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Given the opportunity, many pets will happily accept (or beg for) human foods like ham and other pork products, but are these foods safe for your furry friends? So, especially around holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving, you may be asking yourself "Can dogs (or cats) eat ham?"
Although pets love to eat ham and other preserved pork items, many veterinarians will advise against feeding them to your dog or cat. Let's take a closer look at pork products and why they may not be best to feed your animal family members.
Why Do Pets Enjoy Ham & Other Pork Products?
Pets love the rich, salty taste of ham, especially when they watch their pet parents eating it. And it's not just standard baked ham that they like. While pondering whether or not your dog or cat can eat ham, keep in mind that most pets don't discriminate against the many other forms of ham, such as honey-baked, smoked or deli-cut. Also, take into consideration other preserved pork foods that tempt your pet, including hot dogs (a perennial favorite), sausages, brats, bacon, pepperoni, prosciutto and salami.
The two main flavor profiles that make these pork products so appealing to pets (and to you) are what make the food potentially dangerous: salt and fat. "Salty" is one of the four main taste categories that dogs and cats both have (sweet, sour and bitter are the others), but their strong sense of smell also attracts them to rich foods like ham, especially when heated.
It's no surprise that your pet savors the one-two punch of salt and fat in ham, but these ingredients aren't what you'd call "healthy" for your dog or cat and, when ingested in excess, ham can cause medical issues.
Salts & Fats: Quick Nutrition Facts
Ham and other processed pork contain a lot of sodium because salt is a common ingredient used to preserve the meat. While some salt is necessary for body functions and fluid balance in the body, excessive levels are not good for your pet’s health. When consumed in large amounts, sodium can contribute to certain health issues like high blood pressure and even aggravate heart disease conditions.
Like salt, fat is also important to your pet's diet; it's a good source of energy and fatty acids. In fact, sometimes pets are recommended to be placed on high-fat meal plans to aid health conditions like pregnancy or being underweight, but this should only be done under the guidance of your veterinarian. However, even in those situations, the fat content of the food needs to be part of a balanced nutritional plan.
Has Your Pet Had Too Much Pork?
Similar to salt, too much fat can result in health problems. Dogs who eat high-fat foods, for example, can develop pancreatitis (in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen). High fat can also exacerbate gastrointestinal issues and diabetes, explains veterinary nutritionist Cailin R. Heinze VMD, MS, DACVN, for Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Dr. Heinz points out that cats are "generally more tolerant of higher fat foods than dogs," but your feline friend is susceptible to gaining too much weight on a high-fat food. This includes ham and other pork products that your canine or kitty may like to snack on.
Are Raw Pork Products Safe?
Most store-bought ham products come preserved, but some ham is sold as "fresh," meaning it’s not cooked. So, are uncooked ham and pork products, like bacon and pork roasts, a healthier option? Experts say no.
You should never feed your dog or cat raw pork products like roasts or bacon because of the inherent risks they pose to your pet's overall health. One of the most common risks associated with feeding raw meats is bacterial infection (such as E. coli and Salmonella). "Even with proper food preparation and handling of stools, the risk of bacterial contamination and infection of both pets and humans in the household is a real risk," explains the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Not only does this potentially put your pet's health at risk, but it also has potential issues of putting your family's health at risk too. Additional risks can include parasitic and protozoal infections, many of which can be life threatening. There is also the risk of nutritional deficiencies due to not feeding a properly balanced meal. So, long story short, if you're considering feeding any meat to your pet (ham or otherwise), never feed them raw proteins. It’s just not worth the risk.
Is It Safe to Give My Pet Medication using Ham?
Ham and other pork products should only ever be fed to your dog or cat with consent from your veterinarian. Using things such as deli meat ham to hide a pill in to make it easier for your dog or cat to swallow can be okay in many instances, as long as it is in small quantities. However, your veterinarian should still assess your dog or cat's particular situation before doing so, to ensure that even small amounts of ham do not pose a risk to your pet's health.
What Are Healthy Alternatives to Pork?
It's best to always stick to the basics and choose healthy, properly balanced dog and cat foods to feed your pet and use dog or cat treats as the occasional reward. While there are a number of foods out there that can be healthy "treats" (such as certain fruits and vegetables), making sure your pet gets the right amount of nutrients and calories each day is what is most important to keeping them happy and healthy, which is why a proper commercial pet food is recommended. If you're still dead set on offering your pet some human food as an occasional treat, speak to your veterinarian — they can provide you with a couple of healthy alternatives that won't unbalance your pet's diet or cause concern for your pet's health.
It may be difficult to deny your fur baby some ham from your plate or a brat hot off the grill, but it's better for their health. It is best to keep them on a strictly followed meal plan consisting of a properly balanced dog or cat food. "Extra" food from the table has its own inherent risks in terms of whether or not pets can properly digest it, but it also adds calories to their daily intake. Those extra calories can lead to weight gain and becoming overweight comes with its own potential host of health problems. So, while you may be tempted to "treat" your dog or cat with some ham or other pork product, it's best to stick to healthy, balanced pet food and treats specially formulated for your dog or cat.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, researcher, and long-time pet mom. She's a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA) and writes about pets, lifestyle, and education. Find and follow Christine on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.