There are human foods that are completely safe for dogs and also foods that are dangerous and even potentially fatal. Many pet owners learn about toxic foods only after their dog has ingested something and started having abnormal symptoms.
Since dogs are naturally curious and have an amazing sense of smell, this combination often leads to them getting into purses, getting food off of counters, getting into trash cans, stealing food from grills, and sneaking food from plates. Other times, well-intentioned pet owners offer tables scraps or human foods without understanding that they are toxic.
Below, we will review what can't dogs eat as well as list what is safe. It is important to have healthy alternatives once you know what is not safe.
Safe Food for Dogs
There are many human foods that are “safe” for dogs. However, dogs do not need human food. What dogs need is a good quality food formulated for the size, age, body condition, activity, or for any underlying medical problems they may have. Learn more about Nutrition for Dogs.
Safe Treats for Dogs
The ideal dog treat is one made of good quality ingredients that is moderate to low in calories, consistent in ingredients (thus unlikely to cause stomach upset from bag to bag), very appealing to your dog, and safe. Higher-quality treats tend to be more consistently produced, so it is best to avoid discount and supermarket brands if possible.
There are also many human foods that you can feed your dog safely. By safely, I mean the foods listed below are not toxic to dogs. However, large quantities of any food or food given to dogs with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts can lead to problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and/or pancreatitis. Treats should make up less than 5% of your dog's caloric intake.
Safe Foods and Treats for Dogs
Human foods that are safe for dogs include those in the list below. These foods are considered to be fresh, seedless, shelled, sliced, peeled, and in some cases, washed, and/or cooked depending on the particular product. Butter and seasonings can create their own dangers.
- Apples - small amounts without the seeds
- Avocado -small amounts without the seeds
- Broccoli - cooked or raw clean/washed
- Brussels sprouts
- Carrots - cooked or raw clean/washed
- Celery - cooked or raw clean/washed
- Chicken - cooked
- Cooked fish such as salmon
- Cooked green beans. In fact, some pet owners give green beans to aid in weight loss. Learn more about the Green Bean Diet for Dogs
- Cooked ground beef or steak
- Cottage cheese
- Freshly cooked lunch meat
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Pork - cooked
- Potato - raw or cooked plain or sweet
- Pumpkin - cooked
- Rice or rice cake
- Turkey - cooked
Tips for Giving Human Food as Treats to Your Dog
- Treats are never a replacement for a good quality core dog food.
- Consider low-calorie treats for dogs with weight control problems.
- Give only fresh food. Moldy or rotten food can cause gastrointestinal upset.
What Dogs Can't Eat: Foods Not Safe for Dogs
Any food in large pieces or chunks can cause difficulty chewing or swallowing and can be a choking hazard.
Specific foods that veterinarians commonly recommend NOT to give to dogs include the following:
- Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums. Ingestion of large amounts of stems, seeds, and leaves of these fruits can be toxic. They contain a cyanide type compound and signs of toxicity include anxiety, dilated pupils, labored breathing, fast breathing, and shock. Small pieces of cleaned apple without the seeds can be safe.
- Avocados. The leaves, fruit, bark, and seeds of avocados have all been reported to be toxic in some animals. The toxic component in the avocado is “persin,” which is a fatty acid derivative. Symptoms of toxicity include difficulty breathing, abdominal enlargement, abnormal fluid accumulations in the chest, abdomen, and sac around the heart, which can occur in some animals such as cattle and horses. The amount that needs to be ingested to cause signs is unknown. The biggest danger of avocado in dogs is the ingestion of the pit that can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction. Learn about the safety of avocados here.
- Baked Goods. The products which are made with xylitol are highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol is a sweeter used in place of sugar primarily because it is lower in calories. Xylitol is also an ingredient in many different types of gums. It is in many products designed for people with Diabetes due to its low glycemic index. Xylitol can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. Learn more with this article on Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs.
- Baking Powder and Baking Soda. Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents. A leavening agent is a common ingredient in baked goods that produces a gas causing batter and dough to rise. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder consists of baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar, calcium acid phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate or a mixture of the three. Ingestion of large amounts of baking soda or baking powder can lead to electrolyte abnormalities (low potassium, low calcium and/or high sodium), congestive heart failure, or muscle spasms.
