Feed Your Dog People Food! Please!!

by | Dog Health

Why and How to Use People Food to Feed Your Dog Better!

Dog owners often proudly tell me that they “never feed their dog people food.” They are surprised when I encourage them to change this practice and get some people food into their dogs! For years, they’ve been told to never feed their dog anything but one or at most two dog foods. Come to find out, the only thing this “rule” benefits is the dog-food company’s profit.

Avoiding “people food” for your dog only makes sense if you think of fast food, highly processed food, or sweets as people food. Those foods are bad for all of us, including dogs.

However, if you eat a healthy diet, filled with whole foods like lean meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and grains, then you can share some (though not all) of it with your dog. These unprocessed, unrefined foods aren’t “people food,” they are just food. For all of us!

Why feed healthy people food to your dog?

Let’s be honest, very few commercial dog foods can be described as “unrefined” or “unprocessed.” In fact, dry dog foods are some of the most processed of foods made. Yet, they are labeled “complete and balanced” by the manufacturer so why should you add whole foods to your dog’s diet?

The first reason is the complex balance we face keeping our dog at a healthy weight while getting adequate nutrition into them. The manufacturer’s “complete and balanced” claim is based on feeding your dog the amount recommended on the bag. The problem for most of us is that amount will make our dogs overweight or even obese. But if we don’t feed it, our dogs may not receive adequate amounts of key nutrients (1). Rather than make your dog fat, add some fresh food to its diet to boost micronutrients without too many calories.

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A 2008 study found that dogs that consumed green, leafy or yellow-orange vegetables at least 3 times a week had significantly lower rates of bladder cancer (2). Although this study focused on a single cancer, there is certainly enough evidence from other species to see benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many studies have shown that supplementing with antioxidants has many benefits to dogs of all ages and types (3,4). Supplementing with individual antioxidants must be done carefully so instead, try offering berries, such as blueberries and blackberries, since they are good natural sources of antioxidants that many dogs enjoy.

Probiotics, essential amino acids, and Omega 3 fatty acids are fragile nutrients that are often damaged during processing so adding fresh versions can be more beneficial than depending upon your dog’s dry food to provide them (5,6,7). Fermented products like kefir have valuable probiotics in them. Various animal proteins offer an array of essential and synthesizable amino acids. Fish and fish oils will boost the Omega 3 fatty acids your dog gets.

What people food can I feed my dog?

Dogs are carnivores or meat eaters that have evolved to eat a varied diet. I call them omnivorous carnivores but you could also call them carnivorous omnivores. Unlike their wolf relatives, they can digest some starches and many dogs enjoy whole foods. But when given the chance, dogs choose animal protein over carbs and do not need carbs except breeding dogs and pups being weaned. (8,9)

Even if you don’t want to cook for your dog or feed it a raw diet, add some fresher foods to your dog’s kibble, such as:

  • Leftover broth or stock (ideally low sodium, chicken, beef, turkey, bone)
  • Leftover fresh, frozen or cooked vegetables
    • broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, pumpkin, squash
    • Romaine and other leafy greens
    • Note: feed only a few green beans since they are legumes and recently legumes have come under scrutiny related to heart disease (10)
  • Fresh, frozen or cooked fruit such as blueberries, apples, bananas or other fruits your dog likes.
  • Animal protein, such as eggs, meat, poultry and fish.
    • Eggs in any form are an excellent topper for dogs.
    • Canned fishes, particularly smaller fish, like sardines or herring are good for dogs. Limit how much canned salmon, tuna or mackerel you feed to the frequency recommended for pregnant women due to heavy metals and other toxins.
  • Cooked grains, such as rice, oatmeal, quinoa, barley

What “people foods” should you avoid?

