We all love to share with our pets to show love and form that tight bond, at the same time we need to ensure we are not causing any harm with these special treats. It can be so hard to say no to those pleading puppy-dog and kitty eyes, but it may be the best answer for them to live a healthy and happy life with us. It can be confusing to all the different foods that are good or bad for them, so we have broken down three key factors to keep in mind with any type of food or treat and their common health effects. Sharing may not only lead to health problems so we will look into how they can affect behaviour as well. To wrap everything up we will touch on a few of the top toxic treats and safe alternatives for our furry loved ones.
Three Key Factors
Many pet parents may feel the table scraps they are feeding are not toxic to pets, so what is the problem? We need to keep in mind that just because it is not poisonous does not mean it is healthy for them. There are a lot of “safe” human foods that can have many adverse effects on our pets through considerable amounts of sugar, fat and/ or salt. Even feeding small amounts of our meals can go above their daily nutritional requirements, causing them to gain weight leading to poor overall health. Those at an optimal weight are less likely to suffer from joint, bone, and mobility issues. Pets that are overweight are at higher risk of developing many health conditions such as heart disease, breathing issues, and decreased liver function.
Dangers of High Fat Treats
Sharing our breakfast like bacon or letting them have a bite of your cheeseburger are seemingly innocent gifts that may lead to dangerous health conditions and possibly an emergency vet visit. A small piece of cheese for us does not make up that much of a daily fat requirement but for a 20-pound dog it is a lot for their little body. These small bites can lead to a lot of weight gain and overtime you will notice the negative effects on the body. The added burden on our pets’ bodies can be seen as joint pain, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Many human dishes are just too rich and fatty for a beloved pet(s) to properly digest leading to gastrointestinal issues. After a fatty treat you may see vomiting, diarrhea and this habit could lead to severe conditions like pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. It can be life threatening and may be hard to identify as symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Some symptoms they may experience are lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, reduced appetite, and hunched posture. When the pancreas is functioning normally it works with the digestive tract by releasing digestive enzymes that only become active once they are present in the small intestine, where most of digestion occurs. If the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes can be released and activated early, leading to the digestion of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. This is extremely painful for dogs and cats as this can significantly damage the pancreas and surrounding organs in the abdomen. Without intervention it can cause internal bleeding and even death. Pancreatitis can come about for a variety of reasons, but the leading cause is a high fat diet. This may be part of their daily meals or if they suddenly consumed a large amount of fatty food in table scraps or through the garbage. The condition requires veterinary treatment and long-term management as flare ups may now occur from even the slightest trigger. Management will include a complete diet change, and possibly a change in feeding frequency and amounts as well as some physical activity and extremely limited treat options. Like many health conditions, pancreatitis is much easier and less costly to prevent than to treat and manage. The pancreas is also responsible for the production of insulin, resulting in diabetic patients being at a higher risk of pancreatitis and those with pancreatitis are more likely to get diabetes as well.
Dangers of Too Much Sugar
Speaking of diabetes, providing a lot of sugar to our pets over an extended period of time can cause numerous health issues. Along with diabetes, your pet may experience gastrointestinal upset, obesity, metabolic changes and in severe cases it can also lead to pancreatitis. Even semi-regular consumption can cause varying weight gain, impacting various organ systems and metabolic processes. Sugar treats are also a top cause of tooth decay and gum disease because the harmful mouth bacteria thrive off sugars. We do not want there to be confusion. Naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are safe in moderation. They contain water and fibre that helps slow down the body’s absorption of fruit sugars like fructose preventing the dangerous spike in blood sugar levels. They also benefit from the various micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables. It is best to stay away from all forms of added sugar including products using artificial sweeteners like xylitol found in gum, candy, and some peanut butters. Xylitol is toxic to pets and can cause liver failure and seizures.
Just like humans, it is not completely certain why some pets have developed diabetes. Some pets are genetically prone but there is evidence that being overweight increases the risk of your pet developing diabetes. Excess sugar that is not needed for energy is stored as fat as the pet becomes overweight their cells become increasingly resistant to insulin, resulting in the condition. Symptoms to watch for include excessive thirst and urination, unexplained weight loss, change in appetite, sweet smelling breath, lethargy, UTIs, and loss of eyesight. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed. This may include regular insulin shots up to twice a day, regular blood glucose testing, monitoring for changes and symptoms, and changing their diet. It is especially important for these pets to stick to a healthy low sugar diet. They also need lots of water to keep hydrated and flush the sugars sitting in the bladder. Saying no to human scraps, sugary treats, butter, oils, salt, and other seasoning is crucial. It is best to go for single ingredient, dehydrated treats if you want to offer them something special.
Dangers of Too Much Salt
Everyone loves a good, seasoned fry and the salty, crunchy bite of a potato chips including our four-legged friends. A rare treat may not hurt but too much salt can lead to health concerns just like too little salt. Salt helps to replenish their electrolytes, which are essential minerals that are vital to many functions in the body. This is why most pet foods are balanced to meet their daily salt requirements. Pets can exceed this limit by sharing treats like our fast food, seasoned meat, deli meat, and salty snacks leading to many health problems down the road. There are three main health concerns with excessive salt intake. Our first concern is dehydration since the high salt content in the blood stream causes water to rapidly drain from the cells to dilute the salt content in the blood. This severe dehydration will cause confusion, lethargy, and neurological effects due to brain swelling. Our pets can experience muscle cramps and joint pain causing them to lose balance and mobility. The flow of water leads us into our next health concern, high blood pressure. This can be especially hazardous if the pet also suffers from anemia. The influx of water to offset the salt puts a lot of pressure on the walls of the circulatory system. High blood pressure can have damaging effects on many internal organs such as the kidneys, heart, and brain. If the salt levels in the blood are extremely excessive, your pet may experience salt poisoning. This is caused by an extreme sodium imbalance; it is a severe condition and if left untreated can result in death. Treatment is not as straight forward as removing the salty culprit and providing more water. Rehydrating too quickly can actually exacerbate their symptoms and can even result in brain swelling and heart attacks. The signs to watch out for include, diarrhea, vomiting, swollen abdomen, excessive thirst, excessive urination, muscle tremors, incoordination, and seizures. If you suspect your pet may have salt poisoning it is best to seek veterinary assistance.
