Natural Vet: Eating Table Scraps

Whole Living, July/August 2010

What to do about a dog who nibbles table scraps, or a cat who nibbles people.

Q: Our dog, Lola, eats all of the food my kids drop on the floor or the table. Is this bad for her?

A: Healthy eating is crucial to keep yourself feeling good, and the same goes for Lola. The most important aspect of a pet's health, and one that you totally control, is his or her diet.

Dogs need a menu that includes the best sources of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat, found in many of the same things humans eat: milk, meats, fish, eggs, fats and oils, cereal, rice, and pasta. High-quality dog foods should contain the essential nutrients found in these foods.

If your kiddos are eating nourishing meals and snacks, then sharing with Lola shouldn't be a problem -- with a few exceptions. Most fruits and veggies are quite healthy for pets, but do be careful about grapes and raisins, which can give dogs kidney failure, even when ingested in small amounts. Also watch out for chicken bones (they can splinter easily) and chocolate, which contains the stimulant theobromine, a poison for dogs. Obviously, cookies, chips, and other junk food are out. (By the way, that's sound advice for everybody in your family.)

Down, Boy!
Foods to keep off your dog's menu.

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to the heart and nervous system.

Grapes and raisins are big no-nos for Sparky's delicate kidneys.

Chicken bones can splinter and damage a dog's stomach and intestines.

Q: My 18-month-old cat, Cotton, who follows us around like the friendliest dog, nips at me and my kids and sometimes really holds on, though without breaking skin. Is there any way to get her out of this habit?

A: Unfortunately, this behavior is quite common among our feline companions. First of all, Cotton's just a teenager in the pet world. In young cats, the biting you mention is actually stalking behavior, what she would do in the wild when pursuing prey. My own kitten, Willow, who is now a year old, does the same thing. She likes to watch us -- me, my wife, our dog, our older cat -- as we enter a room, then she crouches down and jumps on us. It's a matter of instinct: Since our indoor pets don't get to hunt for food, they'll substitute their family members (human and otherwise) as either prey or playmates.

While it's tough to fight nature, take heart: In my experience, most cats grow out of this by the time they're 2 or 3 years old. You can attempt to discourage it by staying still and saying a firm "No" when she pounces or attempts to nip, or keep a water pistol to give her a quick spritz during the behavior. You can also focus that boundless kitten energy by making time each day to play with her: Throw toys for her to chase and attack, or use a laser toy (like the Bolt, available at most pet stores) to help her get the behavior out of her system.

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