Dangers of Feeding Food Scraps to Your Dog
Picture a scene – You’re sat at the dining table with your family, tucking into a mouth-watering meal. Your whole family is with you, including your dog who’s sat in his favourite spot beside you. He’s looking up at you with his big round eyes and you know exactly what he’s saying, after all, this happens every dinner time - “That smells amazing, Mummy. I'm so hungry. Please save me some”.
You’re trying to resist. You know he’s had his dinner already and there’s no way he’s still hungry. But look at those eyes, maybe he hasn’t had enough after all. You’ve handpicked, prepared and cooked every ingredient yourself, so you know they’re all healthy for your family which must mean they’re harmless for your dog, right?...One small mouthful won’t hurt.
Sadly, that’s not necessarily true.
This scene repeats itself every night in millions of homes across the UK and is sadly the reason for many unavoidable trips to the veterinary clinic.
This blog explains the negative impact of feeding scraps of human food to our dogs. By the end, you should have a good idea of what seemingly healthy human hoods can cause serious complications for your pet, as well as how to avoid/stop begging at the table and the risks of obesity.
Don't let your dog fool you
Dogs are infamous for their irresistible “puppy dog eyes” that make it almost impossible to resist their stare without giving in to their demands.
Bad news for pet owners - This isn't an accident. In fact, a recent study by the University of Portsmouth suggests it's a result of thousands of years of evolution. Their study, which compares wolves to domesticated dogs, reveals that only the latter have developed small muscles around their eyes which allow them to raise their eyebrows, making their eyes wider. Unfortunately, these findings suggest that this particular evolution is more about survival than an expression of friendship.
Why is this important? Well, next time you’re eating a meal and your pooch is staring longingly at you, begging for scraps, remember that they’re manipulating you. They may look like they haven't eaten for days, but as long as you're feeding them their recommended diet, they're pulling your leg. Always remember, feeding them scraps isn’t in their best interest and can cause some serious health issues.
Our top tip – reduce the risk of having any issues by simply not feeding them any food scraps at all. This approach is the best way to avoid any negative behaviour or poorly pooches.
Why shouldn’t you feed food scraps to your dog?
There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t feed your food scraps to your dog at table, but three of the main issues are:
- Some human food is very dangerous for dogs
- The habit can develop behavioural problems
- Feeding scraps can lead to obesity
Potential costs linked to feeding your dog scraps
Through this blog we will give you an idea of what feeding scraps to your dog could potentially lead to. There are many dangers, including accidentally eating something toxic, becoming overweight or swallowing sharp bone fragments, that can lead to expensive veterinary treatment.
What charges could you be looking at? Well, our claims team are regularly processing claims for pets who’ve eaten something they shouldn’t or are suffering from issues linked to obesity. These two tables show just a few examples of claims that we paid in 2019.
Remember, many of these, particularly dietary indiscretion like eating chocolate, are almost entirely avoidable.
Dangerous "human" food for dogs
Many owners don’t see a problem with feeding their dog’s scraps at the table. In fact, most view it as a bonding opportunity that benefits the dog. After all, surely any food that’s healthy for humans must be safe for dogs, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Whilst some human food is healthy for pets, there are also some that can be incredibly dangerous and it’s important that owners know which is which, especially if you will continue to feed them scraps from your table.
We’ve created a downloadable "Can my dog eat that?" poster that lists some of the most common human foods that are safe, safe in moderation, or very dangerous for pets. You can download the poster by clicking here.
It’s important to know that dogs can have allergies and intolerance just like humans. This means that just because something is listed as safe for most dogs, it may not be the case for all.
No matter their allergies, there are foods you should never give any dog. These include:
- Cooked bones
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- Large amounts of garlic
- Persimmons, peaches, plums
- Fatty food
- Corn on the cob
As your dog develops a taste for human food, they can quite quickly go off their own food which has been specifically tailored for dogs. This can cause bad eating habits and may even lead to them refusing to eat dog food all together.
The best way to avoid any issues is simply to not feed them any scraps at all. That way you don’t risk unknowingly giving them something dangerous and potentially life threatening.
If you think your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t, you should contact your vet immediately. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of appetite
- Breathing difficulty
- Excessive drooling
Once you start feeding your dog scraps at the table, it’s very difficult to stop. Why? Because they love a routine. They seem to instinctively know exactly when it’s their dinner time, when you’re about to return home from home and when it’s time for walkies.
So, if one day you sit up for dinner and feed them scraps, you can bet they’ll be there by your side the next time you're having dinner, except this time they’ll have expectations. These expectations lead to negative behaviour such as begging and getting impatient which they’ll display by snapping, barking and whining.
This behaviour will quickly become annoying for you and anyone else who’s sitting at the table. Imagine having a guest round, especially one who doesn’t have dogs, and they have your dog interrupting their meal by pawing at their leg and whining at them. Not only is it embarrassing, but it could be dangerous if your friend starts feeding them scraps without any knowledge of what food is toxic for dogs.
To avoid guests or children feeding your dog something they shouldn’t, either make it very clear that they shouldn’t feed them at all, tell them what’s on your plate that they can or can’t feed them, or ask them to ask you before they feed them anything. You can minimise the risk by downloading our ‘Can My Dog Eat That?’ poster and showing it to all guests.
How can you avoid your dog's negative behaviour at dinner time?
