon defecating and vomiting, and another could have a life-threatening seizure! Small dogs, elderly dogs, and dogs in poor health tend to be more vulnerable to poisoning, but it’s much better to make a blanket-ban instead of tempting fate.

Treats for Two

So, are all human foods unsafe for dogs? Certainly not! There are plenty of snacks that humans can share with their dogs without having to worry. For example:

  • Celery
  • Cooked sweet potato (not raw)
  • Cucumber
  • Hardboiled eggs (shells included)
  • Peanut butter (make sure it’s NOT sweetened with Xylitol!)
  • Pineapple
  • Pumpkin
  • Raw carrots
  • Salmon
  • Sliced apples (seeds and core removed)

Many of these snacks contain nutrients that are good for your dog’s health—good fat in peanut butter and salmon, Beta-Carotene in carrots and pumpkins, protein in eggs, etc. Raw fruits and veggies also come with a satisfying crunch that can help “brush” your dog’s teeth and improve her breath. And if little Muffin could stand to lose a few pounds, the items on the above list tend to be much lower in calories and fat than traditional dog treats!

Snack time Shuffle

Before you bust out the party platter and spend all day grazing with your dog, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Human food should not make up the bulk of—or even a significant part of—your dog’s diet. While it’s certainly a nice treat, it doesn’t provide the same balanced nutrition as a specially designed, high quality dog food. And just like you (probably) wouldn’t let a small child under your care eat a huge bag of popcorn right before dinnertime, it’s not a good idea to let your dog fill up on human food.
  • Even “healthy” snacks can cause GI upset in dogs if they’re in a large enough amount and/or your dog’s not used to eating them. Always start small when introducing a new food; mixing up Bella’s usual biscuits with the occasional apple slice is probably better than ditching the biscuits and switching to apples all at once. It’s also entirely possible for a dog to be allergic (or at least have an intolerance) to certain foods, so monitor your pet for signs of discomfort after you add anything new to her diet. Hardboiled eggs may be safe for Bella to eat, but if they make her skin itch or give her horrible gas, then don’t feed them to her again!
  • Try to avoid feeding your dog from your plate or slipping him table scraps during mealtimes. Doing so essentially teaches Charlie to expect bits of human food instead of seeing them as an exciting treat. At best, he’ll become much bolder when it comes to begging (e.g., staring intently at you while you’re eating, drooling, whining); at worst, he may decide to just shove his nose into your space and help himself! When giving your dog human food, either put it in his regular food dish (or a separate bowl placed nearby), mix it in with his normal food, or hand/give/toss it to him like you would a dog biscuit.


Final Thoughts

While it’s nice to want to share your food with your dog, please be careful about doing so. Before you even think about giving Snowy a “teeny, weeny little bite” of your favorite snack, make sure that the food won’t make her sick…or worse.

Just for reference, here are some signs of acute poisoning in dogs:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Drooling or tongue lolling.
  • Excessive panting or unusual thirst.
  • Hyperthermia
  • Lethargy and weakness.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Seizures
  • Shivers, muscle spasms, or tremors.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, which may or may not be bloody.

If you notice your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms, especially if you think that they may have ingested a toxic substance, take them to an emergency vet or call animal poison control (Phone number is (888) 426-4435; calls are not toll-free) immediately. Their life may depend upon it.

In the meantime, stick to dog-friendly, healthy treats if you want to add some variety to your dog’s diet. A couple of baby carrots may not be very exciting for humans…but chances are, they’ll make Angel’s day!

Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

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