- Bones. There are many bones that aren't safe for dogs. This can be due to the danger of them getting stuck or caught in the mouth, sharp splinters injuring the intestines, risk of constipation when passing relatively indigestible bone fragments, as well as possible bacterial contamination on the bone that can lead to illness. Learn more about The Danger of Bones.
- Bread Dough. The dough contains yeast which rises in moist, warm environments, such as in the stomach. After ingestion, the rising dough can expand the stomach and decrease blood flow. Fermentation of the yeast can be reduced to alcohol causing signs of intoxication.
- Chewing Gum. Gums that are made with xylitol can be toxic. Learn more with this article on Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs.
- Chocolate. Chocolate, in addition to having a high-fat content, contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic to your dog in high amounts. Learn more about the specific amount of each toxin that is based on body weight in this article: Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs.
- Coffee (grounds and beans). Dogs that eat coffee grounds or beans can get “caffeine” toxicity. The symptoms are very similar to those of chocolate toxicity and can be just as or even more serious.
- Dairy Products. Human dairy products are not highly dangerous but can pose problems for two reasons. One is their high-fat content and like other foods with high-fat content, there is a risk of pancreatitis. The second reason is that dogs poorly digest dairy products since they lack the enzyme required to digest lactose. This affects some dogs more than others and can cause issues from gas to diarrhea. Small amounts of plain yogurt or cheese are tolerated by most dogs but it is probably safest to avoid dairy products altogether.
- Diet Foods. Foods made for weight loss or diabetes may have the ingredient xylitol.
- Fatty Foods. Rich and fatty foods are favorites of dogs. They often get them as treats, leftovers, or from getting into the trash. These fatty foods can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can affect any dog but miniature or toy poodles, cocker spaniels, and miniature schnauzers are particularly prone. Signs of pancreatitis generally include an acute onset of vomiting, sometimes diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Abdominal pain is often evidenced by the hunched posture or “splinting” of the abdomen when picked up. The dog may become very sick quickly and often needs intensive fluid and antibiotic therapy.
- Grapes and Raisins. Ingestion of grapes and/or raisins can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Some pet owners feed grapes thinking they are a healthy treat or give a piece of a cookie with raisins. Aggressive, and sometimes prolonged, treatment may be necessary to give the affected dog a chance at survival. Despite testing, the reason for the kidney failure and the amount necessary for toxicity remains unknown. Learn more about Grape and Raisin Toxicity.
- Onions and Garlic. Dogs and cats lack the enzyme necessary to properly digest onions which can result in gas, vomiting, diarrhea or severe gastrointestinal distress. If large amounts of onion or garlic are ingested or onions are a daily part of your dog's diet, the red blood cells may become fragile and break apart. This is due to the toxic ingredient in onions and garlic, thiosulphate. Learn more at Why You Shouldn't Feed Your Dog Garlic.
- Peanut Butter. Some peanut butter manufacturers add xylitol to peanut butter, which is toxic to dogs. Learn more about Peanut Butter Toxicity in Dogs.
- Rawhides. Like bones, rawhides can also get stuck in the esophagus or stomach of dogs, causing problems. There is also a risk of bacterial contamination. Although this is not human food, it is worth a mention with the goal to prevent your dog from getting sick. Learn more about The Good and Bad of Rawhides.
- Table Scraps. Scraps, especially those that are fatty can cause gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis in dogs. Some dogs tolerate table scraps well but others can become very ill.
Best Treats for Dogs
When shopping for treats, look for the seal of approval from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which publishes feed regulations and ingredient definitions.
The best treats for dogs are either kibble from their regular dog food or treats made for dogs that meet the AAFCO requirements. If the dog food or treat follows their guidelines, the label will include a statement that proclaims it is, “formulated to meet the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile for Puppies/Adults/Senior.”
Some companies create treats specifically to be compliant with the AAFCO standards.
It is not a requirement to meet AAFCO standards in order to sell pet food or treats, so buyers beware. It is also possible to make your own dog treats. Here are a couple of good articles with recipes:
- Instructions for Homemade Dog Treats
- Healthy Treats Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits Pumpkin Dog Treats