Cooking with Scraps

What People Food is Okay for Pets

January 12, 2016

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.

Photo by Sarah Stone

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.

People foods that are okay for cats and dogs:

  • Cooked meat and eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables (other than the ones mentioned above and found on the aforementioned linked lists)
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice
  • 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!

35 Comments

Laurie K. April 27, 2017
I feed my dog eggs once a week as a ,she also likes greenbeans
 
Joan K. March 27, 2017
3 years ago I got a 4 year old long hair Chihuahua from the daughter of a woman with Dementia. I am 77 and always had dogs in my life. At that point my husband had passed away about a year before. Our 2 beloved mutts had gone to dog heaven about a year before. When I saw the picture of the little Chi I knew she was ment for me and I got a new pal. When I got her she had hardly any fur and weighed only 3 pounds. They had been feeding her one of those little canned dog foods. We bought a can until we could decide what to feed her. Her teeth were so tiny, what to do. We got a little jar of plain chicken baby food. She loved it. I fed her a small amount of that morning and afternoon and a little cut n up chicken thigh in the evening. I vowed never to give her any commercial food. It wasn't long till her beautiful fur grew back and she gained weight. Please people, don't feed your pets commercial food. I never have. I am 77 and when my 6 kids were growing up I would scrape the plates after dinner and that's what our dogs ate. They all lived to a ripe old age ...most of them over 15. Dog food was invented as a way for manufacturers of meat plants to get rid of their scraps. In the beginning it wasn't bad stuff. It was at least made in the US. But then they made it cheaper and put all kinds of junk in it. I think if you wouldn't eat it why should your pet.
 
Sue S. January 24, 2016
Thanks for the article. One correction---Cooked salmon and salmon skin are safe for dogs, but uncooked skin and salmon can cause salmon poisoning, which is often fatal to dogs, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and north.<br /><br />LoveFood52!<br /><br />Sue S
 
Emily I. January 18, 2016
I'm an organic gardener with two Australian cattle dogs, a corgi and a kitty who all love veggie treats from the garden. The dogs go so far as to pull carrots and beets out of the ground to munch on and the kitty won't let me harvest green beans without giving her pieces (I learned I had to plant extra to accommodate their grazing). They come running when they hear me start chopping veggies in the kitchen. They eat beets (all parts), carrots, potatoes (no green), green beans, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, squash, peas, kale stems, and radishes. They get these as treats and eat their kibble regularly and they are very healthy active dogs. They don't seem to ever want to overindulge on their veggie snacks. The only problem is when they try to steal these veggie treats from the chickens, cows or goats! Everyone eats well. <br />I took some cute videos of the dogs eating the veggies and posted them on YouTube. If you need break, watching a corgi eat a beet is pretty relaxing!<br />https://www.youtube.com/user/redpink52
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 18, 2016
This makes me insanely happy, thanks for sharing!
 
Catherine L. January 18, 2016
Also bad for pets is bacon and lunch meats due to the nitrate/nitrites in them. As a vet tech I've seen many heart issues resulting from being fed too much of these products.
 
Sharon W. May 1, 2017
Thank you for saying that, Catherine! I get so frustrated w/ so many dog guardians who think that 'just one bite' of whatever 'won't hurt'!! I lost my 7 1/2 yr old Havanese 2 1/2 yrs ago to acute pancreatitis from her eating 'JUST ONE' thumbnail size bite of fatty bacon!! She was in excruciating pain and couldn't stop throwing up w/in 30 minutes after eating it!! She spent 3 1/2 days in ICU and had 2 blood transfusions, but the toxins broke out of her pancreas and got into her blood stream and some blood got into her lungs, which made it very difficult for her to breathe! She fought as hard as she could to get better & didn't give up until I had held her, told her how much I loved her and had given her permission to rest. As her devoted mama, I just couldn't stand to watch her suffer in pain and struggle so hard to breathe!! Her vet said he thought she'd last until the next day, but she waited until I left her and took her last breath in her extraordinary vet's arms. I will always be very grateful for that and that she didn't pass away alone in a metal kennel. I guess she knew it would be too heart- wrenching for me if she passed in MY arms, and she would've been right! But I had to meet my dad at the funeral home to plan my mother's funeral, as she had passed just 40 HOURS before my beloved 'angel girl' had!! I have been beating myself up ever since and will NEVER give ANY PORK to my present 2 yr old Havanese, b/c I've learned in the most painful way possible that 'just one bite' CAN not only hurt our beloved fur babies; but it can also be DEADLY!!! I would hate for any other dog parent to have to go through the intense heartbreak that I have!! Oh yeah, to add insult to injury, I was left w/ a $4,200 vet bill that I couldn't pay!!! Live and learn; but better safe than sorry!!💖🐾🐾
 
