As we enter the holiday season, it’s good to remember that supplementing a pet’s diet with table scraps from human meals can present multiple health challenges for your cat or dog. Whether slipping a snack from the dinner plate or offering your dog a human treat during training, PFI explores some of the issues that can impact a pet’s wellbeing.

Obesity Risks

Dogs and cats have much lower caloric needs than humans, and many human foods are calorically-dense in comparison to carefully-formulated pet food recipes. Pet obesity is associated with a range of health concerns and can result in a shortened life expectancy.  It is currently estimated that approximately 20% of U.S. dogs and 28% of U.S. cats are obese. To help keep pets at a healthy weight, veterinarians recommend that pet owners monitor their dog or cat’s body shape, activity level and life stage to help determine the appropriate amount of pet food needed.

Dangerous Ingredients

Common food ingredients that are safe for most humans can have dangerous health implications if eaten by cats or dog (though the ingredients and level of toxicity vary between species). Some toxic ingredients include caffeine (such as coffee, coffee grounds or tea), the chemical compound theobromine (found in products containing cocoa, such as chocolate or chocolate milk), grapes and raisins, Allium species of plants (garlic, onions, chives and leeks), and alcohol.

Nutritional Challenges

Pet food that is labeled as “complete and balanced” is formulated to provide the essential nutrients that your dog or cat requires, at the appropriate levels. This includes protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, and amino acids. Human food and table scraps may not fulfill these nutritional requirements. For example, cats may suffer from thiamine deficiency if their food subsists largely of raw fish and they do not receive a more nutritionally-complete diet.

In addition, too much of certain nutrients can pose a health threat to a pet. Food that is high in fat, such as leftover turkey skin, can cause canine pancreatitis.

Behavioral Issues and Training

Regularly feeding table scraps to your dog may result in behavioral problems, such as constant begging that disrupts your mealtime. If a pet lover is considering using treats while training their dog or cat, commercial treats are more likely to contain ingredients appropriate for a pet’s unique nutritional needs.