Let’s be real here. Who hasn’t, at some time in their cat or dog’s life, offered up something that was left over from a meal, not eaten by a child or just seemed like something that would make our pet happy. To those of you who can raise their hands on that question….kudos to you. When the cat is weaving in and out of my ankles while I am sautéing shrimp on the stove or the dog is staring at me with eyes that say all but “please may I have a taste” I just melt. Is this so bad? What are the implications of sharing your food with your pet? Are there certain “rules” to follow or foods to be avoided? Absolutely. Any discussion of table food or “leftovers” should include a large dose of common sense.
First and most important, is to avoid food items that have a “red flag” attached. Animal bones, raw meats, chicken skin, steak fat and pork products are some of the most common items that are implicated in causing illness in pets. Pancreatitis, a disease common in cats as well as dogs, has suspected to be of dietary origin for some time. Feeding high fat “meals” (such as chicken fat, steak fat or human food cooked with a lot of oil or butter) is sometimes implicated in being a causative factor. Although clients occasionally mention that their pets consume small amounts of pork without issue, many pets are presented to our hospital with severe gastrointestinal signs after eating even a small amount of pork. Animal bone consumption also frequently results in a variety of problems. Bone chards can penetrate the oral cavity causing abscesses. Larger pieces can get lodged between upper teeth, caught in the stomach, block the intestinal tract, traumatize the esophagus and even cause constipation and damage to the rectum. The finally “food” alert pertains to cats that are active hunters. Many cats will consume all or part of the prey they catch. Felines presented with painful abdomens, vomiting, anorexia and even fevers often belong to this “club”
The above constitutes the simple aspects of a decision to feed human food. Now the more confusing discussion, namely how much and how often. A few basic thoughts:
1. Feeding human foods to your pet too often will result in them turning their noses up at their regular diet.
2. Human foods are rarely balanced adequately to provide more than just a small amount of the daily ration for our canine and feline friends.
3. Feeding table food without adequately compensating for the additional calories by reducing the normal ration leads to obesity. It is estimated that between 40 and 60 percent
of all pets in the US fall into that category.
4. Table food should never be fed until after the pet eats his or her normal (reduced ration) diet22. Otherwise be prepared for the SPS (spoiled pet syndrome).
5. Feeding human food on a regular basis will often interfere with your pet’s typical feeding habits.
6. Once your pet realizes that you are preparing human food on the counter it will be difficult to prevent counter surfing by felines and counter sniffing (especially the tall breeds)
Finally, what are the healthiest and safest foods to share with our pet companions? Raw vegetables such as carrots, red peppers and green beans can all provide some much appreciated crunch in their diet. Cooked veggies are okay as well, particularly as most cats will not eat them raw. Just remember to stay away from too much oil or butter. Skinless, boneless white chicken meat is a good source of protein as is seafood as long as it has minimal sauce and is not spicy. Same goes for small amounts of very lean beef. The occasional scrambled or hard boiled egg is another food that many pets will appreciate and does provide some healthy nutrition. Once you get a sense of what your pet likes and tolerates, experimenting with SMALL amounts of new foods periodically can be fun. Fruits such as apples, bananas, berries and anything else you may regularly have in your home are fair game. Just remember to only introduce one new food at a time to make it easier to figure out just what didn’t agree with your dog or cat. Soft stools or increased frequency of defecation are often a sign that the new food just didn’t quite work.
Concluding, when it comes to feeding table food or human food to your pet the most important thing is just “Be smart!” We all know which foods aren’t particularly healthy for us….same goes for our pets. Secondly don’t give table food on top of a dinner that has already been eaten.. If you think that perhaps there will be some leftovers to offer your four legged friend, reduce the amount of ration for the evening. Most of us would not eat two entrees at one meal and neither should our pets. If you have any questions regarding which human foods are acceptable for your pet feel free to call. An ounce of prevention…….