Are Table Scraps Actually That Bad for Dogs?

By: Patty Rasmussen  | 
dog scraps
It's an age-old dynamic: The dog will always want the human food. So, what's so bad about giving Fido a little bite? H. Armstrong Roberts/Classicstock/Getty Images

For as long as humans have kept dogs as pets and commercial dog food has been available, it seems we've been told not to feed our dogs scraps from the table. But c'mon, is it really that harmful? The answer is a resounding yes. Especially if the pet owner eats a typical human diet that is, let's face it, less than ideal in many ways. (Americans score an average of 58 out of 100 points on the Healthy Eating Index according to the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.)

As much as pet owners love to anthropomorphize their furry loved ones, at the end of the day, they are not human. Their digestive tracts are not the same — indeed, dogs are biologically diverse within the species — and their dietary requirements differ greatly from their human companions.


Table Scraps Are a No-no for Dogs

In a 2021 survey of dog owner purchasing habits related to grain-free dog foods, researchers learned that 9.3 percent of dog owners in the U.S., Canada and Europe offered daily table scraps and 38.1 percent offered occasional table scraps to their pets. They did this despite understanding the value of good nutrition to their dog's overall health and purchasing more expensive dog food to support it. Apparently, Fido's wet nose under the dining room table is tough to resist.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, nutritional diseases are rarely seen in dogs in developed countries when they are fed high-quality, commercial dog food. The problems typically occur when pet owners take on the task of creating homemade pet food or (worse yet) feeding their pet from the family table. And that's because most families' meals are overly processed, nutritionally imbalanced, and laced with sugars and fats, which get passed along to the unsuspecting pup.


What About Homemade Dog Food?

It's equally dangerous to think that grabbing a dog food recipe off the internet will give your dog all the nutrition he'll need to thrive. Feeding dogs a single ingredient or a combination of ground beef and rice, for example, could induce a calcium deficiency. And if your dog has undiagnosed diabetes, giving him rice (a carbohydrate) could affect his blood sugar. Liver is healthy, right? Not for a dog. It can cause vitamin A toxicity in large amounts, depending on the size of the dog.

Dogs require specific dietary nutrient concentrations based on each life stage — puppy through adulthood. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes recommended dog (and cat) nutrient profiles for adult maintenance and reproduction and The National Research Council (NRC) publishes the nutrient profiles for dogs at various life stages.


dog scraps
Human food is not dog food and even harmless-seeming little treats are not doing Poochie any favors.
Chris Amaral/Getty Images

Pet owners think they're giving their dogs a treat when they give "just one," but did you know that grapes and raisins contain an unknown substance that is toxic to dogs and can cause kidney damage? Chocolate is a definite no-no. It contains theobromine and caffeine — chemicals that dogs cannot metabolize. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, even seizures and heart failure if the dog has eaten a large enough quantity.

In addition to grapes, raisins and chocolate, there are many other foods dogs should never eat and the American Kennel Club (AKC) keeps a comprehensive list. If you're thinking that fruits and vegetables might be the best options for feeding your dog, the AKC also maintains a list of those that dogs can and can't eat.

For pet owners insistent on making their own dog food, it's important to follow the directions explicitly and use high-quality ingredients. Steer clear of untrained internet "experts" and generic recipes. The AKC recommends consulting with a veterinary nutritionist for recipes or tips on how to successfully prepare dog food at home.

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate (or any other substance) call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 213-6680 or (855) 764-7661 (note that a $75 incident fee applies).