What you can feed your dog – and what you can’t

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Some 'human' foods are fine as a special treat for your dog, but some aren't. Find out what's safe and what isn't

dog getting a treat

It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that dogs began being kept as companions rather than as working animals. They’d traditionally been fed with table scraps but as pet ownership rose in the 20th century, so did a demand for commercially-produced dog food. In 1922 the first canned dog food was introduced and since then, much research into canine nutrition has been carried out.

In the mid-1980s, the nutritional requirements of dogs were published and these have been updated over the years as we better understand animal nutrition to inform how dog food is formulated. Today, shop-bought pet food is formulated to be complete and balanced, providing everything a dog needs for a healthy diet.

With this in mind, if you feed your dog one of the many dry, wet or raw complete diets available, they do not need any additional food. However, variety is the spice of life and there will be times when you have leftovers on your plate or want to give your dog a treat – especially when training, as exciting treats tend to yield better results.

Dogs’ digestive systems are different to ours, so foods that we might instinctively scrape from our plates into their bowls could actually be very harmful. Only give your dog foods that you know are safe and do so in small amounts so that you don’t exceed their recommended daily calorie intake.

Here’s a roundup of the ‘human’ food you can and can’t feed to your dog, and we have a video guide too.


Foods you can give your dog

  • Homemade treats – There are lots of recipes available online for simple homemade dog treats including ingredients such as banana, honey, oats and natural peanut butter 
  • Carrots – These are a good source of vitamin A and are also good for teeth as crunching on a raw carrot will help remove any plaque
  • Apples – A good source of fibre to help maintain healthy digestion but avoid the pips
  • White rice – This is often recommended by vets for dogs who have an upset stomach as it is easy to digest and helps to bind stools
  • Plain, boiled chicken breast – Along with white rice, vets often recommend plain chicken for dogs with digestive upset
  • Cheese – Most dogs love cheese but it should be given sparingly. A small chunk of cheese is often a useful place to hide a pill if your dog is reluctant to take medication
  • Peanut butter – This must be unsalted with no added sugar or sweeteners. The artificial sweetener Xylitol is particularly dangerous as it is highly toxic to dogs, causing liver failure. Check your ingredients carefully!
  • Blueberries – A good source of fibre and antioxidants
  • Bananas – A tasty treat but high in sugar so should only be given occasionally
  • Cucumber – A low-calorie, cool and crunchy snack that many dogs love

Foods you can’t give your dog

  • Avocados – They contain a toxin called persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs
  • Cherries – Aside from being a choking hazard, cherry pits contain cyanide, which is poisonous
  • Chocolate – This contains a substance called theobromine, which is highly toxic to dogs. Signs of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, abnormal heart rate, seizures and collapse. If enough chocolate is ingested it can be fatal
  • Coffee or anything containing caffeine – This can cause vomiting, abnormal heart rate and seizures in dogs
  • Raisins and grapes – These are highly toxic to dogs and should be kept well out of the way. These include things like hot cross buns and fruit cake, which some dogs will find irresistible
  • Nuts – They are likely to cause choking. Macadamia nuts are actually poisonous for dogs and can cause vomiting and muscle weakness
  • Anything from the onion family – This includes garlic, leeks and chives. They contain organosulfoxides, and whether cooked or raw, can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pains

Can dogs be fed a vegetarian diet?

Dogs are omnivores, meaning they have evolved to eat a diet that includes both meat and plants. If you’re a vegetarian yourself, you might prefer it if your pet didn’t eat meat. 

However, it’s very important that your dog still eats a balanced diet including all the necessary nutrients for a healthy body, so look for one of the commercially-produced complete vegetarian dog foods – there are lots on the market these days, which take away the nutritional guesswork for owners.

There’s also dog food made from an insect protein derived from crickets, which boasts being sustainable and more Earth-friendly than the traditional meat used in pet food.

Beware of pet obesity

In the UK it is estimated that 40% of dogs are overweight or obese. Overweight dogs are more prone to diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and osteoarthritis, as well as a reduced lifespan. A study by the University of Liverpool found that the life expectancy of overweight dogs could be reduced by more than two years.

You should speak to your vet about what your dog’s healthy weight range is and regularly weigh your dog to make sure they stay within that range. Additional calories from treats soon mount up, so feed them only occasionally. You may also need to adjust your dog’s daily ration to take extras into account. 

I’ve spent 20 years writing about pets and exploring the wonderful relationships they have with their owners. I started as a staff writer on Dogs Today magazine, working my way up to become deputy editor in 2008. In 2010, I left the office to pursue a freelance career, relocated to north Norfolk and started a family. 

Over the years I’ve contributed thoughtful human-interest features, celebrity interviews and investigative news stories to publications including The Sunday Times, Dogs Today, Dogs Monthly and Your Cat. I’ve also ghost-written veterinary books and press releases for the pet industry.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy long walks in the Norfolk countryside with my rescue lurcher Popsie. These are always followed by tea and cake.

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