Effects on Behaviour
Another downside of sharing with our furry family members is the potential effects on their behaviour when food is around. This can start to form bad habits like begging, and we reinforce them by giving them a piece. They may start to think begging and mooching is acceptable and beg for food all the time and from everyone they see with food. Some pet parents are unknowingly reinforcing this unwanted behaviour by providing a piece of food just to get the pet to leave them alone, if only for a brief moment. A little drool in your lap as you eat your food may not be a big issue for you, but you may reconsider if it progresses. With some pets this might encourage them to steal food from young kids or skip the middleman and steal right from the plate. This not only introduces a danger to any children but for the dog as well, as somethings we are eating or might drop are toxic or a hazard to them. It can lead to food aggression with their own and human food making it difficult to remove if it is a danger to them and it can be incredibly challenging to correct this behavior. This can also result in very picky eaters. They may not want their food if they think they can get a slice of your pizza when they hold out long enough. Many of these issues are very frustrating and time consuming to correct and may take months of training and continued commitment to limit the unwanted and potentially dangerous behaviours.
Food Products to Avoid
Many human foods are unfortunately, toxic, or unsafe for our pets to consume and it can be hard to be aware of them all. We encourage pet parents to stop and consider if the treat your about to give is a safe and healthy option before we let them have it. The following table is here to help navigate a few human treats to avoid and the reasoning behind it.
|Human Food/Treat||Health Risks|
|Almonds||Non-toxic but is not safe. Almonds can block the esophagus and tear tissues along the digestive tract with the sharp pieces. If salted, it is a higher concern due to side effects of excessive salt.|
|Bread||Non-toxic but is unhealthy. Bread is remarkably high in sugar, preservatives and does not provide much nutritional value.|
|Chocolate & Caffeine||Toxic. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which can not be properly metabolized by our pets. Affects their circulation, heart, and smooth muscle control, and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, irregular heart function and seizures.|
|Cinnamon||Non-toxic (oil is toxic) but not safe. It can lower their blood sugar too much and lead to diarrhea, vomiting, irregular heart rate and liver disease. If inhaled it can cause coughing, choking and difficulty breathing.|
|Cooked Bones||Non-toxic but extremely dangerous. Cooked bones are likely to splinter and cause punctures or tears in the digestive tract. It can also cause a blockage within the digestive tract.|
|Deli Meat||Non – toxic but not safe. All lunch meats are extremely high in salt and fat and can lead to obesity along with heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis.|
|Fast Food/Processed Foods||May be toxic; is not healthy. Can contain toxic ingredients like onions, toxic herbs, and unsafe spices. They also contain excessive amounts of fat, sugar and salt leading to many health conditions.|
|Grapes/Raisins||Toxic as it contains tartaric acid. This acid causes vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, kidney damage and even kidney failure.|
|Ice Cream||Non – toxic but is unhealthy. Ice cream is extremely high in sugar leading to many health issues. Some pets are sensitive to dairy and could lead to vomiting and diarrhea. What is great is that they are so many pet-safe ice creams and alternatives to treat them with instead.|
|Macadamia Nuts||Very Toxic. Can induce signs of poison after ingesting only a couple nuts. Watch for signs of fever, vomiting and lethargy.|
|Onions||All varieties are toxic, including chives due to disulfides. If our pets ingest a large amount, whether over time or all at once, they can damage their red blood cells, causing anemia.|
Not all human foods are bad. There are many healthy food options to treat our beloved pets without the harmful effects. With many things, it is all about moderation. Treats should only make up 10% of their daily diet and the rest should be balanced meals to ensure our pets are getting everything the need to thrive. We will go through a few examples below.
|Human Food/Treat||Health Facts|
|Cheese||Safe in moderation. Cheese is high in fat and should be given in small amounts. Some pets may have a sensitivity and experience gastrointestinal upset.|
|Coconut||Coconut and coconut oil is a great option for a treat as it has many health benefits for the skin and coat. It is also good for bad breath.|
|Eggs||Eggs are safe to eat in moderation. They are high in protein, fatty acids, and many vitamins. If feeding raw should only be given a few times a week as raw egg whites can cause a biotin deficiency. *Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium, and the shell membrane is a great joint supplement.|
|Fish||Safe and healthy treat. A fantastic source of omega-3s for skin & coat and to reduce inflammation. Remember to remove all bones that can cause GI tears, except for sardines which have very soft, digestible bones.|
|Fruits||Many fruits and vegetables are safe for pets as long as they are seedless and have pits removed. Many fruits provide fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Berries are fantastic antioxidants.|
|Meat Protein||Safe in moderation. Offer them the meat they crave with many single protein options of breast, liver, and heart. Be careful in excessive treats as this can disrupt their balanced diet and lead to GI upset.|
|Peanuts||Safe in moderation. An excellent source of protein. They are high in fat and can lead to pancreatitis if given too much too often. Stay away from salted or seasoned peanuts as it can lead to salt poisoning.|
|Peanut Butter||Safe in moderation. Very crucial to read the ingredients and stay away from any containing salt and the toxic artificial sweetener, xylitol. Contains heart healthy fats, vitamins, and niacin.|
For more safe treat suggestions please visit your local Global Pet Foods where our healthy pet care specialists are happy to help.
Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement
Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.