If you've ever had a dog for a pet, you know that one of their (many) endearing qualities is the ability to mimic a vacuum cleaner—inhaling bits of food dropped during dinner prep or flung from the table by small children.
Given their enthusiasm for rogue carrot slices and rejected clumps of dinner pushed off of highchair trays, you might find yourself wondering if it's okay to intentionally share food scraps with your pets. Dana Gunders says yes. In her book, the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, she writes: “According to the food recovery hierarchy, if something can be fed to a pet, that’s a higher use than throwing it out or even composting it.”
This doesn't mean that you have to start sharing scraps with your dogs and cats (and definitely don't start feeding them directly from the table unless you never want to eat in peace again), but if you decide you want to share scraps with your pets from time to time, it's important to know what foods are safe to feed them.
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Avoid feeding your cats and dogs items high in sugar and fat—chances are if you know you should be eating something in moderation, your pet should be too. Also stay away from spicy foods that might wreak havoc on their digestive tract. Some foods you might already know are no-nos (like grapes, raisins, and chocolate), but there are others that you might not know pose a risk (like avocado, bread dough, and macadamia nuts). When in doubt, check with a reputable source, like these lists from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which were referenced in the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook.
Fruits and vegetables (other than the ones mentioned above and found on the aforementioned linked lists)
Salmon and fish skins (note that cats shouldn’t be fed raw fish as it prevents them from absorbing other important nutrients)
Even when sticking to approved items, it's important to keep the amount of scraps you share in check. Gunders reminds us: “The general rule is that no more than 5 percent of your pet’s diet should come from treats or people food, to make sure your pet gets the balanced diet he or she needs, which commercially sold pet foods are designed to provide.”
If your menagerie goes beyond cats and dogs and includes chickens, you probably know that they’d be happy to take on some of your food scraps. For their safety, chickens shouldn’t be fed raw green potato peels, dried or undercooked beans, really salty foods, citrus, sugary foods, chocolate, or avocado skins and pits. For the sake of your continued supply of eggs, you shouldn't feed them raw eggs or eggshells. And once again, if you aren't sure if an item is okay to share, check with a reputable source—BackYardChickens.com has an extensive list you can reference.
Do you feed your pets scraps? Do you go a step further and cook meals for them? Tell us about it in the comments!