Feeding people food to dogs

People have been tossing table scraps to dogs since the first canine bellied up to the village campfire with a pleading look in his eyes. But sharing meals with your pooch fell out of favor once commercial dog food hit the shelves.

These days, home cooking for dogs is back. After the spring 2007 scandal around contaminated pet food, which led to the deaths of hundreds of dogs and cats, many people decided that the only way to trust the food they give their pets is to make it themselves. Others simply like the idea of topping their pup’s kibble with a little extra something special.

Either way can be good for dogs–with a few caveats. Many of the foods that are good for us are also good for our dogs, and the reverse is true too. In other words, do feed them lean meats, whole grains, and vegetables. Don’t empty your leftover lasagna, rolls, or fries into your dog’s bowl.

Healthy and homemade

Go slow
The doggie digestive system doesn’t do well with a sudden switch from plain kibble to lots of people food. “If you ate nothing but bread and water and then someone gave you a steak, it’d upset your stomach, too,” points out British Columbia vet Grant Nixon, co-author of Better Food for Dogs. Grant advises introducing people food slowly.

So start by topping your dog’s usual fare with tidbits of plain (no butter or seasoning) meat or vegetables. Chances are, her kibble has plenty of grain in it already.

If you want to transition to an all-homemade diet, put a little less kibble and a little more cooked food in your dog’s bowl each night over the course of a week.

Use grains and veggies, too
Although meat’s the mainstay of a good canine diet, veggies, grains, and an occasional taste of fruit are also healthy for them. “Dogs, like us, are omnivorous,” says Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and co-author of the upcoming What Pets Eat. “They like and can handle a variety of foods.”

Get the right balance
If you want to switch to an entirely homemade diet, look for recipes approved by a board certified veterinary nutritionist, or get help from these online services:

  • BalanceIt. You punch in the meat and grain you have on hand, and BalanceIt serves up veterinary nutritionist-approved recipes. You need to pay for each recipe, though: $20 for one, $30 for two, and $12.50 each for three or more.
  • Petdiets. A veterinary nutritionist recommends a homemade or commercial diet that’s personalized for your dog. The consultation costs $200, with discounts for additional pets.

Keep in mind that puppies, seniors, and dogs with certain health conditions have different nutritional needs. If you want to cook for any dog other than a healthy adult, get guidance from a vet or veterinary nutritionist first.

Watch the fat
It’s an essential part of the canine diet, but too much can cause stomach upset or even pancreatitis. Skip fatty meat, skin, butter, and other high-fat fare.

Beware of bones
Cooked bones can cause choking or intestinal tearing. Although raw bones are popular among some natural pet food advocates, many experts think they’re risky too. Marrow bones are considered safe, however, so long as they’re at least two inches long, to avoid splintering.

Don’t feed your dog what you wouldn’t eat
“When vets say don’t feed table scraps, we mean don’t feed what’s left on the plate when you’ve finished all the good things that would go into the garbage disposal if you didn’t have a dog,” says retired vet Jean Hofve, an advocate for home cooking for pets. Fat, gristle, and skin aren’t any better for your dog than for you.

Steer clear of certain foods
Foods that are fine–even healthy–for you can make your dog very sick, such as grapes and chocolate. Before you give any people food to your pooch, see our list of foods to avoid.

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