Linda B. January 15, 2016
We currently have 2 jack Russell terrier mix dogs which are home fed every single day of their lives. I've gotten to the point that I do not trust ANY pet food manufacturer with all the recalls over the years. Our Vet confirms that what we feed Max and Bubba is a great diet. They continue to be very active and neither one of them is overweight. They are fed once daily in the evening which consists of either chicken or beef made in the pressure cooker along with some sort of carb such as sweet potato, brown rice or red potatoes. I also make sure they have a green vegetable such as green beans, cooked cabbage or their least favorite which is broccoli. It is a lot of work however I make enough to break down into a couple of days meals for them. For a treat they do get string cheese or a Baby Bell Cheese. I'm sure this isn't for everyone but we've been very successful and thought it might be interesting to share.<br />
 
Amanda S. January 15, 2016
So happy for this really important PSA! Though, worth noting as well that if you never ever feed your pet human food, they won't ever beg for it (didn't believe this until I saw it in action).
 
Lina H. January 13, 2016
Avocado is fine for dogs in small doses. And keep the pit out of reach too! http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/avocado/
 
Sharon W. May 1, 2017
But why would you want to risk it, Lina? How would you know how much is too much to give your dog, which I would hope that you love too much to EVER risk giving him/her ANYTHING that could possibly harm them!!! There is no reason in the world why dogs should ever eat avocados!! (If you'll read my comments above, you'll find out why I feel so strongly about this!!)
 
Kathie A. January 13, 2016
I have always fed my dogs people food and simply cut back on the amount of dog food to equalize the calory intake. My reasoning? Dogs became friends with people BECAUSE of people food (read scraps and edible garbage). A sprinkling of good olive or a spoon of coconut pil helps with shedding and coat and skin health as well.
 
JAC January 12, 2016
Couple of years ago my dog, then age 11, had slowed way down. She could hardly get up off the floor at times. I first took her off all grains, switching her to a quality grain free dog food and saw some improvement. Next I took her to a holistic vet. After that meeting I took her off all processed food. <br />For the past two years she has eaten a variety of vegetables, fruits, poultry, pork & fish, no spices, salt or sauces. It has made a HUGE impact on her health. Slowly she returned to running and playing like she hadn't done in years. She loves vegetables and is crazy about her food. <br />I will NEVER feed her or any animal processed food again. It's not good for humans or animals.
 
Sharon W. May 1, 2017
NO PORK, Jac!! It's too fatty for a dog's liver to process properly and can cause pancreatitis, arthritis and even some kinds of cancer!! If you love your dog as much as I love mine, it's just not worth risking his/her life!! (Please read my comments above and you'll understand where I'm coming from.) Better safe than sorry!!❤🐾🐾
 
Beth S. January 12, 2016
Dogs should not eat raw salmon...a friend learned the hard way :( http://m.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_dg_salmon_poisoning_disease# <br />
 
hardlikearmour January 12, 2016
That only applies to raw salmon from the PNW. Salmon from a grocery store or caught elsewhere is not a risk.
 
amysarah January 12, 2016
I always give my dog cooked skin - usually salmon, but occasionally other types. Only problem there is humans feeling cheated out of delicious crispy salmon skin.
 
Erin M. January 12, 2016
I love this article. Though I may be more than a little biased and swayed by the particularly adorable pictures...
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 13, 2016
Perhaps just a wee bit... :)
 
Rich January 12, 2016
Make sure to check peanut butter labels for xylitol, sugar alcohol, or natural sweeteners. Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol sweetener popular for its low glycemic index but known to cause hypoglycemia and liver failure in dogs, is now also found in several specialty peanut and nut butter brands.
 
Sharon W. May 1, 2017
No Rich! Natural sweeteners, like Stevia are safe for dogs. XYLITOL is an ARTIFICIAL sweetener found in sugarless gums and candies, and yes; some peanut butters too!! That's why we should ALWAYS read the ingredients labels before given ANY processed foods (human or pet) to our pets!! Petsmart carries 'doggie peanut butter' that is reduced in fat and all natural, so it is safer for our beloved canines.❤🐾🐾
 
HalfPint January 12, 2016
It's not good to feed cats and dogs salty food. Lesson learned from a friend who was giving her poodle, "Junior", leftover dim sum. Not good, Junior's hair fell out.
 
hardlikearmour January 12, 2016
I've not heard of salty food leading to hair loss...
 
clayshapes January 12, 2016
I'm very happy to be given permission to continue what I'm already doing. My Schnoodle Gracie (who is NOT overweight) eats a lot of snap peas, oatmeal and carrots - instead of dog treats and in addition to her kibble and homemade chicken, carrot, squash, oatmeal apple and pea "meatballs" that I mix up with her kibble everyday. I make a big batch of meatballs every month and freeze them, and then heat them up and dole one out with each meal. They are vet approved (my vet). Very happy doggie at my house. Life is short. Everyone should eat well - even doggies.
 