Obviously, the best way to avoid this behaviour is to never feed them scraps in the first place because it’s much harder to train out of them once you’ve started. Clearly, that advice doesn’t help anyone who already feeds their dog scraps, or who’s dog begs for food even when you don’t feed them.
There are a few methods you can use to discourage begging. If one doesn’t work, then try another, or try them all together.
- Don’t give them access to the dining area when you’re eating - This may not work for everyone, but they simply can’t beg at your feet if they’re in a different room. Make sure they can't hurt themselves by trying to escape the room or if they get frustrated and never lock them outside.
- Provide a distraction – This could be giving them their food at the same time as yours, or giving them their favourite toy/treat.
- Crate train them – crate training can be a long process and is easier if you start when they’re a puppy. The idea of crate training is to make them see their crate as a comfortable, happy place, not somewhere to fear. At dinner time, gently encourage them into their crate with their favourite toy or treat and then keep them in there until you’ve finished eating.
- Ignore them – We know it’s difficult, but you should do your best to ignore their puppy dog eyes and whining. No matter how annoying it is, don’t respond at all and they will eventually get bored or get the message. After a little while, the begging should become less and less and this is when you should start thinking about rewarding them.
- Most importantly – reward good behaviour. Positive reinforcement is such an important tool when trying to train your dog to do anything. If they’ve made it through the meal without begging, give them their favourite dog treat or have a play. Remind them that they’ve been good. You must be consistent. Don't give them a treat if they haven’t behaved well and certainly don’t give them scraps just to keep them ‘behaved’.
- Rotational diet - A final way to avoid your pet begging at the table for scraps is to use a rotational dog diet which keeps them interested in their own dog food.
- A rotational diet means regularly changing the ingredients like the main protein present in your dog’s food e.g. chicken, beef, fish etc. Not only does this avoid your dog getting bored of their food but it also reduces the risk of them developing any deficiencies.
- There’s no right or wrong way to do it but try mixing up the flavours as well as the specific vitamins, proteins, minerals and other nutrients in the meals to safeguard against dietary excess or deficiency.
- We recommend that you consult your vet before you make any changes to your dog’s diet.
None of the above is quick or easy. Training a dog is never immediate and it takes consistency and determination to get the desired results. Stick with it because. You will quickly see its worth when you can sit for a quiet meal and you have a healthy, happy pooch.
Any reputable breeder should provide you with a recommended diet that details food types, quantity and frequency. If you don’t receive anything, or you want a second opinion, you can also speak to a veterinary expert for their advice.
This recommended diet should provide all the calories, nutrients, proteins and vitamins that your dog needs to live a healthy life. Any extra food, even small table scraps, is unnecessary and can lead to your pet becoming obese.
As with humans, obesity is one of the leading causes for health issues in pets and, according to a recent study by the University of Liverpool, overweight dogs could lose over 2 years lifespan.
There are many serious illnesses/conditions that can be linked to obesity, including:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Joint disorders
How do you test if your pet’s overweight?
Weighing your dog is not a good enough indicator of whether they’re overweight. The best way is to do a ‘body conditioning’ test which is a hands-on look and feel of your dog’s overall shape.
The test, which focuses mainly on a dog’s ribs and waist, has a numbered scale from 1 (too thin) to 9 (obese).
The ideal for any dog is between 4 and 5 which means the following is true:
- Ribs are easily felt and have only a small amount of fat
- Waist and tummy tuck are easily seen
The two extremes are:
- Too thin - your dog’s ribs, lower spine and pelvis are clearly seen from a distance.
- Obese - there’s a large amount fat covering the ribs, spine and base of the tail and the abdomen is noticeably round.
If you think your pet is either under or overweight, you should contact your veterinary clinic for a check up and they will advise you on how you can restore your dog to a healthy weight.
Many human food isn’t safe for dogs
Certain human foods are incredibly dangerous for your pet, so they should always be kept out of reach. Some of the most dangerous include:
- Cooked bones
- Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
If you suspect your dog has eaten any of these, or anything else they shouldn’t, contact your vet immediately as they may need medical treatment.
Train your dog not to beg
If you consistently follow our advice in the behavioural section of this blog, you won’t only reduce the risk of your pet falling ill, but your dog should start to behave much better at dinner time.
Tricks you can try to stop their begging include:
- Keep them out of the dining area at dinner time
- Provide a distraction
- Crate training
- Ignore their advances
- Reward positive behaviour consistently
- Try a rotational diet
Make everyone aware that no scraps are allowed
It’s important that everyone who eats at your house is aware of your no scraps policy whether they’re an adult or a child. It only takes one rule breaker to feed your pet something bad for them or to create bad habits. Remind everyone that while they may think it’s cruel, it’s for your pet’s health and they have plenty of dog friendly food and treats available to them. This may be easier for children to understand if you let them give the dog a treat after showing good behaviour at the table.
Not feeding your dog scraps is the opposite of cruel
Understandably, many owners think they’re doing their pet a favour by giving them their scraps. As you hopefully realise now, this is a mistake and can cause many issues that may even require medical attention.
If you want to show your dog how much you love them through food, why not look up how to make homemade dog friendly treats? The internet is full of recipes for anything from doggy ice lollies to pooch friendly cupcakes.
Remember, whilst these dog friendly treats are good for your pet, unless they have an allergy, any type of food should only be consumed in moderation. Too much of anything can lead to gastrointestinal upset, deficiencies or obesity.