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Feeding Table Scraps to Pets

Can you feed "people food" and still have a healthy pet?

When most pet owners say "people food" they are thinking of table scraps; the leftover hunks of fat that have been trimmed off meat, crust off pizza, chicken or other meat bones, or even the scrapings of sauce and fat right from the dinner plate. Indeed, these types of "table scraps" are NOT healthy for dogs and cats, as they are usually very high in fat and calories and low in other nutrients. These rich tidbits may also cause digestive upset such as gas, loose stools or diarrhea and even vomiting. In the case of leftover bones, they actually pose a choking hazard as they can easily become lodged in your pet's esophagus or further down the intestine. In addition, if your pet develops a real taste for these scraps, they may become finicky and even stop eating their own food, which could lead to problems with dietary deficiencies.

Human food ingredients, if selected and given to your pet properly, can give your pet a huge nutritional boost. However, one of the biggest issues with adding human food to a pet's diet is overfeeding. If you choose to feed human food in addition to your pet's normal kibble or canned food, you must decrease the amount of commercial food you are giving to prevent overfeeding and problems with obesity. Since the commercial diet is the component of the meal that is complete and balanced for dogs and cats, a reasonable starting point is to give 50% of their calories from kibble (or canned food) and the other 50% of their calories from lean meat or carbohydrates (vegetable, whole grain, etc). If pet owners follow this nutrition plan every day, I recommend a daily vitamin formulated for pets to protect against nutritional deficiencies. If you follow this plan only one or two days each week, there is no need to supplement a daily vitamin.

To follow this nutrition plan it is important to know how many calories your pet requires each day and the calorie content of the human foods you are using to supplement—again to prevent overfeeding. I encourage pet owners to pick a list of ingredients they are interested in cooking with and to be creative—think outside the chicken and rice box! Delve into whole grains like barley and oats; veggies like sweet potatoes and peas; and only use lean meat cuts. If your pet is not prone to stomach upset, I recommend rotating 5 or 6 home-cooked ingredients with your pet's commercial food. For example, one day a pet could get lean chicken breast and sweet potato and the next day green peas and barley and then ground turkey breast and so on. There is no right or wrong way to do it...but I do recommend the rotation of ingredients to provide a variety of different vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to safeguard against dietary excess or deficiency.

Some human foods can be toxic to pets and you should consult your veterinarian or a trusted source to confirm the safety of the ingredients you wish to feed. If your pet has a medical condition, you are encouraged to contact your veterinarian to determine if there are certain human foods that should be avoided or if there is a reason that human foods would not be recommended for your pet. If you wish to feed a completely home-cooked diet successfully, it is recommended that you contact a veterinarian or nutritionist knowledgeable in pet diet formulation to avoid long term health issues for your pet.