You and your pet might have a lot in common; you might both enjoy listening to classic metal albums, rolling around the grass, having a snuggle, or just glaring at that mousehole in the kitchen. But as close as you are, there are a lot of ‘people foods’ that your dog/cat/horse/ferret/koala shouldn’t share with you, and just as many things in your furry/feathered/scaly friend’s diet that you shouldn’t touch, either.
THINGS THAT’RE FINE FOR US BUT NOT FOR PETS:
1. WITH CATS, SKIP THE VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS
Like all mammals, cats need certain vitamins for normal metabolic functioning, many of which can’t be synthesized in the body and so need to come from food. However, cats generally only need small amounts of these vitamins and can usually get everything they need from a balanced diet. They may have serious symptoms if unneeded vitamin supplements lead to hypervitaminosis, or excess vitamin poisoning. While too much vitamin A can cause bone and joint pain, dry skin, and brittle bones, excess vitamin D may lead to calcification in soft tissue and bones and to dense bones, too. Poor kitty.
2. NO POT FOR SPOT
A surprisingly large number of common plants found around the house can be toxic to most pets—ones like carnations, geraniums, and tulips. And though pets generally get the message that a potted plant isn’t a snack, they might mistake ones that they see you ingest—such as marijuana—as being OK.
Many pets (and cats especially) seem to enjoy marijuana smoke or the smell of the plant itself, and some veterinarians have gotten positive results from using marijuana to treat pain, nausea, and appetite loss in chronically ill pets. However, the ASPCA points out that “ingestion of Cannabis sativa by companion animals can result in depression of the central nervous system and incoordination, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, and even seizures and coma.” So just make sure to hide your stash somewhere your curious kitty can't get in to.
3. SKIP THE SAUCER OF MILK (DESPITE EVERYTHING TV HAS TAUGHT US)
According to most movies, TV shows, and commercials with a feline focus, the perfect way to court a cat is with a saucer of milk or cream. In reality, though, most cats are lactose intolerant, i.e. they don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme in their digestive systems to properly process dairy. When fed to either cats or dogs, milk products can often lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and other tummy troubles.
4. PET PROHIBITION IS REAL
There are lots of safe ways to relax with your cat or dog, but having a cross-species happy hour sadly isn’t one of them. Food and drink containing alcohol “can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death,” the ASPCA points out, while hops—a main ingredient in most beers—is one of your best friend’s worst enemies when it comes to toxic substances.
While you’re at it, keep them away from avocados, garlic, onions, and salt, too—all things you might find in the guacamole appetizer your beer is washing down.
5. DEFINITELY DON’T SHARE YOUR CHOCOLATE OR COFFEE
Coffee and chocolate both contain methylxanthines theobromine and caffeine, which can have very serious effects on both cats and dogs. According to the ASPCA, ingested methylxanthines (which have higher levels in dark and baking chocolate) “can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death.”
6. BUT FOR CATS, BRING ON THE RED BULL!
Just kidding—definitely do not give your kitty a saucerful of any energy drink variety!
But Red Bull does contain taurine, an amino acid that all cats need in their diets in order to maintain healthy vision, heart function, and reproductive habits. Taurine is manufactured naturally by most animals (including male cows, who’ve supplied theirs to Red Bull), but cats aren’t able to; so, cats need lots of protein-rich meats—where taurine can be found—in their diets for a healthy, if wing-free, lifestyle.
7. THEY CAN’T BINGE-EAT AFTER BREAKUPS
The ASPCA understands that your pet loves treats, that you love your pet, and that you like to show your love by giving little Fido or Mittens some doggie or kitty treats—and hey, the group’s experts are cool with all that. Just be sure that the treats your pet consumes don’t account for more than 5% of its diet—going by calories alone, that’s about the same as an adult limiting their intake of sweets to a decent scoop of ice cream per day.
It’s also a bad idea to give more than the recommended amount of food to growing animals (and especially pups), even though it can technically make their bodies grow up quicker. Because even if you’re anxious for your dachshund to reach frisbee-fetching size, growing too quickly on too much food will likely cause serious medical problems for Little Lord Fauntleroy, like brittle bones or underdeveloped organs and muscles.
8. GUINEA PIG OWNER? AN ALL-SOFT FOOD DIET COULD CREATE A MONSTER
Guinea pigs are grazing animals, meaning they—like lots of woodland and field critters—get their eventual fill by nibbling low-calorie greens all day. However, they have one feature that Bambi doesn’t: their teeth are continuously growing longer, and they only stay at a reasonable length because of all of that near-continuous chewing. So in order to keep your chum's teeth in proper order, keep the guinea cage stocked with fresh hay and veggies—no smoothies.
THINGS YOUR PETS CAN EAT BUT YOU (MOSTLY) CAN’T
We may have opposable thumbs and DVRs to boast about, but when it comes to down-and-dirty eating for survival, many of our animals friends have special abilities that allow them to eat us under the table.
Around the world (and especially in parts of Africa and South America), a wide variety of species make a point of chowing down on mud to support a healthy diet. Macaws, parrots, cockatoos, and similar birds are particularly fond of gulping down beak-fuls of rich mud found near their primary water sources, while some types of primates have been observed casually doing the same thing.
