Let's say you take your dog on a walk and, along the way, you decide to stop at an outdoor caf‚ for lunch. While enjoying a tuna sandwich, your faithful companion gives you one of those, "Hey, what about me?" looks. Should you tear off an eensy corner and share it?
Absolutely not, says Karen Halligan, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian and author of the recently published book Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know (HarperCollins). "I got into the habit of asking people whose pets had lived way beyond their life expectancy what they fed their dogs," she says. "One thing I noticed -- these owners didn't feed their dogs table scraps."
Dog Food, Human Food
According to Dr. Halligan, high-quality canned and dry dog food is nutritionally complete, and if you feed a dog table scraps you will upset the balance of nutrients in its diet. Plus, some human food can cause serious health problems for animals, and even death. "Three foods on my top 20 foods not to feed your pet are macadamia nuts, grapes and cheese," she says. Macadamia nuts contain a toxin that can seriously affect the nervous, skeletal and digestive track system. Grapes and raisins can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and could lead to kidney failure. Also, dogs can choke on them.
No Cheese, Please
But here's the big one to avoid: cheese, which along with milk, can cause emergency, life-threatening pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). A dog's digestive tract can't always process the high fat in cheese. Pizza can be deadly for this reason. The cheese, salt and dough can cause a condition called bloat, which can kill a dog.
If you give your dog two controlled servings of dog food a day -- specific amounts of dog food, determined by your dog's age and weight -- there should be no need for snacks. "It's OK for a dog to be a little hungry," Dr. Halligan says. "This way he'll eat what you put down." If you plan to be away from home for a number of hours with your dog, Dr. Halligan suggests bringing along some of the dog's dried food, but only if you then give a little less for one of its meals that day.
Think Before Drinks
Of course, water should always be available. But no other liquids are OK -- not milk, juice or alcohol (one of Dr. Halligan's clients asked if it was OK to share a martini with her pet!). Signs that a dog is thirsty include panting and a swollen tongue hanging out of its mouth. "Lift up your dog's lip and feel his gum. If it's dry and tacky, he needs water," she says. The water must be clean, so bring it along too. Don't let your dog drink out of puddles, as they can contain harmful parasites or antifreeze from cars, which can be deadly for dogs.
Leave Those Bones Alone
Biscuits and tartar control treats are OK to give, but should only be used when training or for positive reinforcement. Too many can lead to imbalances in a dog's diet. And never give any kind of bone. "Many a bone has killed a dog," says Dr. Halligan. It can splinter and get stuck in a dog's mouth, esophagus or intestines. Cooked bones can't be digested. Even rawhide chew toys should be given with caution. "Dogs can choke on it if they try to swallow it before it's completely chewed," she says.
Just Say No
Dr. Halligan says many pet owners think that giving pets a lot of snacks and table food is a way of loving them, but quite the opposite is true. So if a stranger offers a French fry or piece of fried chicken to your dog, Dr. Halligan suggests the most loving thing to do is this: "You say, 'No thank you, my dog wants to live a long happy healthy life. She doesn't eat fried food!'"
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