Is Ham a Safe Food for Dogs To Eat?
Watch out for ham bones and heavily seasoned recipes before you offer your favorite pooch a bite.
brendan-howard-headshot By Brendan Howard Updated December 09, 2021 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print
Picture this: It's a big holiday meal, with a big holiday ham, and you're sharing feelings of gratitude and joy with all your family and friends. Do your four-legged canine friends get a piece too? We had a vet sound off on scenarios where ham may or may not be safe for your dog.
Sand-colored puppy rests head on dinner table next to place setting Credit: magnusa1/Stocksy / Adobe Stock
Can You Give Dogs Ham Safely?
So, is ham good or bad for dogs? It has protein, which is an important part of a dog's healthy nutrition.
But ham is probably not part of your dog's regular balanced diet, so it shouldn't count as a healthy meal, but instead as a treat that makes up no more than 10 percent of your dog's daily caloric intake, according to Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.
"A small piece or two of ham is not likely to be problematic in a healthy dog," Schmid says. "Ham is a source of protein, but for certain dogs, the risk outweighs the benefit of feeding it."
Ham can be high in sugar, salt, fat, and excess calories, depending on the recipe. That's bad news for dogs who are prone to gastrointestinal upset, who are obese, or who have a chronic illness affected by salt intake like heart disease. (Ham is not good for cats, either, if you have multiple pets in your household.)
"Frequent feeding of ham is best avoided, especially in older animals," Schmid says. Excess fat in ham or other human food can also cause a painful health condition called pancreatitis.
And if you do feed a little ham, avoid raw or seasoned ham, as raw meat can carry disease and various seasonings (like onion and garlic) can cause upset canine stomachs or cause poisoning.
How Much Ham Is Too Much for a Dog?
"This is a tough question," Schmid says. "It's very dependent on the dog's size and health status."
A little bit of cooked ham as an occasional treat for a healthy dog is fine, she says. But a pet with a sensitive stomach or other existing health conditions might react badly to even a thumbnail-sized piece.
If your dog sneaks some ham off the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas or you're experimenting to see whether it agrees with your dog, watch for signs of a bad reaction, including:
- Lethargy or sluggishness
- Lack of appetite, or not wanting to eat
- Excessive drooling
- Abdominal pain
If signs don't resolve soon, call your veterinarian.
Can Dogs Safely Eat Ham Bones or Ham Hocks?
Ham hocks are made from the joint that connects a pig's foot to its leg. They're large enough that a dog who wolfs one down could choke. Ham hocks can also cause digestion problems, so avoid them for dogs.
Ham bones are best avoided, too, according to Schmid.
"Any real bone can splinter and cause damage to a dog's esophagus, stomach, or intestinal tract," she says. "Ham bones are generally more brittle than other bones, like chicken, and can splinter more easily."
Cooked ham bones are an even bigger problem, because they're even more prone to splintering and could be a choking hazard.
If Not Ham, Then What Human Foods Are Healthy for Dogs to Eat?
If ham is out as a regular treat for your dog, what other healthy human foods would make better alternatives? (Don't worry—there are plenty of options to share with your canine companion.)
You can feed these human foods (in moderation) to healthy dogs:
- Eggs, but cooked and never with any shell pieces
- Green beans
- Oranges, but only the pulpy fruit, not the stem, peel, or seeds
- Peanut butter, but only plain, unsalted varieties and only a little of this high-calorie treat
- Popcorn, but no butter or salt
- Rice, but only cooked
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Zucchini and summer squash
And if you want a crash course on some common human foods and ingredients that can be toxic for dogs, here are a few big ones:
- Apricot or peach pits
- Garlic and onions
- Grapes and raisins
- Xylitol or foods and drinks containing this sugar substitute
RELATED: 6 Tips to Make Thanksgiving Safer for Your Pets This Holiday Season