Anyone who’s ever had a dog huddle under the table and beg for a bite knows how hard it can be to resist them. After all, the main reason we keep dogs around is because we get along so well, and although a big part of that for our distant ancestors may have been sharing our food with them, the variety in our diets these days makes for a few pitfalls.
So how can you tell if you’re bonding with your dog over food, and not giving them something that might make them sick?
Well, there’s no general rule other than don’t assume it’s safe. Many dog owners will give their pets raw foods like fruits or vegetables thinking, not without reason, that natural or uncooked products should be just fine.
But dogs have very different digestive systems and methods of eating, and these need to be taken into account before you share your scraps with them.
So read on to learn about a few of the foods you may not have known could be dangerous, or even just uncomfortable, for your canine friend.
1. Fat Trimmings
This tops the list because it’s probably the easiest mistake to make. Everybody knows dogs love meat, that it’s a perfectly natural food for them to eat, and that the oils are good for their fur, right?
Well … sort of.
As with most things, circumstance has to be considered. The dog’s weight, age, and overall health should be kept in mind – overweight dogs or those with heart, liver, or kidney problems could certainly benefit from missing the trimming off of your steak.
The real risk here is pancreatitis, which is more likely with a high-fat diet. Dogs with canine pancreatitis can suffer vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, inflamed arteries and veins, kidney failure, and spontaneous bleeding, so it’s best to make that curl of fat from the pan an occasional treat at best.
Milk is a food that dogs can technically eat safely, but there are two main reasons why they shouldn’t.
The first is a classic example of how we assume that our pets are just like us. Humans are unusual animals in that we continue to consume milk after infancy. This isn’t a natural food source for us, but one to which our bodies have become accustomed over generations by repeated consumption.
But of course, dogs never made any decision to domesticate cows. While they drink their mothers’ milk as puppies, this is because as infants, they’re producing the enzyme lactase, which helps them break down the milk for nutrients.
As they grow older, however, their bodies stop producing quite so much of this key enzyme, meaning that at best, they have difficulty digesting milk. At worst, their decreased lactase production can render them lactose intolerant. Further complicating this is the level of lactose in cows’ and goats’ milk, considerably higher than dogs’.
Cows’ and goats’ milks contain 4.5 to 5 percent lactose, compared to dogs’ 3.1 percent.
The second factor is that milk, in particular raw milk, can be a disease vector for food-borne illness-causing bacteria, which dogs may have significant trouble fighting off due to their immune systems being unfamiliar with these organisms.
Now hold on, I hear you say. There’s no way grapes can be bad for any animal. Grapes? Really?
The trouble is that nobody’s entirely sure why grapes are so bad for dogs, but what is known is that even small amounts of this fruit can be fatally toxic to them. It seems that there’s no known way to make them safe, either – neither raisins, nor peeled, nor cooked grapes are anywhere near safe for your dog to consume.
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, foul breath, weakness or unusual quietness, and trouble urinating. If you’re absolutely sure your dog has eaten grapes in any form, usually your first step is going to be to induce vomiting (if they haven’t already). Otherwise, get them straight to a vet.
Likewise, mixing one or two tablespoons of red wine into your dog’s water for good heart health is no longer considered a good idea. Remember, avoid grapes in any form.
4. Macadamia Nuts
Nuts can be a little tricky when it comes to dogs. While some, like peanuts and cashews, are fine – or even great! – sources of vitamins B and E, niacin, healthy fats, and tons of protein, others can be dangerous for seemingly trivial reasons, like almonds, which can choke dogs if they haven’t been chewed properly.
But then there are macadamia nuts.
These are a whole different ballgame. These Australian nuts are popular among humans as an occasional healthy treat due to their rich, creamy flavor and high levels of nutrients, so it’s easy to understand why the temptation is strong to give your dog one or two to share in the joy.
The trouble is, even just six macadamia nuts are enough to cause severe, painful sickness in canines, with vomiting, difficulty walking, depression, and elevated temperature being common symptoms manifesting after an average of 12 hours.
Instead, offer your dog a few cashews, unsalted peanuts, or (ground) almonds, or even better, give it to them in butter form in a treat toy!
Cinnamon may seem like an odd one to include. After all, who just doses their dog with a spice?
But keep in mind that most of these foods are given through sharing human foods. Around autumn, when this spice starts to pop up a lot more frequently, you may be tempted to share a bit of nice seasonal cake or something dusted with cinnamon sugar.
While cinnamon isn’t toxic to dogs, cinnamon and its oils (yes, it has oils) can still irritate their throats and mouths, making them sneeze uncomfortably and gag. It can also lower their blood sugar, or even lead to the dreaded duo of vomiting and diarrhea, altered heart rate, and in rare cases, liver disease. Powdered cinnamon is bad enough mainly for how unpleasant it can make a dog feel, causing sneezing, coughing, choking, and watering eyes.
6. Onions and Garlic
So first of all, it’s probably pretty unusual for someone to feed their dog straight-up onions and garlic. (If you are, stop it and keep reading.)
No, the real danger here is using these vegetables as an ingredient, and then sharing. Onions and garlic are popular seasonings and bases for many sauces, soups, stews, stir-fries, and other tasty dishes. It’s hard to argue with a steak fried with onions, for example.
But when you share such a dish with your dog, you’re taking a huge risk.
These two vegetables, along with, leeks, scallions, chives and shallots, are part of the genus Allium. What they do is cause the hemoglobin, which transports iron and oxygen, to clump up as ‘Heinz bodies’ in dogs’ blood and slow the delivery of those key nutrients throughout their bodies.
This is the same mechanism that makes these plants so beneficial for people with excessive iron and blood pressure, thinning the blood to help it move more easily, but in dogs, it’s gone all the way past helpful to downright dangerous.
The reason why?
All those Heinz bodies decrease the supply of both oxygen and iron, but also reduce the lifespan of the red blood cells. This, in turn, can lead to internal organ failure in the worst cases.
Signs to look out for are lethargy, lack of muscle coordination, pale gums, discolored urine, or excess saliva.
7. Raw Egg
An old chestnut of dog owning wisdom is to crack an egg into your pet’s food to give them essential proteins and fats for good health and a shiny coat.
While this does actually work, it’s also a risk not unlike feeding them milk.
It’s more or less common knowledge that one of the bigger risks of consuming raw eggs is the increased chance of contracting salmonella, which in most cases is deeply and painfully unpleasant, and at worst debilitating or lethal. Another one to avoid which can often hitch a ride in raw egg is E. coli, and the same rules apply.
Raw eggs can also cause in dogs a deficiency of biotin, or vitamin H deficiency, which can end up having the exact opposite effect you may have hoped for by thinning their hair and making their nails brittle.
But you don’t have to deny your dog the occasional egg. If you’re cooking them a special meal, crack an egg into the pan and scramble it up.
So now you know a few of the more surprising foods that your dog ultimately won’t really appreciate. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s always best to check, and if you see anything unusual in your dog’s health or behavior, to consult with a trusted veterinarian. That said, there are plenty of foods that are perfectly safe to share with your dog, so have a look at a few!
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