Pet Food Institute

Scrap the Table Scraps

Vet says human foods can harm pets

Mouthwatering jerk chicken or spicy curry mutton might be meals fit for a king, but these perennial favorites are detrimental to his loyal companions, Fido and Kitty.

According to Dr. Terrina Jones, a veterinary surgeon at the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), panicked pet owners are rushing to vet offices or emergency rooms with animals suffering from stomach or intestinal inflammations, largely as a result of eating food or cooked bones that could be harmful.

“In the cases of gastritis and/or gastroenteritis, the majority of patients presented with a history of dietary indiscretion, which simply means doggie or kitty ate something that is not usually in their regular diet. These commonly include spicy or greasy foods (fried/jerk/curry chicken/pork/mutton), bones, basically, any table food that the owners would be eating. In some cases, the animal would get into the trash and ingest any leftover or waste food present,” said the vet whose practice is mainly in small animal medicine.

“In the cases of pancreatitis, the types of food that would put these animals at risk tends to be high fat content foods, especially if given in large quantities all at once. Examples of food noted in the diet of patients are pork (especially ham and bacon), beef, pizza, and other greasy foods.”

Of the patients Dr Jones has seen with those ailments, 80 per cent were dogs and 20 per cent cats. Approximately 60 per cent were older animals. The majority of canine were small dogs (70 per cent) toy breeds like poodle, Pomeranian, miniature schnauzer (high-risk breed for pancreatitis) and Shih Tzu poodle mixes.

Treatment, said Dr Jones, is mainly geared towards alleviating symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite, which could lead to dehydration and possible fatal outcomes. Some pet owners opt for outpatient treatments, others for admission to the hospital. Treatment typically involves fluid therapy to correct and maintain hydration, antibiotics, if necessary, and anti-emetics to reduce vomiting, among other remedies.

In the Caribbean region, 54 per cent of pet owners feed their animals table scraps at least once per day, according to research conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Food Institute (PFI), an association whose members manufacture 98 percent of all U.S. dog and cat food products, and is committed to education and awareness of the importance of pet nutrition and wellness.

Research suggests feeding table scraps to pets could lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, digestive issues and a poor fur coat. These scraps often contain foods like onions, which can cause liver damage, asthmatic attacks and allergic reactions.

Almost every week Dr Jones sees cases of foreign body or gastrointestinal obstruction, that is, pets with mango seeds, corncobs, and bones (chicken, pork and goat) lodged in their throats or intestines. Contrary to popular belief, cooked bones from table scraps can be harmful to pets, causing injuries or even fatalities.

“There was a four to five month old puppy presented with difficulty breathing for a duration of two to three days. An x-ray was done which showed a large bone, a pork bone, stuck in the esophagus of the puppy,” shared Dr Jones, who treats patients as if they were her own pets.

“The pup had to undergo surgery to remove the obstruction. It was touch and go throughout her treatment based on the location of the obstruction. Luckily, the pup pulled through. However, dietary changes such as feeding liquid and softer foods had to be made because of the damage done to the esophagus by the bone.”

Finding the right food to meet pets’ nutritional requirements use to be challenging, but nowadays packaged, safe and nutritionally complete  pet foods are available in pet stores, corner stores and supermarkets.

For those uncertain as to what to feed pets, PFI publishes a list of harmful foods for pets including chocolate, onions, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, nutmeg and avocados. These may be safe for human consumption, but potentially deadly to pets leading to thousands of emergency surgeries throughout the Caribbean region alone

It is up to pet owners to keep human food away from animals who just cannot help themselves, said Dr Jones, pointing to a case of a mango-loving dog – a repeat offender addicted to the juicy, hairy fruit.

“He would usually present with dehydration, weight loss and frequent vomiting, especially after attempting to eat or drink. He’s undergone two or three surgeries to remove obstructions caused by swallowing mango seeds,” she said.

“Obstructions have the potential to be fatal if not caught early; small dogs become dehydrated very quickly and can easily go into septic shock.”

Committed to being a strong advocate for animals by promoting their health and welfare, Dr Jones shared feeding advice to pet owners.

“Avoid giving foods that have the potential of causing obstructions,” she said.  “Avoid feeding table scraps, this is commonly seen in the clinic, owners frequently complain that their pet refuses or hesitate to eat their pet food after getting a taste of human food, especially the small breed, indoor dogs.”

For a full list of foods to avoid and their symptoms visit to keep your pets safe and out of the vet’s office.