Pet Care

Pet Nutrition Service

Can dogs eat cat food? 

Do kittens need extra vitamins? 
Can supplements help my dog’s itchy skin?

ASPCA experts answer your pet nutrition questions—and give all companion animal caretakers much food for thought. Read their advice to pet parents and submit your question at the bottom of the page.

Please note: The information provided in this column should not be substituted for advice from your veterinarian.

Cheese Treats for Dogs

I’d like to bake cheese treats for my dogs, but I've read that cheese is bad for them. Is this true?

- Isabel

Feeding cheese and other dairy products to your pets may not be recommended, Isabel. Pets lack significant amounts of lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose in dairy products. As a result, some may have difficulty with digestion and end up with stomach upset. Cheese, however, has less lactose than milk and some other dairy products, so it’s less likely to cause problems. If you use only a small amount of low-fat cheese in these homemade treats and your dogs don’t have any digestive upset, you can continue.

For a list of foods your dogs should not eat, please read our Top Ten People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.

Transitioning from Puppy to Adult Food

I’ve been feeding my two-year-old pug a puppy formula that has no corn, beef or wheat. I've tried to switch him to adult food, but the kibble is too big for him to chew. Can I just keep him on puppy food?

- Marissa

Puppies, adult dogs and mature dogs all have different nutritional requirements, Marissa, so it’s important to feed your pets a diet intended for their life stage. Puppy diets are specifically formulated to help puppies grow into healthy adults, and contain additional energy that your adult dogs likely don’t need. Therefore, we recommend transitioning your pug to an adult dog food—one with small-sized kibble. Such products are available for smaller dogs.

When transitioning any pet to a new diet, it is very important to make the change gradually, over several days. You should begin by feeding him 25 percent of the new diet mixed with 75 percent of the old, then gradually increase to 50/50. Move slowly on to 75 and then 100 percent of the new diet. Going slowly will decrease the chances of digestive upset that might occur as a result of the change.

You can learn more by reading our Top 10 Tips for Feeding Your Adult Dog.

Wet and Dry Cat Food

I've read that cats should be fed both wet and dry food because dry food alone doesn't supply enough protein or water and contains too many carbohydrates. Is this true?

- Meredith

Both wet and dry products can be nutritionally complete, Meredith, if they are high-quality pet foods appropriate for your pet's life stage and nutritional requirements. Wet food contains higher protein levels, decreased carbohydrate levels and a higher water content—up to 78 percent, compared to 10 percent in dry food. However, dry foods can safely be left out all day without spoiling. When it comes down to it, water is the most important nutrient. So whether you feed your pet wet or dry food, fresh water should be made available all day.

Since water intake is particularly important for cats with constipation, diabetes, kidney disease and tendencies toward crystal formation, feeding a diet high in water can be especially beneficial for cats with these conditions. In addition, increased protein levels may be beneficial for overweight and diabetic cats. However, it is generally acceptable for a pet without any of these health concerns to primarily eat dry food.

Please remember that in addition to feeding your feline a high-quality food, kittens, adults and mature cats all have different nutritional requirements. Therefore, it is important to feed your pet a diet intended for his/her life stage.

You can learn more about feeding kittens and adult cats from our Top 10 Nutrition Tips for Kittens and our Top 10 Tips for Feeding Your Adult Cat.

Dogs with Finicky Tastes

The previous owner of my seven-month-old basenji fed him home-cooked food, and now I think he’s addicted to it. How can I get him to start eating dog food?

- Aaron

We’d recommend that you first take a trip to the veterinarian to determine if your dog's finicky eating has a medical cause, Aaron. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat or rule out any medical conditions that may be causing this feeding behavior.

If there isn’t a medical diagnosis, your dog may just be a finicky eater. This can happen when pets are given people food too often, rather than their own food. It can be a challenge to change his diet when he’s been used to eating people food, but it’s important to take this step as it is much easier to provide adequate nutrition with a high-quality, commercial food.

Because your dog is under one year of age, you may want to choose a product made specifically for growing dogs. Choose a high-quality puppy food designed for your dog's size and activity level. Finicky pets may find canned food more palatable—it is often more appetizing and can be fed either alone or mixed with dry food. In addition, there are gravy-like products that can be added to dry food to increase palatability.

Just remember, it’s important to make the change from people food to dog food gradually—you’ll decrease the chances of upsetting your dog's digestive system, while helping him to accept the new food more readily. It’s best to make a slow transition over five to seven days or longer. Start by adding a very small amount of dry or canned food to the food he’s used to eating. Then over the next several days or weeks, slowly increase the amount of dog food while decreasing the amount of homemade food.

Alternatively, you may decide to continue feeding a homemade diet. If you choose to do this, it is vital that you use a recipe that has been formulated by a veterinary nutritionist and that you inform your veterinarian, who will help you monitor your dog's nutritional status.

