TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED, PART 2: PET APPROVED PEOPLE FOOD
Posted on September 19 2019
by Talia Colosimo
For the uninitiated, the most pressing and frequently asked question in regards to health and wellness remains: how important is diet really? And, as I’m sure any health professional worth his sodium chloride would tell you, it is, well, pretty much everything. Nutrition dictates or influences far beyond what we look like externally, from our moods, energy levels, and sleep patterns to the disorders, diseases and decreased lifespans to which we are susceptible. In other words, nutrition is in large part responsible for our overall quality of life. And while such is especially true for humans whose array of food options are vast and ever expanding, the same applies for our domesticated friends as well.
The greatest matter of import to acknowledge is that humans and dogs metabolize food differently, due primarily to the substantial difference in size of our respective digestive systems. The human digestive system represents on average 11% of our total bodyweight, whilst representing 2.7-7% of bodyweight in our canine counterparts (and a meager 2.8-3.5% in felines), with the disparity owed to the variations in size and breed. Generally speaking, the larger the dog, the smaller his digestive system in relation to his bodyweight. Because of this variation in size of corresponding digestive systems, so exists the variations in time it takes for the different species to digest.
While we are certainly able to digest large and varied foods, our pets are far more prone to gastrointestinal issues and beyond due to their reduced digestive capabilities. For this reason, foods deemed perfectly safe for human consumption may in fact be potentially toxic or hazardous to our pets. (For a list of human foods to avoid feeding your pet, please see article entitled “To Feed or Not to Feed: People Foods Your Pets Should Avoid”.) Fortunately, for us as well as the many who adopt and applaud the mindset that "dogs are people too," there are plenty of items within the confines of the human food pyramid that are more than acceptable for canine consumption - as long as that consumption is both supervised and served in moderation.
Poultry: Fowl-centric fare, such as chicken and turkey, are perfectly acceptable and undeniably delicious options for dogs, though it is worth noting that all poultry should be thoroughly cooked and all bones removed before serving to avoid any potential choking hazards. Additionally, any liberally seasoned or stuffed birds are best kept proudly propped on their Holiday serving platters to avert the possibility of ingesting harmful ingredients such as alliums (garlic, onion, etc.), for instance. As chicken, especially, is among one of the most common ingredients in commercial dog foods, this excellent protein source serves as a wonderfully lean snack on its own or a moisture-lending accoutrement in a bowl of drier pieces of kibble.
Beef, Pork and Lamb: As other oft-found ingredients in dog food, lean beef, pork and lamb are ideal sources of protein as well as many important vitamins and minerals essential to your dog's overall health and well being. Adversely, processed forms of these food stuffs, such as ham, bacon, jerky, and others are often overloaded with sodium, which can prove harmful to your pet and is best left untouched. In other words, leave the curing to your butcher, not your veterinarian.
Salmon and Shrimp: We already know from what our own doctors preach time and time again:
Salmon is a great source of highly regarded Omega-3 fatty acids - the omnipotent DHA and EPA - that pompously boast effects that include everything from improvements in cardiovascular health, nervous system health and brain function, reduction of joint pain and inflammation. It is, undoubtedly, the mother of all supplements. Peeled shrimp, in addition, are yet another perfect example of a safe, lean, and nutrient-laden protein acceptable for pets. Be mindful, however, that when feeding your pup either of these items they are fully cooked to eradicate any parasites lurking within the flesh.
Eggs: If ever you were in any doubt, you'll be relieved to know that there is, in fact, hard-boiled evidence to suggest that eggs are yet another safe and nutritious option for the animal beckoning by way of his snout by your refrigerator door. While raw eggs and egg products (though often pasteurized) are to be avoided, cooked eggs, yolks included, provide some of almost every vitamin and mineral in addition to serving as a complete protein for your pet. I suppose that is why it is so often referred to as The Perfect Food.
Nuts and Nut Butters: To some there is nothing quite as precious, "aww"-inducing (or time consuming) as watching your dog happily suffer through a mouthful of delectable peanut butter - and we can totally relate to that sentiment. But, as with all things deemed indulgent, it is still recommended to limit the quantities in which it is consumed. (And, FYI, that goes for all species.) Plain, unsalted nuts and nut butters, from peanut to cashew, though safe in moderation are high in fat and calories and may lead to weight gain and pancreatitis when consumed in excess.
