Why sharing food from the table with pets can be dangerous.Sitting down to share a meal is one of the strongest ways to bond with your family. However, there are several factors to consider before inviting your furry family to join in this ritual. Health and behavior can be promoted - or compromised - based on the choices you make.
The best course of action to take, if you would like to share your food with a pet, is to speak with your veterinarian first to learn what to avoid. Pets are as vulnerable to the truism "you are what you eat" as their owners are.
Avoid sharing processed foods, or anything too salty or fatty. In addition to concerns about obesity and overall health, some human foods pose genuine and more immediate health risks. Chocolate, raw garlic and onion are at the top of the list of things not to share.
The simplest things are the safest - boiled or baked chicken (no skin or bones) or broiled steak. If you are preparing sauces for these types of entrees, set a cooked piece aside for your pet without spices, salts, pepper or sauces added. Or, choose pieces that can be trimmed to remove any potentially disagreeable seasonings.
According to the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), pepper "contains an irritant substance know as capsaicin, which can be irritating to the skin, eyes, nose, and gastrointestinal tract." Some breeds cannot tolerate too much protein, while some have specific allergies. Just as with people, each animal has individual dietary needs, and speaking with a veterinarian will help establish what those are.
Take care not to treat your pet as a garbage disposal for leftovers; appropriate portions for your pet may vary depending on their size, weight and age, but generally just one or two bit-size pieces are adequate and will not reduce their appetite for regular meals. Also, if you are (wisely) trimming the fat from your steak, do the same for your pet.
Besides being an important component in health, food is a major motivator for animals. Sharon Mear, Certified Canine Behavior Counselor and instructor and trainer through www.TrainingCatsandDogs.com in New York, stresses that food - whether it's a small treat or a regular meal - should be used as a reward, not a bribe. Begging, Mear explains, "is learned behavior. If you don't reward begging with food, your dog won't learn to beg." Animals, Mear says, "are far more patient than their owners, who expect immediate gratification. Animals in the wild sometimes have to wait days for their prey."
Mear feels strongly that your dog can be trained to wait quietly for a treat or regular meal. Waiting for and earning the food are key components to creating a sense of approval from their owner - something dogs crave. Whether it's a treat or a bowl of kibble, Mear stresses that asking the dog to follow a basic command (such as "Sit!") before eating captures the essence of positive-reward training.
While Mear feels that training a puppy to eat from your hand can be a valuable exercise in teaching a dog to take food gently, using the regular feeding dish reinforces a positive expectation from that dish, and helps take your dog's focus away from the kitchen table.
"Negative punishment is not effective," Mear explains, adding, "With patience, praise and your care, you will get so much from your animal." In return, what your animal wants from you is love, play and some of that chicken you're eating.