Household leftovers

Feeding table scraps to pets can be dangerous to their health

Dr.Vered Ables, veterinarian of the Mapet Company Ltd

The question of nutrition for dogs and cats has more than once given their owners a well known dilemma – whether or not to give the beloved pet human food and how to refuse their pleas. Many dogs and cats are fed in the best circumstances with commercial food and with additional table leftovers, and in the worst of circumstances their nutrition is based only on the scraps. The owners are not always aware of the quantities of leftovers given to the animals, and when they are questioned about this, the answers range from “only some pastrami now and then” to “I can’t stand up to the looks he gives me…”.
The coming holiday season aggravates the problem even more so. The many holiday meals supply a wealth of leftovers that are too good to throw out, and feeding them to the pets seems like an efficient solution.
It is important to know that the damage done by giving leftovers to dogs and cats is great; sometimes it amounts to temporary troubles that come and go, and in other cases the damage is accumulative.

What is the damage?

Digestive problems: The digestive systems of dogs and cats are not accustomed to people food. Giving them scraps, especially spiced foods, can cause digestive disturbances such as gas, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.
For example, chicken skin in Israel contains a high concentration of salt due to the koshering process. The high salt content causes water to be drawn into the digestive system, causing diarrhea.
One of the most common and most difficult problems is the giving of bones. Looking through children’s literature, even the most up to date, “teaches” that the food for dogs is bones. Wild dogs feast on the flesh and innards of their prey but not on the bones, and therefore everything that is not crushed by the dog’s teeth passes through the digestive system as is. This is the reason for the many cases of rips in the digestive system, bleeding due to puncturing of the mucous membrane and intestinal blockages, which require life threatening surgery.
An additional mistake that is common to the public is that the food of the cat is milk. The stomachs of cats are used to a different kind of milk altogether, and feeding them our milk products can be very costly for them.

Weight gain: Household scraps are not nutritionally balanced and in many cases they are full of fats. Dogs and cats that receive large quantities of scraps tend to get fat, even though in most case they do not get the essential nutritional components necessary for their development or their sustenance. Weight reduction for these dogs and cats is extremely difficult, since they will refuse to eat the commercial pet foods made for weight reduction.

Stress on internal organs: High salt levels, high fat levels and high protein levels found in human foods present a significant risk for dogs and cats (for that matter, also for heart patients a low sodium diet is recommended). Since excessive salts and proteins put stress on and make it difficult for internal organs to function properly, animals are likely to suffer from malfunction of the heart, liver and kidneys.

Food allergies: Most of the food allergies are due to an animal protein source. Dogs and cats that are fed scraps are exposed from an early age to a variety of protein sources from animals, and the likelihood of their developing food allergies is very high. Furthermore, it will be very difficult to suit hypoallergenic food to them that is based on a protein that they have not been exposed to previously.

Education: Every veterinarian and animal trainer knows that the one of the fundamental rules of training puppies and adults is to define the dog’s position in the family hierarchy. The dog must not be given the feeling that it is an equal in its standing with the family members, and it must be given clear boundaries. Giving table scraps at family meal times is one of the prevalent mistakes, which cause many of the common behavioral problems with puppies and adults. A dog that is used to eating in this manner will demand food from anyone who opens the refrigerator or sits down to eat, a phenomenon that is amusing at the beginning but soon becomes a serious nuisance.

Poisoning: Some household foods are likely to cause accumulated poisoning in dogs and cats, even to anemia of blood platelets. Garlic, onions and chocolate are only a few of the examples of ingredients that can cause this poisoning.

Then what is there to do?
Education towards feeding only commercial pet food to the animals starts the moment the puppy or kitten enters the house. The pet should be conditioned to eat commercial food from a bowl set aside for that purpose at set times – times that do not coincide with meal times of family members. A dog or cat that is conditioned to this from an early age will not be aware that there are other possibilities.
If you want to pamper your pet, you can give them an addition of a pet treat or an occasional snack, but not regularly.
Maintaining these rules will prevent heartache and will bring you much more pleasure from raising your pets.