Milk: Milk is, unfortunately, just one of those things that's kind of a gamble - and to varying degrees, that holds true for most everybody. Hence, a vast array of "designer milks" from grass-fed to ultra-pasteurized to lactose free to a2 (a milk bereft of a casein protein called a1 and thus easier to digest for some) was born. When it comes to dogs, however, the long and short of it is, some can handle it and some simply can't. But before you scour the dairy aisle for milk adequate for your pup, be informed that those that can handle it should have no more than a few tablespoons a day anyway.
Cheese: "Much like it's liquid counterpart, cheese is safe for most canines to eat in small quantities. To avoid any digestive unpleasantries, it is recommended to gradually introduce cheeses with a lower fat content to your dog's diet,” she said as she plunged headfirst into an Ina Garten-inspired cheeseboard. All cheek aside, cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium and can be utilized to your advantage, say when training your dog.
Whole Grains, Cereals, Starches
Bread: Man shall not live by bread alone - and neither should man's best friend. While carbohydrates remain a key component of the traditional human diet, dogs and cats don't actually require them, although they can benefit from them in marginal quantities. Of the near infinite choices at your fingertips, we suggest staying as close to nature as possible and opting for the lesser-processed, whole grain varieties bearing in mind the extra calories it adds to your dog's diet.
Oatmeal: Plain, unflavored oatmeal is a fine option when it comes to straying from your pet's everyday diet as it is chock full of fiber as well as iron and vitamin B-6. In situations where your beloved companion is experiencing gastrointestinal distress, such as loose stool, oatmeal is sure to quell the issues at hand and improve general digestive function. In a pinch, an added egg and a whisper of cinnamon work as an acceptable meal replacement (though we'd suggest not making a habit of it). Again, of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), proteins and fats comprise the majority of dogs' energy substrates.
White and Brown Rice: Both white and brown rice can have their place in a dog's diet, dependent upon the situation at hand. Like oatmeal, brown rice boasts a healthy amount of fiber that can prove useful if your dog's daily constitution has been, eh, temporarily suspended. However, because brown rice contains a seed coat where the majority of its nutrients are stored, it can be harder to digest for some dogs, in which case, white rice can then answer the proverbial call of duty. White rice is processed and therefore stripped of that aforesaid seed coat, resulting in less nutritional content, yes, but optimal digestive ability making it ideal for those circumstances in which your pup's yield is lacking its normal firm and pick-uppable integrity. It is important to note, however, that white rice does have a higher glycemic index than brown rice and can cause blood sugar levels to rise. Thus, it is best not to feed white rice to your dog on a consistent basis.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes: While raw potatoes contain solanine, a compound toxic to dogs, cooked potatoes are another good and starchy option to introduce to your dog in small amounts when casually sauntering into the realm of human food. They contain vitamins C and B6, iron, magnesium, and a host of other micronutrients integral to a dog's health, but again, as dogs rely on proteins and, secondarily, fats as their main energy substrates, it is recommended to exercise moderation when feeding your dog carbohydrates. In addition, the preparation of potatoes is another matter of touching on. With the almost infinite number of sexy transformations a homely potato can undergo, the healthiest, humblest, and albeit, still perfectly delectable of those is baked or boiled. Along those lines, sweet potatoes are an even healthier option than their white peers as they are even more nutritious. They contain vitamins A, C and B6, calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron and are relatively easy to digest. Keep in mind, though, that while vitamin A is important to both a dog's eye health and immune system, too much can lead to bone problems and even muscle weakness.
Popcorn: Maybe you're an avid moviegoer who ensures each popped kernel is properly enveloped in a coat of velvety, golden deliciousness that is melted butter. Or perhaps you're a fan of the kettle-cooked version, kissed with a sugary-sweetness that could really only be achieved at a county fair. Or just maybe, you're the night owl, furiously typing away at your laptop, basking in the light of your computer and elbow deep in a bag of the white cheddar variety - a vision reminiscent of your days in graduate school. No matter how you prefer your popcorn, chances are your pup cannot indulge in the same flavors you fancy yourself. Not all hope is lost though. Plain, air-popped popcorn is a fine treat for your dog as long as you ensure he's only getting fully-popped kernels to avoid choking or worse, getting those pesky pieces stuck in his teeth.
