Human food that is harmful for cats and dogs

It is only natural to want to give our pets a little of what we are eating, but beware as many human foods are harmful and even fatal!

Food for Cats

Cats are true carnivores, meaning they need to eat animal protein to survive. The best way to ensure that your cat gets the correct nutrition is through eating ‘complete’ cats foods.

However, according to the RSPCA, you can provide raw meat and meaty bones to cats 1-2 times per week. Ensure that the meat is human-grade quality as pet meat often contains preservatives, and that the bones are not a choking hazard. And avoid processed food such as sausages and hamburgers, as they can contain sulphite preservatives.

Cats can’t eat dog food, but dogs can eat cat food. Cats need an additional protein – taurine – in their feed. Without sufficient taurine, your cat’s immune system may not function properly, and this is critical for fighting off viruses and infections. Dogs, on the other hand, are capable of making small amounts of taurine themselves.

Food for Dogs

Dogs are opportunistic when it comes to finding food. How many of us have had a train dogs not to counter surf and steal whatever comes to hand – a slab of butter, some snacks or a piece of meat if they are lucky! Their ancestors were definitely in the carnivore category, but domesticated dogs have become more omnivorous, with plant-based additions to their diet.

Small amounts of what we humans are eating is fine as long as it is in moderation and does not contain any of the food that is harmful for your dog.

Human food that cats and dogs should never eat

The following list is not exhaustive, but comprises the main food pets consume that can be harmful:

  • Alcohol – drinks and foods containing alcohol can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Avocado – the fruit, leaves and stone contain a substance called persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Bread dough and yeast dough – can rise and cause gas to build up in your pet’s digestive system. Baked bread is safe.
  • Broad beans or fava beans – when raw they contain phytohemagglutinin (PHA), which can be toxic to pets when consumed in any quantity. Cooked beans are safe to eat.
  • Bulbs, such as daffodils and lilies – the whole plant is toxic, but the bulbs are particularly poisonous.
  • Caffeine in any form, including coffee, tea and fizzy drinks – contains the methylxanthine caffeine that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures and can be fatal.
  • Chocolate – contains a stimulant called theobromine (dark chocolate has the highest content of this) which can cause kidney failure, and methylxanthines as with caffeine.
  • Citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits – the fruit, peel, pips and leaves contain citric acid and should be avoided. Small amounts might cause an upset stomach, while larger amounts can lead to more serious stomach complications and attack the central nervous system.
  • Coconut milk and coconut oil – excessive amounts of coconut milk can cause stomach upsets, and coconut water contains high levels of potassium, which is unsafe for pets. Coconut oil can be beneficial for some skin conditions, but speak with your vet first if you are unsure.
  • Cooked bones – these can splinter and cause gastrointestinal damage.
  • Corncobs – these can cause obstructions in the digestive tract and are difficult to digest.
  • Dairy – best to avoid dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt) as they can cause digestive problems, and some animals are lactose intolerant and can’t process dairy.
  • Fatty trimmings/fatty foods – just like for humans, it is best to avoid too much fat in our pets’ diets.
  • Grapes, raisins, sultanas, currants (including in fruit cakes etc.) – it is not known why these are poisonous to our pets, but feeding them grapes and raisons or food containing them, can lead to kidney failure.
  • Mouldy or spoiled foods or compost – not good for us, not good for pets.
  • Mushrooms in the wild – as for humans, it is best to avoid fungi in the wild unless you can be sure of its safety.
  • Nuts, fruit stones and pits, fruit seeds – some nuts, such as macadamia are toxic to pets, although, the exact mechanism of toxicity is unknown. Other types of nuts, including almonds, pecans, and walnuts, are rich in oils and fats that can cause digestive upset and potentially even pancreatitis in cats. Mouldy husks and nuts from the black walnut tree are in particular danger because the mould is a potent neurotoxin. Note that peanuts are classified as legumes, rather than nuts, and are safe in moderation.
  • Onions or garlic, dry, raw or cooked – can cause gastrointestinal irritation and red blood cell damage. Signs of illness can occur up to a few days later.
  • Small pieces of raw bone – these can lodge in the throat or stomach causing choking or perforations.
  • Xylitol – a common sweetener in baked goods and packaged products that can lead to vomiting, lethargy, and liver failure in pets. Check ingredients in products such as peanut butter if you use this as a treat.

If you have any reason to think your pet consumes a toxic amount of any of these foods, then contact your vet immediately. The sooner treatment starts, the better the prognosis, so do not wait until symptoms appear.