Is it OK to feed dogs or cats table scraps is perhaps the most commonly asked question by new pet owners. It is always amusing to see how guilt-ridden these people are when they pose the question — almost as though they think they are bad people for harboring such impure thoughts! Surprisingly, the answer is that it is OK for you to occasionally indulge your pet; but it is important to know the proper guidelines to follow if you are to avoid many of the pitfalls that can occur from such practices.
It is important to realize that, from a nutritional standpoint, your pet does not need for you to supplement the pet food that you are presently buying. The foods that are found on the pet food aisles in the grocery stores offer complete and balanced nutrition. There are even life stage diets, which cater to the needs of puppies and kittens, as well as senior diets suited to the nutritional demands of our older friends.
But, should you wish to offer your friend a treat on occasion, the basics of table scrap feeding are:
When introducing a new treat, limit it to only one new item and give only a small quantity. If a reaction such as diarrhea or vomiting occurs, you will have minimized the intensity and be able to pinpoint the cause.
Always look for cause and effect relationships when something new is introduced to the diet. This will prevent you from making the same mistake twice.
Just as important as what and how you feed, is the timing of when to feed these treats. Many people inadvertently train their pets not to eat their regular meals by offering homemade treats when they don’t immediately eat their regular rations. The net effect of this action is to encourage the pet not to eat the nutritionally balanced pet food in the hope that their well-trained owner will come through and deliver the goods! Just as you wouldn’t give your children dessert without them having eaten their veggies, don’t permit yourself to be manipulated into using the table foods as substitutes for the real food. Give the treat as a reward for having eaten their dinner and in fact you will be training your pet to eat when regular food is presented.
The question of giving bones deserves special attention. Bones that can be crunched and splintered should never be given due to the potential for gastrointestinal problems such as punctures of the intestinal wall or impaction of the bowel. Chicken bones fall into this category. Rib bones also have a high potential for problems due to the fact that the large dogs can splinter them. In addition, at the top of the rib, ligaments attach a piece of the adjacent vertebra. The piece can be gnawed off and is just the right size to cause an intestinal blockage. As a matter of fact, it has been the piece of bone that I have most frequently had to do surgery to remove. So be careful and watch to see when the piece is about to detach or cut it off prior to giving it. Large marrow bones are generally OK, but if you cannot tactfully take them away once they start getting worn down, even they have the potential to crack and splinter.
Some pets may have specific dietary restrictions. Consult your veterinarian for the professional advise that will benefit your pet.
Dr. Baum has been the owner and Chief of Staff at Center-Sinai Animal Hospital, Los Angeles, California since 1979. The hospital has been serving the Los Angeles community for over thirty years.