Not all people food is safe for dogs. These are the ones to avoid:

  1. Bad “people food,” like fast food or highly processed products. Your dog doesn’t need French fries or potato chips. Ever.
  2. Highly fatty meats for dogs that normally eat a low-fat diet. High fat foods can trigger pancreatitis, especially in middle-aged or older dogs.
  3. Cooked bones. Make it a practice to never feed cooked bones of any kind to your dogs. Dogs can enjoy recreational bones, such as large marrow or knuckles, but your dog should not be able to consume any smocked or sterilized bones you give it.
  4. Legumes, like peas, green beans, white beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, peanuts (10).  Although dogs tend to love it, limit how much peanut butter you feed since it is made of legumes. Check to ensure yours doesn’t contain xylitol.
  5. The usual suspects: chocolate, caffeine, xylitol, alcohol, grapes and raisins, avocados, raw white potatoes, onions, macadamia nuts, and garlic.
  6. Foods your dog is sensitive to. If your dog has food sensitivities, skip those foods. The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, dairy, chicken and wheat.

I don’t want my dog to beg at the table so I don’t feed people food

One of the reasons people don’t feed their dog people food is because they don’t want to encourage begging. Let’s think about that for a second. We don’t want to feed healthy, fresh foods to our dogs so they won’t beg. Not a great trade off but also, feeding fresh food doesn’t cause begging!

The key to avoiding begging isn’t what you feed, it’s where and how you do it. Feeding healthy foods to your dog will not encourage your dog to beg while you are cooking or eating. So what does? Feeding your dog while you are cooking or eating! Instead, feed your dog from its bowl in the normal location at meal times. That way your dog can enjoy healthier food without learning bad habits.

But not too much!

If you are going to add fresh foods to your dog’s diet, make sure they are NOT in addition to your dog’s normal rations. Feeding these foods is not an excuse to let your dog get fat!!  Instead, include them in your calculations of your dog’s daily diet!

So get started feeding fresher, healthy foods to your dogs to provide them more well-rounded nutrition. It’s easy and safe if you follow our guidelines! If you are interested in doing even more and making your dog’s food, check out BalanceIT’s recipes.


  1. Risk of nutritional deficiencies for dogs on a weight loss plan. L Gaylord, R Remillard and K Saker. 2018. Journal of Small Animal Practice 59(11): 695-703
  2. Evaluation of the effect of dietary vegetable consumption on reducing risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers. 2005. M Raghavan and D Knapp. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227 (1): pp 94-10.
  3. Landmark discrimination learning in the dog: effects of age, an antioxidant fortified food, and cognitive strategy. 2002. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 26(6): pp 679-695.
  4. Effects of dietary antioxidant supplementation on oxidative damage and resistance to oxidative damage during prolonged exercise in sled dogs. 2000. CR Baskin, KW Hinchcliff, et al. American Journal of Veterinary Research 61(8): 886-891.
  5. Bacteriological evaluation of dog and cat diets that claim to contain probiotics. 2003. JS Weese and L Arroyo. Can Vet Journal 44(3): 212–215.
  6. Quantitation of Maillard Reaction Products in Commercially Available Pet Foods. 2014 C van Rooijen, G Bosch, et al., Food Chemistry 62, 8883−8891.
  7. Qualitative analysis of omega-3 fatty acid oxidation by desorption electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (DESI-MS). 2014. RE West, RK Marvin, et al. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry 372: 29-38
  8. When fed foods with similar palatability, healthy adult dogs and cats choose different macronutrient compositions, JA Hall, JC Vondran, et al. 2018. Journal of Experimental Biology 28:4,427-440.
  9. The meat of the matter: a rule of thumb for scavenging dogs? 2016. A Bhadra, D. Bhattacharjee, et al. Ethology, Ecology & Evolution,28(4): 427-440.
  10. FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, February 19, 2019.
  11. Functional Foods in Pet Nutrition: Focus on Dogs and Cats, by A Di Cerbo, J Cesar, et al. 2017. Research in Veterinary Science 112:161-166.

1 Comment

  1. lori.raymond

    GREAT article! This common-sense approach to improving your dog’s diet is very accessible for dog owners, and the cited sources are great additional reading.

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