What you can and can’t feed your dog

What should you feed your dog and what foods should your furry friend avoid?

Wandering down the pet food aisle of your local supermarket or pet store can be a daunting experience. The sheer variety of dog food available can be overwhelming. There are different brands, flavours and ingredients as well as food specially designed for pets of all shapes and sizes.

So, what kinds of food are right for your dog and which ones should you avoid? Let’s find out.

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Choosing a dog food

How can you tell which food is best for your dog? With such an array of options available, remembering a few simple tips will help you make the right choice:

  • Choose a dog food for your dog’s life stage. Your dog’s nutritional requirements change with age. For example, while puppies need more protein in their diet to aid the development of growing bodies and minds, senior dogs are usually less active and can benefit from a diet with less protein and energy but that’s higher in fibre. With this in mind, look for a dog food specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of canines at your dog’s life stage.
  • Size matters. Canine nutritional needs can also vary between breeds. For example, a tiny Chihuahua pup doesn’t need the same balance of nutrients as a rapidly growing Great Dane. Many pet food manufacturers offer dog food specifically formulated for breeds of certain sizes, such as food for large breeds or products for small breeds, which should contain all the essential ingredients your pooch needs.
  • Look for the AAFCO stamp. AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials, an internationally recognised body which recommends regulations for the sale and distribution of pet food. To get AAFCO approval, pet food must meet the minimum requirements for protein, carbohydrates, fats and other important nutrients.
  • Consider the cost. Why should you pay more for a premium pet food when other budget brands are available at the supermarket for a whole lot less? As a general rule, paying more means you can expect a better-quality dog food. Premium foods are backed by many years of scientific research and provide all the essential nutrients your dog needs. They may cost you more now, but they may also save you money in the long run by helping your pet avoid costly health problems.
  • Ask an expert. If you’re unsure about what to feed your dog, ask your vet for help. Your vet will be able to advise you on the most appropriate food to give to your canine companion.

Can I prepare my dog’s food at home?

In recent years, home-cooked diets for dogs have grown in popularity, with some owners keen to avoid processed foods and preservatives when feeding their furry friend. So, should you cook your dog’s meals yourself?

For the majority of vets, the answer is no. It’s extremely difficult to provide your dog with all the proper nutrients in the right quantities for their size and life stage when you’re making their meals yourself. Nutrient deficiencies can cause all manner of health problems.

Premium pet food has been specifically formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of your dog, so you don’t have to worry about whether your dog is getting enough of this, that or anything else. Not only is feeding your dog premium dog food easier and less time-consuming, it also ensures that your dog will get all the nutrients needed to live a happy and healthy life.

Choosing dog treats

We all love to spoil our four-legged friends from time to time, maybe during training or simply for being a “good dog”. However, what are the best treats to give your dog?

Look for treats made specifically for dogs that are small in size and low in calories, such as training treats. Large jerky-like treats are very high in calories and not a healthy choice for your dog.

While you shouldn’t give most human food to your dog as a treat, you can use some vegetables (like carrots, green beans and celery) as healthy snacks.

What can’t dogs eat?

There are certain foods that you should not give to dogs under any circumstances. While the exact reaction to those foods may vary depending on your dog’s breed, weight and other factors, you should never feed the following to your canine companion:

  • Alcohol. Getting your dog drunk is not funny nor is it safe. Alcohol can cause a lack of coordination, poor breathing and can even lead to coma and death.
  • Apple seeds. Apple seeds can release cyanide when digested, so make sure you have removed the core and all the seeds if you want to give your pet a slice of apple.
  • Avocado. If you’re thinking of sharing a smashed avo with your pooch, be warned that avocados contain persin, which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and heart problems.
  • Chocolate. Thinking of giving your dog a chocolate treat at Easter? Don’t. Not only is the caffeine a no-no, but chocolate also contains theobromine and theophylline, which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, heart problems and death.
  • Coffee and tea. Dogs cannot tolerate caffeine, and it can cause everything from an elevated heart rate and temperature to seizures and death.
  • Garlic. While garlic may be safe in small quantities, it’s safer to avoid it altogether.
  • Grapes and raisins. Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure and liver damage in dogs, so never give them to your pooch.
  • Macadamia nuts. Maccas contain a toxin that can damage your dog’s digestive, nervous and muscle systems.
  • Mushrooms. Mushrooms can cause health problems and even death, so it’s best to avoid them at all costs.
  • Onions and chives. Onions can destroy your dog’s red blood cells and cause anaemia, so they should be avoided at all times.
  • Peaches and plums. Not only can the pits in peaches and plums cause intestinal blockage, but they can also release cyanide when digested.
  • Raw potatoes. Raw potatoes contain solanine, which is toxic to dogs.
  • Xylitol. Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute and is commonly found in toothpaste, chewing gum, baked goods and candy. It’s also extremely toxic to dogs, even in small amounts.

Remember: just because a food is fit for human consumption doesn’t mean it’s safe for dogs to eat. Even if your dog seems to love the taste, which is not unusual with ingredients like chocolate, all the foods on this list are potentially toxic to dogs.

Of course, the above list isn’t exhaustive, so don’t assume that anything not listed here is safe to give to your furry friend. When in doubt, ask your vet for advice.

Other foods to avoid

While they may not necessarily be toxic to your dog, there are several other foods you should try to avoid:

  • Fat trimmings. Trimming the fat off your steak and then slipping it under the table to the family dog may be something of a tradition, but it’s also quite dangerous. Eating rich, fatty meals is a contributing factor in cases of pancreatitis, which can be fatal in extreme cases.
  • Leftovers. It’s also tempting to give your dog table scraps, but this is once again a no-no. Not only is there the risk of pancreatitis, but there’s also a chance that your dinner may contain ingredients that are toxic to your dog.
  • Old food. Spoiled and mouldy food can contain all sorts of nasty bacteria, so make sure to stop your pet from rummaging through food scraps in the bin.
  • Cooked bones. Cooked bones have a much higher risk of splintering and getting caught in your dog’s throat or causing an intestinal blockage.
  • Milk. Some (but not all) dogs are lactose intolerant, and milk can cause an upset stomach, flatulence, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Safe human foods for dogs

While there are plenty of foods you should avoid giving to your pooch, there are still lots of things you and Rover can both safely enjoy. These include the following:

  • Lean meat. Raw or cooked lean meat provides much-needed protein and other nutrients for your dog. Just make sure there are no bones and that you have removed the skin.
  • Eggs. Cooked eggs are a great source of protein and are safe to eat, but raw egg whites can cause biotin deficiency.
  • Fish. Fish provides important amino acids and good fats for your pet, but you should never feed uncooked or undercooked fish to your dog.
  • Fruit. You can give some fruits, such as bananas and apple slices, to your pooch as a treat.
  • Vegetables. Carrots, green beans, zucchini and a number of other veggies are healthy treats that you can give your dog.
  • White rice and pasta. Plain white rice and pasta are also safe to give to your dog, and can even help settle an upset stomach.

Choosing what to feed your dog can sometimes be a tricky and confusing task, but a little research can go a long way to helping you give your pet a healthy, balanced diet. Remember that if you’re unsure about anything concerning your dog’s nutrition, ask your vet for advice.

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Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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