Recently a client wrote in asking about feeding human food to dogs. I thought I would take the opportunity to address that, as well as some other nutritional questions we often get. Animal nutrition has come a long way since the days when cats foraged for themselves, horses got fed straight oats, and dogs got what was left over from the plates. When little was understood about animal nutrition, many of our companion animals suffered from a variety of nutritional disorders and diseases. Luckily, I have not had to witness first hand those problems, but they are lurking right around the corner if our pets do not get what they need in the right amounts and ratios. A lot of research, time, and effort from the big companies goes in to making sure the formulas in dog and cat food meet all their nutritional needs. The FDA regulates pet food, and many companies follow the guidelines by AAFCO. If the product is a prescription diet specifically designed to treat a certain disease, even stricter guidelines apply. The manufacturer of the food does matter, as a recent study found that over 50% of the foods found in a pet store have cross contamination of ingredients, and some of the food did not even contain the ingredients listed on the bags (one large, nationally advertised company just lost a major lawsuit in federal court over such an issue). Claims that grains are bad for your pet may apply to some animals with allergies, but is not an across the board recommendation. Adding large amounts of human food on top of the dog food (known as “top dressing”) can throw off the balance of the nutrients in the kibble. Cats also have different nutritional requirements than dogs do, thanks to their unique metabolism.
With recent recalls, some people have resorted to cooking homemade diets for their pets. This can be challenging to get it right, as oils, mineral additives, and multi-vitamins need to be added in the right ratio to assure optimal nutrition. Chocolate, coffee, alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, raw yeast products, artificial sweeteners, onions and garlic are just some of the human foods that can be toxic to dogs and cats. Raw diets carry the risk of introducing Salmonella and E. coli into the environment. Just two days ago, I saw a dog with a major allergic reaction after being fed a raw, pasteurized, cow’s milk product.
So what’s a pet owner to do? My recommendation is to stick with a national based company (I have my favorites, and I know the other vets in our practice do as well), and talk to us about your questions and concerns. We want to help your pet live a long and healthy life, and nutrition is a key component to achieving that.
Ann E. Bastian, V.M.D.