Researchers speculate that various minerals, bacteria, and other substances found in mud help aid the digestion of the birds and primates who seem to love it. Various human cultures have also embraced eating mud, often during times of famine—in an attempt to gain whatever nutrients the mud might hold, or to calm an aching, empty stomach—but also, not unlike other animals who eat mud, to aid digestion. Certain groups have also held the traditional belief that eating mud (baked or raw) can help cleanse the body, especially the digestive tract.
Depending on how you source your mud, though, you could run the risk of ingesting anything from lead and petroleum residues to feisty microbes and parasites, that latter of which your animal pals are typically better equipped to handle.
Lots of animals—such as the charmingly named gillaroo trout, or Salmo stomachicus—rely on their gizzards, a.k.a. “gastric mills,” for digestive support. These muscular stomachs typically help animals who lack teeth to crush up their food on its way down (though some crustacean gizzards do actually contain teeth), and can be found inside anything from birds, earthworms, and fish to crocodiles and dinosaur fossils.
These and other animals often additionally help out their digestive systems by eating sand, grit, or stones—also known as gastroliths, or gizzard stones—that help crush up tougher foods and can stay in the body for long periods until they’re excreted or regurgitated. And while swallowing some sand or small rocks yourself might not lead to medical catastrophe right away, you really should try to avoid it.
11. POISONOUS (AND PAINFUL) PLANTS LIKE EUCALYPTUS AND SKUNK CABBAGE
Thanks to different toxin resistance levels and evolutionary windfalls, countless animals can eat plants that are poisonous to humans, and often in very large amounts.
Your pet koala, for example, can spend almost every waking hour eating eucalyptus, a plant that causes dizziness, weakness, difficulty breathing, and stomach pain and burning in humans, among other things (it’ll also cause illness in dogs, cats, and horses, so be warned). When used properly, the essential oils in eucalyptus have medicinal properties for humans and can also be an effective disinfectant, but poisoning from it—which koalas and other marsupials avoid by paying close attention the smell of leaves—can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Deer, on the other hand, are among nature’s most frankly unfazed eaters (unlike goats, which—despite urban legends involving tin cans—may ‘browse’ and taste various things, but are actually quite picky). “Deer will eat a little bit of almost everything out there, including a few bites of various toxic plants,” wildlife biologist Tom Hanley explained to Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. “There seem to be threshold levels for the toxicity of different plants, and as long as deer eat below that threshold, they’re okay.”
Hanley noted that deer are also fond of eating protein-rich skunk cabbage when the smelly, fairly vicious plant—chock-full of poisonous calcium oxalate crystals—first crops up in the springtime. He pointed out (from personal experience) that just a taste of skunk cabbage can leave the mouth burning for hours, and that the sensation is “not like a chemical burn,” but rather “like there are tiny needles in your tongue.”
12. RAW AND DECOMPOSING MEAT
An enormous variety of animals rely on raw, rotting, and even just-about-liquified meat for nutrition, and have the mandibles, digestive juices, and immune systems to match. You’ve likely noticed that your dog or cat is darned interested in meat of just about any age; even box turtles will get down on some carrion if it’s in the form of a nice, safe-to-approach, dead snake. Of course, wild and domesticated animals do run risks when they eat raw and decomposing meat (even scavengers, whose strong stomach acids can kill most parasites), just as we do when eating steak tartare or the like.
Don’t feel too jealous, though; while the stomachs of many carnivores give bugs a much harder time than our own guts do, there may be an evolutionary reason for our species’ sacrifice of a stronger stomach: a 2012 study found that our Homo erectus ancestors probably overcame certain nutritional limitations—ones that make the great apes’ bodies large but keep their brains small—when cooked food appeared on the menu. Researchers have suggested that eating cooked food, which has less total nutrition than raw food but is far easier for our bodies to process, gave us more non-feeding time and allowed our neurons and growing brains to flourish.
13. HALF YOUR BODY WEIGHT (OF ANYTHING)
Humankind has definitely made some fascinating culinary innovations (like, say, the Turducken) and set some impressive eating records, too—ones that the rest of the animal kingdom won’t likely upset soon. For example, Ed “Cookie” Jarvis ate almost nine pounds of grapes in a 2005 contest, Patrick Bertoletti polished off a record 10.63 pounds of corned beef and cabbage in 2007, and Molly Schuyler—putting fellow mushroom fans to shame—consumed a full 11.5 pounds of fried mushrooms in just eight minutes during the 2014 Mushroom Festival National Fried Mushroom Eating Championship.
Sadly, though, none of those meals even comes close to the daily reality of literally ‘eating like a bird.’ Our winged friends’ metabolisms vary bird to bird and species to species, but, on the whole, birds are capable of eating enormous amounts of food—often between ¼ and ½ of their body weight per day (or, in the case of many baby birds, sometimes even more than their full weight). Meaning, the average U.S. adult woman or man would have to put away at least 40 and 50 lbs of food, respectively, to even be in the running with a dignified 25% of body weight consumed.
All images via iStock.