More information about feeding your puppy can be found in the ASPCA’s Top 10 Tips for Feeding your Puppy.

Diet for Young Dogs

What should I give to my one-year-old female beagle to keep her in good health? Should I feed her vitamins?

- Claire

Choosing the right food is one of the most important ways to keep your pet healthy, Claire, but because there are so many options, it can often be difficult to select the right food. We generally recommend a high-quality product formulated for your pet’s specific life stage and nutritional needs, rather than generic or store brands.

When feeding a high-quality pet food, a daily supplement generally is not needed. Over-supplementation can lead to health problems, so it’s important that you feed your pet vitamins and/or minerals only if your veterinarian suggests it. We would recommend discussing your dog's nutritional status with your vet to determine whether a supplement is needed.

You can learn more by reading our Top 10 Tips for Feeding Your Adult Dog.

Foods to Avoid Feeding Guinea Pigs

What foods should I avoid feeding my guinea pig?

- Robert

We recommend that you do not feed your guinea pig bread, cookies, crackers, rolled oats, breakfast cereals, beans or potatoes—white or sweet. All of these can cause digestive upset.

The bulk of your guinea pig's diet should come from a high-quality, nutritionally complete commercial guinea pig food. Healthy adult guinea pigs can typically be fed one tablespoon of pellets in the morning and one tablespoon in the evening. Please be sure not to overfeed your pet with pellets as this can lead to obesity. You can also serve small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables in moderation. These include grapes, cucumbers, carrots, pears, oranges and strawberries. Please remember that the leftovers of these foods must be cleaned up before they spoil.

Vitamin C supplementation is also crucial for guinea pigs and can be given by feeding foods rich in Vitamin C, including kale, dandelion greens, turnip greens and citrus fruit. You will also want to provide your pet with grass hay and plenty of fresh, clean water.

You can find more information in the Guinea Pig Care section of our website.

Feeding Mice Timothy Hay

Is timothy hay good for mice?

- Jackie

If you’re feeding your mice a high-quality, nutritionally complete diet, Jackie, hay may not be necessary. However, it can be a good source of minerals and fiber for your pets. Hay can also provide entertainment, as your pets can burrow through and build nests out of it. To determine if you should provide hay for your mice, you may consider discussing their diet with your veterinarian, who may have additional recommendations based upon their nutritional requirements. If you do choose to give your mice hay, please be sure that it’s high quality and free from mold and dust.

You can learn more in our Mouse Care section.

Is Garlic Toxic to Pets?

You listed garlic and garlic powder among people foods that should not be given to dogs, but I've always heard garlic is a natural wormer and antibiotic, and very good for dogs. Also, most recipes for homemade dog treats include garlic. Why the contradiction?

- Jaspar

Dogs, and especially cats, are sensitive to garlic, Jaspar. Unfortunately, we do not know specifically what dosage causes problems, and it is not yet completely known what breeds and age groups are most sensitive to this toxicity. What we do know is that gastrointestinal problems and red blood cell damage can occur as a result of feeding garlic to pets. An occasional small amount, such as that in most commercial pet foods and treats, may not cause a problem, but because of the risk, we generally recommend that you avoid feeding your pets products that contain more concentrated amounts of garlic.

For more information, please take a look at our Top 10 People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.

Diet for Old and Young Dogs

I have two dogs, one who is 16 and one who is four. What food is appropriate to feed each of them?

- Doug

It can be challenging to choose the right food for your pet, Doug, because there are so many options available. We recommend high-quality products such as those offered in veterinary offices and pet supply stores. Your veterinarian is also a great resource for making specific product recommendations. We generally do not recommend generic or store brands as a first choice for pet foods. Although they may have lower prices, they may actually be less economical because the nutrients in them are not as easy for pets' systems to absorb; therefore, pets end up less well-fed.

It is also important to choose a diet that is intended for your pets' life-stage needs. Because of the differences in your dogs' ages, you may want to consider feeding them two different diets, an adult dog food for your four-year-old and a senior diet for your sixteen-year-old. It may take some time for them to adjust to eating separately, but in time, it will become habit.

You can learn more about feeding your pets from our Top 10 Tips for Feeding Your Adult Dog and Top 10 Tips for Feeding Older Pets.

Healthy People Foods for Pets

What people foods are healthy to give to pets?

- Anton

Good question, Anton. If you’re interested in giving human foods as treats to your pet, some safe and healthy options may include:

Green beans 
Carrot sticks 
Cucumber slices 
Zucchini slices 
Apple slices (without seeds) 
Cooked lean meats 
Baked potatoes (no unripe potatoes or potato plants) 
Bread (no raisin bread or raw bread dough) 
Unsalted pretzels 
Unsalted almonds 
Plain, cooked pasta 

Make sure that all treats are cut into sizes that are easy for your pet to chew. If you notice any digestive upset as a result of adding new foods, be sure to discontinue giving foods that are causing trouble. And please remember that treats should make up only five to 10 percent of your pet’s diet--the rest should come from a nutritionally complete pet food.

