All The Foods Dogs Definitely Can’t Eat, According To A Vet Of 35 Years

·4 min read
Photo credit: Martin Poole
Photo credit: Martin Poole

You've heard your whole life dogs absolutely can not have chocolate under any circumstances, but not everyone is as well-versed as you are when it comes to what pups can and can't eat. That's because, as Chief Veterinary Officer of the American Kennel Club and longtime emergency vet Dr. Jerry Klein explains to me, the matter of feeding dogs "may seem like a simple topic, but it's actually quite complex."

I asked Dr. Klein to walk me through pet food safety basics, as well as to help me understand how some of these rules vary from dog to dog. (For example, he elaborates, "a Chihuahua eating dark chocolate is more dangerous than a Great Dane eating a Hershey's Kiss." That's not always the case, depending on the food!) Here's what you need to know next time you consider sneaking your dog a snack under the table. As always, we (that includes Dr. Klein!) recommend checking with your vet before introducing any changes to your pet's diet.

Foods that are always unsafe for dogs

Dr. Klein confirms most people know not to give their dogs chocolate, and that they know it can be toxic in just about any quantity. What you may not know, though, is that "the darker the chocolate, the more potentially dangerous it is, and the smaller the dog eating more chocolate, the bigger the problem." (That means white chocolate is not toxic.)

Otherwise, grapes and raisins are never a good idea, especially as these are not dose dependent. "For example, it isn't that if they eat five grapes, it's better than eating 20 grapes," Dr. Klein elaborates. He also notes it may take up to 48 hours for grape- and raisin-related issues to surface, and that ingesting them most commonly results in kidney issues.

You should also never give your dog garlic (which causes hemolytic anemia) or onions, particularly raw onions. The same thing goes for garlic powder and onion powder: "These things may not be deadly, but they can cause problems and you just never know, so these are always on the list of foods you shouldn't give dogs." Other things to ban? Alcohol and macadamia nuts.

Foods that dogs can eat, but sparingly

Dr. Klein says that when you are creating a food plan for your pet, you should aim for a "one-protein diet." He encourages everyone to read the labels of the dog foods they buy, because "some contain multiple proteins, and I don't recommend that because if your dog is having issues, whether it's diarrhea or chronic skin issues, you don't know what may be the factor to change. If you only have one variable to try to change, it's easier than trying to change two in an equation." When in doubt, "the blander the food is, the easier it is on most dogs."

He says pork and ham are OK, but that they "can be problematic and cause diarrhea and some dogs, and on a worst level, something called pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas."

Bones both raw and cooked are alright in moderation, but there can be issues with them as well. Bacteria may be present in raw bones, and cooked bones splinter more easily, and, per the doctor, "there can be a lot of maneuvering required to get those bone chips out of the large colon and rectum area."

People should also be wary of xylitol. It's an artificial sweetener found in certain peanut butters that can be toxic for dogs.

How you should be feeding your dogs

"It's not always a simple answer, but sometimes, simpler can be better. Dogs don't necessarily need variety—they need consistency and they need balance," Dr. Klein notes. As a rule of thumb, "you shouldn't make any kind of changes in food or any add-ons suddenly; it should be a gradual change from one food to the other."

For what it's worth, he feeds his dogs dry food that he supplements with hamburger meat. As a litmus test for how a particular food is working for a dog, Dr. Klein will ask clients:

How's the dog doing? Are they in a good way? Are they too fat? Too thin? Or do they have proper lean, good muscle mass? Does a dog have normal bowel movements? Are [those bowel movements] firm and easy to pick up? If you have a lot of poop or it's not well-formed, you have to question how much of the food is digestible.

Happy eating!

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