Does your dog love nothing more than loitering around in your kitchen or under the dining table, waiting for any tasty morsels you might "accidentally" drop? Are you guilty of slipping him a tasty off-cut from your own meal when the rest of the family isn't looking?
If so, you might be wondering whether dogs can actually live off human food. The answer isn't entirely straightforward. While there are plenty of human foods that your canine companion can safely eat, there are also plenty of foods dogs should avoid at all costs.
It would also be extremely difficult to satisfy your dog's complex nutritional requirements if you were preparing all his meals yourself, so it's generally best to leave dog diets to the experts and feed your pooch a high-quality dog food.
Keep reading to find out the human foods your dog can and can't eat, and how to choose the right food for your pet.
Signs Your Dog Likes Human Food
You've just prepared yourself a hearty meal. A juicy steak, home-made fries, and a salad are sitting on a plate in front of you and you're ready to tuck in, but the humans aren't the only members of the household salivating. No sooner is dinner prepared than you feel the familiar sensation of a paw on your leg or a furry head thrust into your lap, accompanied by an eager face and two big, pleading eyes looking up at you in expectation. It's your dog and he wants to have what you're having.
Dogs often aren't the most subtle of creatures, so it usually doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out when your dog has developed a taste for human food. With nose in the air sniffing furiously, your pooch might appear by your side at the first sign of cuisine, or he might even come running every time he hears the sound of the fridge door opening. With a big smile and drool aplenty, he'll be licking his lips in anticipation of the tasty treat you've got lined up.
Once he's got your attention, your dog can use all his skills to guilt you into sharing a snack with him. All those behaviors that he can't always master during your training sessions, such as sitting patiently and shaking paws, are all of a sudden executed perfectly as your pet turns himself into the perfect picture of a "good boy". Throw in a hefty dose of big, wet, imploring eyes to make you feel like you'll be depriving your dog if you don't give him a bite, and it's extremely hard to say no to your hungry canine.
The History of Dog Food
Dogs' love of the food humans eat has played a pivotal role in the close bond our two species share. After all, the first wolves that started hanging around our campsites in ancient times did so not because we seemed like we'd one day make great friends, but because we were a wonderful source of food. These scavengers learnt that they could gain relatively easy access to a constant supply of food scraps simply by hanging around these strange two-legged creatures, and the dog/human bond has only grown stronger since then.
The first records of humans putting consideration into what to feed their dogs date to around 2,000 BC, when Roman philosopher Marcus Terentius Varro wrote a farming manual in which he recommended giving dogs meat with bones, and barley soaked in milk.
Despite this, doggy diets remained varied and unpredictable for a long time to come, consisting mainly of table scraps and leftovers right up until the mid-1800s. This all started to change in the 1860s when James Spratt, an Ohio electrician, was in London and witnessed crowds of mangy street dogs lining up at the docks to be tossed mouldy hardtack biscuits and leftover scraps. This was the catalyst for Spratt developing the first pet food, a dog biscuit using wheat, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood.
That was the start of the commercial pet food industry in the United States, and it hasn't really looked back since. Today, you can find an amazing array of dog foods to suit different breeds, ages, sizes, and lifestyles, as well as diets to treat a range of medical conditions.
The Science of Dogs Eating Human Food
What human foods can't dogs eat? Thanks to veterinary science, we know that there are plenty of foods we love that dogs should avoid, such as:
- Macadamia nuts
- Pits from peaches, plums, cherries and apricots
This is far from an exhaustive list, so check with your veterinarian if you're unsure about whether a specific food is safe for your dog.
In fact, as we've developed more and more knowledge about canine physiology and the dietary requirements of dogs, science has helped produce diets that offer ideal nutrition and reduced waste, giving your dog all the building blocks he needs to live a healthy and happy life.
How to Feed Your Dog the Right Diet
While your dog can safely eat many human foods, giving him a diet that consists entirely of the same meals you're eating is not recommended. However, you'll probably want to treat him to a snack from your plate every now and then, so it's essential that you're fully aware of what is and isn't safe for him to eat before letting him chow down. Moderation is also important, as giving too much can quickly lead to an upset stomach, while feeding overly rich or fatty foods is a no-no.
As for what should make up the majority of your pet's diet, most vets recommend feeding a premium-quality dog food designed for your pet's age, size, and activity level. Of course, choosing a dog food is far from an easy task — take a wander down the dog food aisle of your local pet supply store and it immediately becomes apparent that you're spoiled for choice.
To ensure that you end up with the best product for your fur-kid, remember a few simple tips. The first piece of advice is to look for a food tailored to suit your dog. For example, if she's a small dog, look for a diet specifically formulated for smaller breeds. If she's a giant-breed puppy, look for a food designed with her in mind — and so on.
Next, check the label for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement. This indicates that the product you're choosing has been formulated to meet the basic nutritional requirements of the type of dog listed on the packaging.
Finally, remember that you will also usually get what you pay for, so forking out a little extra for a high-quality dog food could be well worth it. And if you're in doubt about what your furry friend should eat, ask your veterinarian for guidance.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/03/2018, edited: 04/06/2020