Which barbeque foods should be off our pets’ menu and what can we feed them instead?

Ah, the joys of a Kiwi summer – swim, surf, sand and a sausage on the barbie. We love those long summer days, and so do our fur friends.

But should our dogs (and cats) join us at our backyard barbeques? Well, some of our tastiest treats should definitely be off the menu, but others make the perfect addition to our pets' summer diet. Which is which?

Across 2021 and 2022, SCPI paid almost $750,000 in claims for pets who ate human foods they shouldn't have. So, let's take apart a typical Kiwi summer menu and discover the food to avoid and which ones are safe for our furry friends.

Can dogs and cats eat hamburgers?

Think about the classic Kiwi hamburger: beef patty, cheese, tomato, lettuce, beetroot and onions.

Onions are a red flag for dogs and cats.

Vegetables in the allium family (that's onions, garlic, leeks, chives) are fine for humans but toxic for cats and dogs. Whether they're fresh, frozen or powdered, eating alliums can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and weakened red blood cells, leading to anaemia, increased heart rate and kidney damage.

That means any backyard barbeque foods containing onions, garlic, leeks or chives are strictly off our fur babies' menu.

When you think about it, most hamburger patties – including vegan ones – are likely to have onions in the mix. Whilst a small amount or trace won't hurt, it's better to play safe and avoid altogether.

How about sausages and bread?

Most cats and dogs are fine with a plain sausage or two, but such salty, fatty foods should never be part of their regular diet.

We put on weight when we eat too much fat, and so do our fur babies. Excess fat can sometimes lead to an inflamed pancreas and worsen pre-existing conditions like diabetes.

But what about the bread wrapped around our barbecue sausage? Are bread and hamburger buns on the OK list?

There's no reason why dogs and cats can't have an occasional slice of bread (unless they have a wheat allergy). However, don't feed them bread containing spices, nuts or dried fruit. Nutmeg, macadamias, raisins and sultanas are OK for us but toxic to our pets.

Remember too that some sausages and sauces may contain sugar, garlic and other added ingredients that can be bad for our pets – don’t forget to check the ingredients list!

Are corn, salad and veggies safe for pets to eat?

Cats are carnivores through and through, but domesticated dogs are more like omnivores and thrive on a varied diet. So, puss probably won't go near the salad bowl, but your pup might love a salad-y snack (minus the salad dressing).

Vegetables are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fibre, and many are safe for dogs in small amounts.

Dogs can try cooked carrots, asparagus, green beans and peas. For raw veggies, try lettuce, cucumber, celery, beetroot and, very occasionally, a slice of red tomato. Stick to small portions of cooked cauliflower and broccoli, though, as they contain a sulphur compound called isothiocyanates, which can cause gastric irritation in dogs and cats.

And what about barbecue corn? Well, the cooked kernels shouldn't hurt, but corn cobs can block your dog's gut. If corn cobs are missing and your pup is vomiting, showing signs of pain and discomfort and can't go to the toilet, ask your vet for help. In 2022, we had over 40 claims where dogs decided the corn cob was too delicious to leave – with the average claim paid being just under $1,500.

What about summer fruit?

We love summer fruit, and so do our dogs and cats. Watermelon, berries, papaya, banana… they're all great treats for our pets. Summer fruits contain essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, water and sugar, so they're best in small amounts.

Try freezing fruit slices for a tasty cold treat on a scorching hot day.

Be wary of fruit with stones inside. Cherry, peach, apricot, plum and avocado stones are all choking hazards.

Avoid grapes (they can cause kidney failure) and avocado (contains persin, which can be toxic for cats and dogs).

Can cats and dogs have dessert?

Most Kiwis understand that chocolate's a no-go for dogs and cats. In fact, in a recent NZ pet food safety survey (Pure Profile, 2022), only 9.8% of respondents were unaware that chocolate is toxic for pets.

Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which can cause a whole range of symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhoea, tremors, panting and heart problems.

Ice cream's another Kiwi favourite off the menu for our pets.

Adult dogs and cats are usually lactose intolerant, so eating any dairy products may cause gas, bloating and diarrhoea. Our pets don't need the extra fat and sugar, either, as they have a similar effect on them as they do on us. Even sugarless ice cream could be a problem because artificial sweeteners like xylitol are safe for humans but not for dogs and cats.

Plan ahead if you want to offer dessert to your fur baby and whip up some ripe banana and unsweetened peanut butter for a sweet but healthy treat.

So, there you have it. Some human foods are completely safe for our fur babies, but many are not. So, watch what your pets eat when you and your friends are enjoying your barbeques and keep them food-safe this summer.

1Pancreatitis in Dogs by Tammy Hunter, DVM; Amy Panning, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM
VCA Animal Hospitals, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pancreatitis-in-dogs (accessed October 2023)


Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs, VCA Animal Hospital, accessed October 2023, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/chocolate-poisoning-in-dogs

Onion, Garlic, Chive, and Leek Toxicity in Dogs, VCA Animal Hospital, accessed October 2023, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/onion-garlic-chive-and-leek-toxicity-in-dogs

Southern Cross Pet Insurance claims data 2021 and 2022

Pure Profile 2022, Pet Food Safety survey

Onion, Garlic, Chive and Leek Toxicity in Dogs accessed October 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/onion-garlic-chive-and-leek-toxicity-in-dogs

Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs accessed October 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/chocolate-poisoning-in-dogs

Nutrition - Natural Approaches to Feeding accessed October 2023 https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/nutrition---natural-approaches-to-feeding

The Spruce Pets accessed October 2023 https://www.thesprucepets.com/which-vegetables-can-dogs-eat-4801721

The Spruce Pets accessed October 2023 https://www.thesprucepets.com/can-dogs-eat-ice-cream-4684033

The Spruce Pets accessed October 2023 https://www.thesprucepets.com/how-much-chocolate-is-toxic-to-dogs-4706542


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