Most dog owners today are happy to open a bag of kibble or a can of pet food without thinking too much about what’s inside. We take it for granted that the food is nutritious for our dogs, though some foods may be better than others. Most people don’t realize that commercial dog food has only existed for about 150 years. Prior to that, dogs ate leftovers and whatever their owners scraped up for them.

Can dogs eat people food?

Yes, dogs can eat the same food that people eat. There are some particular foods that dogs should avoid, but they can eat most foods without any problem.

Which foods should dogs avoid?

Foods that dogs should avoid include:

  • Alcohol
  • Avocado and other pits (note that the flesh from avocados is fine for dogs; it’s the pits and skins that are problematic)
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the worse it is for your dog)
  • Cooked bones (raw bones are usually fine)
  • Corn on the cob (the cobs can be very dangerous)
  • Grapes and raisins (they may be coated with a mycotoxin which doesn’t affect humans but which is dangerous to dogs)
  • Hops
  • Macadamia nuts (can be deadly to dogs)
  • Marijuana
  • Nutmeg
  • Onions (very harmful to dogs; deadly to cats)
  • Persimmons, peaches, and plums
  • Potato, rhubarb, and tomato leaves (potatoes, tomatoes, etc., are fine; it’s the leaves which are a problem)
  • Tobacco
  • Xylitol (found in sugarless candy and chewing gum, among other things; also found in human toothpaste)
  • Yeast

Some people recommend avoiding milk and dairy for dogs because some dogs are lactose intolerant, like people, but most dogs can eat foods with low levels of lactose. Milk has a lot of lactose in it so it’s hard for some dogs to digest. But yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheeses like Swiss, Cheddar, and American have small amounts of lactose and most dogs can eat them in small amounts.

Some people will add other things to this list but these food items are nearly always recommended for dogs to avoid.

If you avoid giving your dog these specific foods, you can give your dog anything you eat. Many people feed their dogs raw food diets or cook for their dogs. These diets are based on feeding the dogs certain percentages of meat, fat, and other ingredients such as vegetables or dairy.

Can you give your dog people food along with his regular food?

Yes, within limits. If you want to add some people food to your dog’s regular kibble, you can generally make about ¼ to 1/3 of his food people food such as chicken wings, hamburger meat, or ground turkey. Add a little liver or other organ meat to the food along with a little yogurt and some steamed veggies (or break them down in a food processor first to serve them raw). As long as you keep the total amount of food added to your dog’s diet at less than 1/3 of his total food intake, it should not upset the balance of vitamins and minerals in his kibble. If you start adding more food than this to your dog’s kibble, it will throw off the vitamins and minerals in his food which can cause nutritional problems.

Some people like to toss their leftovers into a crockpot and use the crockpot stew as a topping for their dog’s food.

Will your dog like eating people food?

Yes, most dogs like eating some real meat and other foods, even if you just add it to their kibble as a topping. It adds more flavor to their kibble.

What if you want to feed your dog more than just a small amount of people food?

If you would like to start feeding your dog homecooked meals or a raw food diet on a regular basis, there are a lot of good books and e-mail groups to help people come up with nutritious meals for their dogs. It’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian first, before making this kind of change in your dog’s diet. Many vets oppose these diets, partly because it can be hard to feed dogs a nutritionally balanced diet when formulating meals yourself. But even if your vet is discouraging, it’s still a good idea to have your dog checked out and make sure he is in good health before making a radical change in his diet.

You can also look for a vet who is comfortable working with an owner who feeds their own diet. There are vets who support raw food diets and homecooking for dogs. Or talk to a canine nutritionist before you start your dog’s new diet to get the best advice about what to feed.