Check out our list of human foods that should NEVER be fed to pets.

How Bad is Garlic for Cats?

I recently read that garlic is a no-no for cats. I supplemented my cat’s diet with a little garlic powder for many years and she lived to be 20 years old. Is garlic really so bad for cats?

- Yves

Cats are especially sensitive to garlic, Yves. Unfortunately, we don’t know specifically what kind of dosage causes problems.  We do know that gastrointestinal issues and red blood cell damage can occur as a result of cats eating garlic, though. An occasional low dose, such as that in most commercial pet foods and treats, may not cause a problem, but because of the risk, we generally recommend avoiding products that contain more concentrated amounts of garlic.

It’s also important to know that if you’re feeding your pet a high-quality, nutritionally complete pet food, supplementation is not usually necessary unless your veterinarian recommends it. If you’re concerned your pet isn’t getting all of the nutrients he needs from his pet food, we would recommend a trip to the vet to discuss his nutritional health status.

Fruits and Veggies for Pets

I recently read an article saying that grapes and raisins are deadly for pets, but my three-year-old Doberman mix loves to eat fruit. Was the article correct? If so, how can I find out what fruits and veggies are not good for my dog?

- Ellen

The article you read was correct, Ellen. You should not feed grapes or raisins to your dog, as many animal companions have developed kidney failure after eating these fruits. Because we don't know if certain dogs are more sensitive or if certain types of grapes and raisins cause problems more than others, we recommend that you completely avoid adding these fruits to your dog’s diet.

If your pet enjoys consuming a small amount of people food as a treat and she handles it well, the following can be safe:

    Carrot sticks 
    Cucumber slices 
    Zucchini slices 
    Apple slices (without seeds) 
    Cooked lean meats 
    Baked potatoes (no unripe potatoes or potato plants) 
    Bread (no raisin bread, no uncooked bread dough) 
    Unsalted pretzels 
    Unsalted almonds 
    Plain, cooked pasta

If you notice any digestive upset as a result of adding the above to your pet's diet, be sure to discontinue feeding that particular food.

You’ll find more information about pets and people foods in our article Top 10 People Foods to Avoid Feeding your Pets.

Dog Treats with Semolina Wheat Flour

I’m interested in baking dog treats and found a few recipes that include durum semolina wheat flour. Can this ingredient be harmful to dogs?

- Sarah

Durum semolina wheat flour, commonly used in breads and pastas, is considered safe to use in treats for your pets, Sarah. However, please remember that pets' digestive systems are sensitive, so people foods—even those that are nontoxic—can cause digestive upset. Keep watch and if digestive upset occurs, simply discontinue feeding your pet that particular food or ingredient.

When feeding treats to your dog, make sure to cut them into easily chewable pieces. Also, treats should be given in moderation, usually making up no more than 5 to10 percent of a pet’s daily caloric intake. The rest of the calories should come from high-quality, nutritionally complete pet foods intended specifically for your pet's life stage and lifestyle.

Feeding Dogs Cat Food

Will my dog's nutritional needs be met if I feed him only cat food? 

- Deb

We do not recommend feeding your dog cat food on a regular basis, Deb. Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs and their food has been formulated to meet those specific needs. Cat food is higher in protein and fat, which may make it very palatable to dogs, but if you continue to feed your dog only cat food, over time you'll begin to see nutritional imbalances.

It's also possible to see gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea, in dogs who continually eat cat food. That being said, the occasional cat food "snack" should not pose any serious health issues.

It's important to provide your dog with appropriate food for optimum health. We recommend a high-quality pet food that suits his age and lifestyle. For example, a puppy has different requirements than an adult dog, and an active or show dog has different requirements than a couch potato. 

Safe Things to Chew

Would it be safe for our puppy to chew on a large beef marrow bone that's been cooked in soup?

- Rachel

It’s a good idea to provide something for your dog to chew on, Rachel, both for the dental benefits and because chewing is a normal canine behavior. However, every bone poses some risk, since sharp or large pieces may be ingested.

You may want to consider a safe chew toy, such as a Kong. These toys can be stuffed with food, are nearly indestructible and also provide many of the same benefits as bones do in terms of chewing and mental stimulation.

If you’re still interested in giving your puppy bones to chew on, please remember to avoid chicken bones—they splinter easily. Standard raw bones can be dangerous, too, since there is a potential for foodborne disease from the bacteria present on raw meat. Thoroughly cooking bones can prevent foodborne disease, but this may make the bones softer and more likely to splinter. You may want to consider going with sterilized bones, which will not have the same bacterial presence. These are available online and at pet supply stores.