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Human foods dogs can eat, according to new research

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If you’re a dog parent, you know the expectant, heart-melting look your fur-baby gives you in hopes you’ll sneak them a piece of food, or at least accidentally drop one. Should you be feeding your dog table scraps, though? And if so, which human foods can dogs eat?

Research suggests that you can feed them off of your plate, although you might want to watch the portion sizes and make sure it's safe for them to eat. A study published earlier this month found human-grade dog food to be highly digestible.

In recent years, dog food brands like NomNomNow, Ollie, and The Honest Kitchen have been riding the wellness wave with products made from ingredients considered safe even for puppers’ humans to eat — high-quality, whole foods that meet USDA standards, and probably taste way better than regular old kibble. But there’s been little research on human-grade dog food, raising questions about whether they really are balanced, safe, and basically good enough for your very good boy or Girl, Kelly Swanson, co-author of the study and a professor of nutritional sciences and animal sciences at the University of Illinois, said in a university statement.

In the study, which appeared in the journal Translational Animal Science on December 6, Swanson and colleagues tested six varieties of dog food that contained minimally-processed human-grade ingredients (such as fish, turkey, and sweet potatoes), supplemented with vitamins and minerals. JustFoodForDogs, a California-based company, which manufactured the dog food, also funded the study, which means we need to take its findings with a grain of salt.

Swanson’s team fed the dog food to roosters that had undergone surgery to remove the cecum, an intestinal pouch that contains a bunch of bacteria, which can also break down nutrients and might have obscured digestion due to the intestines alone, according to the statement. Each rooster was randomly assigned one of the six dog food varieties. Roosters that have been surgically altered in this way have digestive systems similar to those of cats and dogs, making them a popular model for studying the effects of pet food, according to Petfood Industry.

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Based on their analysis of the roosters’ feces, the researchers measured the digestibility of protein building blocks known as amino acids, as well as other nutrients, in the food they had eaten — that is, how much of these substances their intestines actually absorbed into their bloodstream for their body to use. They found that all six varieties of dog food had high nutrient digestibility.

Although the study looked only at one product line, Swanson said in the statement that the findings probably generalize to similar types of dog food and could inform feeding guidelines for such products. If you apply traditional dog food guidelines to human-grade dog food, she explained, you might overfeed your pupper, since they can absorb more nutrients from the latter.

In other words, based on these findings, the food considered good for you seems to be good for your fur baby, suggesting it’s generally okay to feed your leftovers to them. Indeed, many, but not all, human foods are safe for dogs. Some may even freshen their breath and strengthen their joints, among other benefits, but others can be dangerous and even deadly, according to the American Kennel Club. When in doubt, refer to the AKC’s list of which human foods are okay to feed your dog — and which to keep away from them.

Worried that giving your pupper a taste of your food will teach them to beg? According to the ASPCA, human food itself isn't the problem; it's slipping them scraps from your plate when they whine or gaze longingly at you. If you want to feed your good boy or girl leftovers, do so away from the table to instill in them that they'll come up empty if they beg when you're seated there.

After all, if you've had to eat nothing but boring old kibble all day, and you knew your adorable face could earn you a tender wedge of steak, you'd probably beg, too.

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