Source: Canadian Living , By Lola Augustine Brown

We all like to spoil our dogs and cats and treat them as part of the family. But is feeding them food meant for humans a problem for their health?

There’s no doubt that we like to humanize our pets and treat them as part of our family, which is why we get so much pleasure from splurging on high-end treats and giving them the occasional bits of human food, too. However, for several reasons, we probably aren’t doing them much good when we do. Here’s what you should know about pet food.

The trouble with people food
Pretty much everyone gives their pets human food, including many veterinarians, says Ray Snowpek, a vet in Abbotford, BC, and past chair of the Pet Food Certification Committee. The problem? Failing to account for the calories — especially when our pets are overweight. When we give them the food off our plates, the number of calories that we are adding is intense.

If you habitually feed Fido table scraps, you need to lessen the amount of dog food that you are giving him in order to compensate. Otherwise, he’ll suffer. We think we are being kind, but by letting our animals get obese we take away their ability to jump and play as they get older, especially with smaller breeds, says Snowpek.

Also, cats and dogs have different nutritional needs than we do, so if they get too much human food, it can completely throw their diet out of balance, says Snowpek, and lots of animals have allergies to human foods such as wheat and dairy products. Because of this, a lot of pets get stimulated into allergic bowel problems because of what they are fed from the plate.

There are, of course, certain foods that you should never give to your pets. Most people know that chocolate is harmful to dogs, but there are other problem foods we should be aware of. Snowpek says that grapes and raisins can cause severe kidney problems in dogs and cats, and dogs with kidney stones should never be given carrots and various other kinds of human foods. Dairy products are one of the biggest food allergens for pets in Canada. Check with your vet as to which human foods are completely off the table for your pets, especially if they have medical issues.

 

Pet foods and treats that sound good enough for us to eat
So what about all those pet foods and treats designed to mimic human food? A lot of that is just marketing to us and our desire to humanize our pets,” says Snowpek. When you see dog ice cream and this and that, it plays on our desire to have them eat as we do. I wouldn’t say that it is harmful, but it has a lot more to do with marketing than nutrition.

As for the treats you see on pet store counters, such as doggy cupcakes and cookies, Snowpek says that they are purely for the emotional need of the owner to buy something special for their dog, and nothing to do with the nutritional needs of the animal.

Related: Treat your pooch with a batch of our Dog’s Breath Biscuits

On the other hand, Christine Greening, owner of high-end pet store Bark and Fitz in Halifax, sells a lot of these types of treats. They are very popular, especially the happy birthday bone cookies,” she says. “They fly out of here.

Greening sees nothing wrong with us wanting to treat our dogs. I think we just want to show them how much we love them by giving them something decadent, she says. One of the most popular lines of dog foods that she sells is made by a company called Merrick, and the flavours are very much designed to appeal to this urge. Depending on the season, Merrick dog (and cat) food comes in flavours like Thanksgiving Dinner, Grammy’s Pot Pie and Turducken. We sell a lot of those flavours over the holidays,” says Greening. “Yes, the marketing is very human driven, but the foods are of a very high quality, too.

It’s not really so bad — if you do it right
Snowpek says that if you do want to pick up pet food with flavours that sound designed for humans, you’re best off getting it from a larger, reputable company, because then you know that the food is still going to be nutritious and safe. If there are ever any recalls, these don’t tend to happen with the more reputable brands, he says.

While it may be true that our pets don’t actually need — or even care about — treats and foods that look like they’re means for humans, there doesn’t seem to be any real harm done if we do succumb to the clever marketing of those products. So long as we choose quality, and don’t let the treats make up too many calories, it’s all good. As for feeding our pets straight-up human food, we need to be more careful, and ensure that the foods aren’t too dense in calories — or even dangerous.