Corn: In modest amounts, corn is a good source of some vitamins and minerals essential to a dog's health, hence, it's frequent presence in many commercial dog foods. Although cooked and unseasoned corn kernels are safe for canine consumption, feeding a dog corn still on the cob should be avoided as the cob poses a choking hazard and could lead to intestinal obstruction if consumed.
Carrots: As carrots are a nutrient dense, low calorie food, they are an ideal item for your dog to snack on. Aside from the various vitamins, minerals and fiber integral to a dog's general health and well-being, carrots - especially raw carrots - are an affordable option for catering to your dog's dental health as well. According to the American Kennel Club, frozen carrots make for excellent and nutritious chew toys for adult dogs as well as means to relieve discomfort in teething puppies. Lastly, carrots, though generally safe, we suggest cutting them into bite-size chunks for your pet to prevent choking, especially in smaller dogs.
Tomatoes: Like potatoes, tomatoes are in the nightshade family of vegetables, meaning they contain certain compounds, such as solanine, which if ingested may be hazardous to pets. The good news here is that the potentially harmful substance is mostly concentrated in the greener parts of the plant - namely, the leaves, stems, and the younger, unripened tomatoes - so be sure to cordon off any of these fruit plants in your garden. However, those ripe, red, succulent tomatoes you would use for a salad or sauce are generally safe to feed your dog.
Assorted Berries: Hold your horses there, George R.R. Martin. Winter's come and gone. It's summer that's coming. Alongside summer, of course, comes the promise of bountiful berries ripe for the picking. And what's better than a bowl of fresh, vibrant and jammy berries? Well, naturally, the opportunity to share, I say! Yes, berries of many colors and shapes are a rich source of antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber your dog will no doubt be grateful for. Whether eaten frozen or as nature intended, these one-bite beauties are an ideal health-conscious treat for your dog.
Pineapple: Pineapple is one of those fruits that's seems to be so much more than just a food, but more an experience. A single bite of the ultra-sweet, tart, richly gold flesh immediately transports one to a scene of sun-drenched shores and salt air. In essence, it's more than understandable why it's so popular, and with nature's blessing, you'll now learn that it is, in fact, safe for your fur-friends too. Ripe, raw pineapple stripped of its spiny exterior is packed with a tremendous amount of vitamins including C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate as well as a pretty impressive list of minerals such as manganese, copper, potassium, magnesium, iron and smaller amounts of calcium, phosphorus and zinc. In addition, pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme extract known for its ability to reduce inflammation and aid in digestion. On the whole, pineapple certainly sounds to be the pinnacle of pooch snacks, however, as it does contain a good amount of sugar, you'll still want to limit the amount you pup eats in a day.
Watermelon: At an astounding 92% water, the watermelon has certainly earned its name. In addition, it has earned a spot on our list of pet-approved human foods. Another virtual vitamin powerhouse, watermelon is a fantastically hydrating and nutrient-laden option as the warmer months approach. We do recommend, however, proceeding with caution. Watermelon seeds have the potential to cause intestinal blockages and the rinds GI discomfort. Smaller, seedless, bite-size chunks are suggested here.
Green Peas: Give peas a chance, they say. And we agree. Green peas are actually a common ingredient in many commercial dog foods. They are nutrient-dense, low in calories and dogs generally find them pretty tasty. When offering peas to your pup, fresh or frozen is the way to go as the canned variety are usually rife with sodium and lacking in nutrients.
Apples: Seed free is the way to be. Yes, that holds true for any seed-bearing fruits you give to your dog, but especially apples. While the meat of an apple is a completely harmless and totally refreshing snack, apple seeds contain cyanide, a chemical that can have devastating effects when consumed in large amounts. Subtracted of their seeds, apples are yet another exceptional source of vitamin C, fiber, calcium and phosphorus for your pet.