Lisa January 12, 2016
Oh, yes, snap peas and green beans are other favorites in our house, too.
 
hardlikearmour January 12, 2016
I notice that the components in your treats and "meatballs" are lean, so it doesn't surprise me your dog is not overweight and your vet approves.
 
Lisa January 12, 2016
Our dog loves pretty much all vegetables he's had a chance to eat, except for lettuce and tomatoes. I joke that he's a vegetarian at heart. Beets are his favorite, followed closely by butternut squash. He also enjoys roasted green chilis (mild), but has been known to snarf a jalapeno slice from the floor and pine for more. No idea if dogs can taste heat! Yesterday he discovered that he likes chickpeas.<br /><br />We don't feed him large portions of anything, just a few scraps here and there, and of course bits that fall on the floor are fair game. Fortunately, he is very good with the "leave it" command when inappropriate things like onion fall.
 
hardlikearmour January 12, 2016
I see a lot, A LOT, of overweight and obese dogs and cats -- odds are at least half of the people with pets reading this article have an overweight or obese pet. We know that obesity in dogs leads to a shorter lifespan, plus the development of arthritis at a much younger age than need be. In other words, your pet will die younger, yet experience more pain :-( . I'd advise caution with anything but safe low-calorie human foods being fed on a regular basis. An 11# dog needs between about 235 & 375 calories per day to maintain that weight based to a large extent on activity level. So even feeding a small amount of a calorie dense food once or more per day could be problematic. Stick to safe veggies and fruits that your dogs will eat. Leave the fatty stuff for very rare treats in very tiny portions. Better to waste or compost those scraps, than contribute to health trouble for your pet IMO. On a side note, other than the pit and calorie density there is no good evidence avocado is harmful to dogs and cats (it's a problem for birds and livestock, though).
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 12, 2016
Great points HLA, thank you.
 
amysarah January 12, 2016
Yes, as you made clear, always check when in doubt – or even if not. Over decades of dogs, I’ve found what’s good/bad is often not intuitive.<br /> <br />To answer your question …should add disclaimer: I’ve mostly had Labs, whose standards for what's tasty are pretty low - our pooch thinks the cat’s litter box is a snack bar (need I say more?) But he really loves apples, carrots, cheese (supposed to be ok in small quantities; never had problems - but check with your vet!) any grisly cooked meat scrap, scrambled eggs, bacon, duh…And he thinks fish skin is candy. Omega 3 fatty acids are good for skin/coat (he has a form of Lupus that effects skin cells) and now, as an older dog, it’s also good for joints - helps reduce inflammation. <br />Also, re another fave, peanut butter - when he was very ill and I had to give him A LOT of pills, I found the best delivery system was inside a small blob of pb. (Way cheaper than those pricey pill “pockets,’ if your dog is fussier than my gourmand beast.)<br />
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 12, 2016
"our pooch thinks the cat’s litter box is a snack bar" ahaha!
 
Wonderdog January 12, 2016
Onions are toxic to dogs ~ grapes are not good either. Take this article down!! Do the research!!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 12, 2016
Right, that's why grapes are listed as not okay!
 
Rachel January 12, 2016
Why would you take the article down? It specifically is talking about the kinds of things you should be giving your dog instead of just plain dog food all the time (dogs have survived for millennia without eating identical pieces of dog kibble every day) You can do so much to make healthy treats and use scraps that would otherwise go to waste. I dry sweet potato slices in my oven for chewies, and I have been meaning to buy beef lung and liver to dry in my dehydrator. <br /><br />One other point though... onions can be toxic to dogs, but keep in mind that includes all alliums (garlic, shallots, etc.), not just onions. Some dogs just have a reaction to these foods, and others don't.
 
hardlikearmour January 12, 2016
In large enough quantities all dogs and cats react to alliums. The sulfur compounds in onions and the like cause oxidative injury to the red blood cells leading to hemolytic anemia.