Ordering off the menu

10th Jul, 2017

Photo credit: www.sweetmanphotography.com

Written by Jenni Davies

Have you ever slipped your pooch a bite or two off your plate? Dished up turkey with all the trimmings so that they can celebrate too? Sprinkled leftover fish fingers over kitty’s pellets? Topped up their bowls with scraps from the kids’ plates? Many of us have… and then felt guilty or worried afterwards.

Food for thought

Feeding our pets specially formulated pet food (manufactured pellets/kibbles, treats, canned food) is standard procedure today. But many pet owners feel this is boring and even, possibly, unhealthy – plus we love to treat our fur kids. Fortunately, many ‘people foods’ are not only not bad, they can even be healthy – as long as you choose wisely and don’t overfeed them. For example, that turkey with all the trimmings is fine if you select the lean, white meat without skin, and only add plain veggies. Leftovers also aren’t always bad, but not old, rotten, or mouldy food.

Also, remember that cats are carnivores; they cannot be vegetarian, nor do they need fruit and vegetables in their diets (although they can eat some).

Bottom line: cats and dogs are a different species to us, with different dietary needs and abilities to process chemicals. They can’t eat everything that we can, and some foods are even dangerous. The key is to inform yourself.


Here’s a list of safe foods (always give a tiny bit first to make sure they aren’t allergic):

  • Cooked lean meat, fish, duck, and chicken. Chicken is particularly popular for dogs with upset tummies as it’s generally hypoallergenic, and can be fed regularly. Many cats like fish, as long as it isn’t battered and fried.
  • Vegetables. Cooked butternut, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, courgettes, marrow, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, and raw or cooked carrots all contain fibre, vitamins and minerals. Raw carrots are great teething chews for pups too.
  • Fruit. Apple, banana, spanspek, pear, watermelon and mango are good sources of nutrients, but don’t overfeed as they do contain fruit sugar. Freeze a few pieces in summer for them to nibble.
  • Rice. This is great when your dog or cat’s tummy is upset. Don’t overdo it though, as it is starchy and dogs should have a mainly protein-based diet.
  • Egg. Scramble lightly and give it occasionally to your dog with their food as a protein boost.
  • Oatmeal/Oats. This is high in fibre, and dogs usually love it. Make sure it’s well cooked and contains no additives.


These are generally fine as occasional treats:

  • Unsweetened plain peanut butter. Dogs love it and, as an occasional treat, it’s a good source of protein and minerals. (Check labels for xylitol and sugar.)
  • Cheese. Most people can’t even open a cheese packet without their dogs magically appearing. As an occasional treat in small amounts, cheese is usually fine, but keep it minimal as it’s high in fat and salt.
  • Plain yoghurt (not sweetened and flavoured).  
  • Bread. Controversial, but, if it’s good-quality, low-GI bread, the odd small piece is okay (not slathered in butter).  
  • Biltong. The great South African favourite is a favourite of dogs – and many cats – too. It’s not too bad, as long as you avoid overly fatty, salty, and spicy ones (try to brush off excess).

It’s hard to say no to our furry friends, especially as some of them are master manipulators, with their sad puppy-dog eyes… but our furry friends rely on us to look after them and we have to live up to this honour.


Sure, some of these are regularly given to dogs and cats – but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. While your pet may eat or drink them and look fine, you don’t know what’s going on under the surface. Why take the chance? Avoid the following completely:

  1. Junk food. That means the food we ourselves really shouldn’t have – fat, sugar, salt, artificial colourants and flavourants, and processed foods. If it comes from a drive-thru or out of a shiny, colourful packet, it’s probably best avoided.
  2. Bones. Never feed cooked bones, especially chicken, fish, pork and lamb; they can puncture intestines or cause blockages, which can quickly kill. Raw beef marrow bones, ostrich femurs, and hooves are fine (but supervise your dog).
  3. Chocolate, coffee, tea, and alcohol. Yes, Woefie may like it but that doesn’t mean it’s okay; dogs and cats can’t process chemicals such as caffeine in coffee and tea, and theobromine in chocolate. A once-off (e.g. Fido swipes your Valentine’s Day choccie) isn’t normally disastrous – but, for some dogs and with certain foods, it may well be. Regularly giving these things is a bad idea and, although your pet seems fine, it could be causing real damage or shortening their lifespan. Why take the chance?
  4. Xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. Xylitol is deadly for dogs. Approximately 0.5g xylitol per kilogramme can kill (so, a 5kg dog could die from 2.5g of xylitol). It causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels, leading to liver and pancreatic failure. If your pet eats anything you suspect could contain this sweetener (especially chewing gum), call your vet immediately. Other sweeteners are not as dangerous, but can upset their stomachs.
  5. Milk. Most animals cannot tolerate dairy, and it may cause diarrhoea and stomach ache, and, if given regularly, malabsorption of nutrients.
  6. Onions. A sliver of onion that’s snaffled by Fido is unlikely to cause harm – and few dogs readily eat onions anyway – but larger quantities (relative to the dog’s size) can damage red blood cells. Garlic is thought to have a similar effect.
  7. Macadamia nuts. Can cause neurological symptoms such as weakness, tremors, vomiting, depression, trouble walking, and hypothermia.
  8. Grapes and raisins. Can cause kidney damage and even failure. Larger quantities have been known to kill a dog within a few days.
  9. Corn (mealies) and corn cobs. The corn kernels themselves aren’t generally problematic (although many animals are sensitive to corn), but the cob can cause intestinal blockage.

Note: Please consult with your vet before giving your pets out-of-the-ordinary foods, especially if they’re on any medication or special diets.

Red alert

If you think your pet has eaten something potentially dangerous, time is of the essence; call your vet immediately. If possible, note exactly what they ate, how much of it, when, and any symptoms.