Are Human Diets Really Safe for Pets?

Dogs and cats have been eating pet food for years, but a growing trend has items such as rice, carrots and even salmon ending up in their bowls. For years, we’ve been told that it’s safer (and more nutritious) to give our pets store-bought pet food, but a lot of people are starting to think otherwise –people who have been on keto, vegan, raw food, vegetarian and gluten-free diets for the most part.

Folks typically have the best of intentions when they add human foods to their pets’ menus. But are these changes more beneficial or harmful in the long run?

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Pet Owners Take Control of Their Pets’ Diets

One pet owner provides her dog with a vegetarian diet via store-bought vegetarian dog food. She told The New York Times in an article about this trend that it didn’t seem right that one member of her family was eating meat while the rest were not. 

Still other pet owners have found that giving their dogs and cats food straight from the kitchen was the better choice compared to a bag of pet food with ingredients listed in the nutrition information which they could not understand, or identify.

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Dog Food Manufacturers Meet the Demand

Dog food manufacturers were quick to get in on this trend and began offering alternatives meeting these dietary guidelines. Additionally, there are dog food manufacturers who have changed their marketing tactics to meet these owners’ demand for healthier, natural foods for their pets. These companies began stressing their natural ingredients and clarified what goes into their pet food.

Some veterinarians who are aware of this trend have likewise taken action. Many have posted feeding guides for dogs and cats online, and the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center created a Pet “Foodology” lab.

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Veterinarians Express Caution About This Trend

The humanization of pet food, as it is called, remains a controversial issue among veterinarians. While some veterinarians may agree that these specialized diets for dogs and cats can provide certain benefits such as healthy teeth, coat and digestion, others feel that the risk of feeding the animals foods they should not eat is too high. 

“I would say that many of these diet trends are not scientifically based,” Dr. Jonathan Stockman, DVM DACVIM (Nutrition), 

Assistant Professor Long-Island University School of Veterinary Medicine, said. “There’s no proven benefits of these diets (for pets) and some of them can be risky. For example, raw diets can lead to bacterial contamination of the food and this could be dangerous for both pets and the owner.”

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Too Many Risks to Endorse

While many pet owners have seen positive results from changing their pets diets, Dr. Stockman feels it’s not a trend that veterinarians as a whole can support. “I would say that the risks are too high to be endorsed. There are perfectly safe alternatives within either commercial pet food or home-cooked diets that are formulated by veterinary nutritional specialists.”

Another risk that has veterinarians concerned is the spread of misinformation on the Internet through TikTok and Facebook groups. “There’s a lot of information online that is reliable, but at the same time, there is a lot of misinformation,” Dr. Stockman noted. “Owners really need to talk to either a veterinarian or other reliable sources of information and avoid what’s not a reliable source.”  

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The Possibility of Owners Making a Fatal Mistake

For the most part, finding out if human food is safe to give to a dog or cat is a round of trial and error. If a dog experiences vomiting or diarrhea after consuming human food, for example, that is a clear sign the food is not safe to feed them. 

Additionally, some dogs or cats can have a fatal reaction to human food, and the owner may not be able to get help for their beloved pet in time. Dr. Stockman is aware of this possible tragedy and noted that there are “more disadvantages for this (trend) than there are positive aspects.”  

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Pet Owners Wary of Talking to Veterinarians

Some pet owners have received negative feedback from their veterinarians about feeding their animals a humanized diet. It is because of this that many have elected not to reveal this information. To get the information they need to ensure they are feeding their pets foods that are safe, they turn to alternative resources of information. 

Additionally, these same owners who have taken matters into their own hands have become more aware that there are indeed trained veterinarians who are on their side. Instead of resorting to a traditional vet for information and guidance, many have begun to seek holistic veterinarians who are more educated about these diets and can provide trusted information.

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Helpful Veterinarians 

In addition to a holistic veterinarian, there are also veterinary nutrition specialists who know more about how these diets can help your pet. In fact, one former veterinarian wrote a bestselling book on this topic, and despite the criticism she has received, many readers of her book claim it has helped improve their pets’ health.

A veterinary nutrition specialist is another good choice. In fact, Dr. Stockman encourages it. “The way they will find out about nutritional specialists is by having a conversation with the veterinarian,” he said. “I know sometimes it’s not easy for most people to do, but I think the veterinarian should be the most reliable source of information for an owner.”

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Honesty With Your Veterinarian Counts

Ultimately, what a pet owner chooses to feed their pets is a personal choice. For the pet owner who chooses to feed their pets food straight from the kitchen (or the vegetable garden), many resources are available online providing owners with lists of foods that are safe and not safe for their pets to eat.

It’s a good idea to be honest with your veterinarian about what exactly you are feeding your pet. If you feel you can’t have this conversation with your veterinarian, find one who is more accepting of the idea. Your pet’s life may depend on it. Their health is important, but so is their safety.