- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Having a sick or stressed dog can be difficult on its own, but if your pet refuses his or her favorite food, the challenge becomes even greater. If your pet isn’t eating, you might be tempted to give them something mild like baby food. But can dogs eat baby food safely?
The short answer is: Yes, dogs can eat some baby food.
However, there are some caveats to consider before serving up strained peas in your pup’s bowl. While baby food may seem harmless, feeding it to your dogs can have some unintended—and undesirable—consequences.
Dogs have different dietary needs than humans, after all. Thus, the ingredients of the baby food, as well as the quantity, are some things to keep in mind.
A sick dog with stomach or general digestive issues may turn his or her nose up at their regular dog food, but will sometimes show interest in something new, such as wet dog food, a pungent, strong-smelling human food like sardines, or an easy-to-digest food such as baby food.
Sarah Freer, DVM, a veterinarian who practices at Cummings Hospital in Pennsylvania, says feeding baby food to dogs is useful “as a solution to try to encourage appetite in a situation where nothing else is working.”
Because new foods can be enticing to dogs with low appetites, baby food can also be an easy way to give your dog medication that should be taken with food. Offering baby food to your dog can also help disguise the taste of a bitter prescription pill, and can help keep your medication-administering routine on track.
Feeding your dog a spoonful or two of baby food every once in a while as an occasional treat is OK, too.
But Freer cautions against over-reliance on baby food for dogs, however, and recommends to use it sparingly and only as-needed. “It’s certainly not a long-term solution as dogs have different nutritional needs that are better covered by a food made specifically for dogs,” she says.
If your dog is showing signs of gastrointestinal distress or has any of the following symptoms, the first thing you need to do is take them to your vet.
Signs to watch out for
- Anorexia (refusing to eat)
- Refusal to drink
Once you’ve visited your vet and uncovered the reason for these symptoms, and they’ve recommended you try baby food, you’re ready to go.
If you’re using baby food as a nutritional supplement, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet to make sure there aren’t health concerns for your dog in particular.
Once you have the go-ahead to give your dog baby food, there’s a variety of ways to introduce it into your dog’s diet. One popular way is to warm it up to a safe temperature, adding water if it seems a little thick. The combination of the smell and the warmth should make the food more appetizing to even picky dogs.
Another option is to scoop a few spoonfuls on top of your dog’s regular food. If you’re supplementing or offering baby food as a treat, it’s good to use the 10% rule as a guide for how much to feed your dog per day. Our simple, two-ingredient recipe for baby food dog treats is also an easy, fun way to experiment with baby food for your dog.
Usually, it’s smart to start with the smaller jars of baby food, especially if you’re dealing with a sick dog who may only need it a few times before they’re back to his or her regular food.
Baby food comes in a variety of flavors, giving your pet a smorgasbord of flavors to enjoy. It’s recommended to aim for baby food that is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, so you might gravitate towards meat-based meals. (Think fewer peas, and more beef, chicken, and lamb.)
While dogs can eat most of the same foods a human baby can eat, there are some exceptions both from a taste and a safety perspective. Two ingredients to watch out for are garlic and onion, common human ingredients that can harm your dog.
Start by checking ingredients in-store or online. For example, Gerber has an easy to use page showing all of its products and the ingredients for each.
Pro tip: Many of the “dinner” flavors combining vegetables and meat have onion powder, while the simpler meat flavors don’t. Be sure to double-check the label in the store before feeding meat-based baby food to your dog.
Some flavors to try are:
- Sweet potato
These are just a few examples of popular flavors you should be able to find at any grocery store. While it’s important to be mindful of ingredients, there are many brands and flavors of baby food that don’t contain salt, onion, garlic or other harmful ingredients for your dog.
As with any new food, it’s a good idea to monitor your dog to make sure he or she digests the baby food without any issues. While some baby food is unlikely to cause serious illness, just be on the lookout for an upset tummy, allergic reaction, diarrhea, or any other issue that could arise.
If you have multiple pets, remember that every dog is different—what is OK for one of your dogs might not be successful for the other.
Make sure to discard any unused baby food by the next day. Once it’s opened, many baby foods are only good for about 24 hours, so it’s better to err on the safe side and toss the leftovers instead of feeding your dog seconds from the same jar days later.
Moderation is key. Instead of starting with a large portion (such as a whole jar), introduce a little bit of baby food at a time first to see how your dog handles it before introducing more.
In general, if you give your pet baby food, it’s best not to make it a permanent part of his or her regular feedings.
Food tailor-made for canines will always be your best bet. Baby food can still be an option for your household—but it’s better as an occasional treat than a staple of your dog’s diet.