Broccoli: There are two kinds of people in this world: those that say, "Pass the broccoli" and those that simply pass on broccoli. And from personal experience, I can say there are apparently the same two types of dogs. This cruciferous crusader is another low-calorie, nutrient dense vegetable approved for your pets - raw or cooked - as long as they approve of them as well, of course. As with all of the items on our list so far, treat broccoli as an occasional snack as the compound, isothiocyanate, may irritate your dog's digestive system if consumed in too large of quantities.
Coconut: Coconut has surged in popularity in recent years and after exploring its many uses and benefits, coconut and products derived from coconut have been deemed safe for pet consumption. Still, it's best to feed them coconut in moderation as it higher in calories and fat than many of the other items on our list. The recommended daily allowance of coconut and coconut products are one-fourth teaspoon to one tablespoon, depending on your dog's size. On the contrary, coconut water is one that currently has experts divided. Some say the liquid is safe in small amounts, while others claim that the high amount of potassium in coconut water is sometimes intolerable for a dog's digestive system and may threaten to wreak havoc on their health. As we would rather not find out the hard way who wins this round, we recommend steering clear of it until more substantial evidence is released.
Mango: Opinions on this particular stone fruit are polarized, but if you are a fan, you can agree that there is nothing quite like the sweet, exotic flavor of a ripe mango. You know it, we know it, and luckily, now your dog can know it, as it has proven to be a very healthy occasional treat for them. Before feeding, however, just be sure to remove the pit and the skin from the mango. Although the skin is innocuous as far as nutritional content, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to navigate for your dog.
Bananas: Some have actually claimed that bananas can help to relieve nausea in dogs, however, those claims are merely anecdotal and have not been thoroughly substantiated by any research. Like coconut water, bananas are higher in potassium so limiting the amount your pet eats in a day is something of which we'd suggest being mindful. Nevertheless, with a plethora of vitamins, minerals and fiber, a banana slice or two here and there (possibly even frozen) is an acceptable reward for a hard days work. *wink*
Mushrooms: Store-bought mushrooms, such as White, Baby Bella and Portobello varieties are safe for dogs to eat. Some wild mushrooms, on the contrary, are toxic to your dog and may cause mushroom poisoning of varying severity. In addition, as mushrooms pair well with alliums such as garlic and onion and alcohols such as wines, Sherries and Marsala, we implore you to be extra cautious before serving your dog mushrooms prepared in certain dishes.
Celery: Celery is another nutritious, minimally caloric snack that is safe for your pets. Much like their orange peers, carrots, these crunchy, fibrous stalks offer an excellent alternative to the toothbrush and can do wonders for pets in need of a doggy dental hygienist. As with many of the food items that made our list, be sure to cut celery in manageable pieces for your dog before serving them to him to ensure optimal digestion.
Cherries: Much like apple seeds, cherry pits contain cyanide that can pose a significant threat to your dog's health if consumed in larger amounts. Thus, be sure to remove them (as well as their stems) before serving cherries to your dog. Though we'd suggest serving no more than a few in a day, the fruits' meaty flesh and robust flavor is as harmless as it is treat-worthy.
Cinnamon: While cinnamon is an acceptable spice that may be added to flavor blander foods for your pet, it is one whose use you should still limit. Too much cinnamon may prove excessively spicy for your dog and may even cause adverse effects to his digestive system. Furthermore, potentially inhaling the spice could cause coughing/ wheezing, choking, and incessant sneezing, though thoroughly incorporating it into his food should remedy any possible concern.
Honey: Honey does have a higher sugar content, which can contribute to unnecessary weight gain in your pet if used a little too liberally, but strictly regarding safety, honey is an admissible additive to your pets' food. We'd like to assume, though, that before you pluck the honey bottle from your Lazy Susan, your pooch is perfectly sweet as she is.
And there you have it. Well, to be quite fair to the more obscure food items we might not have mentioned, we'd be remiss if we said this was a completely comprehensive list of foods regarded as safe for your pet. The items that are on our list, however, are some of the more frequently asked about, as they are so often staples of our pantries and fridges. Nonetheless, even if a food has been deemed safe, it is best to exercise proper precaution. Introduce new foods gradually - in smaller amounts and no more than one a day - and monitor your dog for any adverse reactions. If new foods are tolerated, moderate the amount offered to prevent weight gain and other negative effects. And lastly, if in the event you are still questioning the safety of any particular food not mentioned here, be sure to consult your veterinarian.