Is it safe to feed your dog bread?

You don’t have to look far to find gluten-free options for your table: They’re in the grocery store aisles and on the menu in most restaurants. Sources say the global market for gluten-free food, which reached $5.6 billion in 2020, could expand to as much as $8.3 billion by 2025.

That’s music to the ears of humans who have sensitivities to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, but should the canine members of our family be on gluten-free diets, too? Grain-free diets have been gaining popularity among dog owners almost as quickly as gluten-free diets have grown. Experts are split on the health benefits of these diets, so what does that mean for those of us who like to share a piece of bread with our dogs every once in a while? Here’s what we know.

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Is bread safe for your dog to eat?

Unless your dog has been diagnosed with allergies specifically related to grain, it’s generally considered safe for your dog to eat bread. There are, however, a few guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure it’s plain bread. The rise (no pun intended) of specialty bakeries, even in our grocery stores, means that we now enjoy bread in a variety of tastes and textures that may not always be suitable to share with our four-legged friends. Specifically, beware of bread that contains ingredients that are toxic to dogs, such as raisins and macadamia nuts. Breads containing garlic and xylitol (an artificial sweetener) should also be avoided.
  • Snack-sized portions only, please. Too much of a good thing is, in this case, bad for the waistline. Most bread is dense with calories, so make sure you’re staying within the recommended caloric intake for your pet. If you’re unsure what that is, consult your veterinarian.
  • Choose wisely. If you’re going to share bread with your dog, make sure it’s as nutritious as possible. Whole-grain breads, such as wheat, contain more nutrients and fiber than their white and French bread counterparts.
  • Baked bread only. Bread dough can be dangerous for your dog to ingest. Depending on how much your dog eats, dough can continue rising in his stomach, which may cause bloating and discomfort. Also, bread dough contains ethanol, a by-product of yeast that is highly toxic to dogs.

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Is bread healthy for dogs?

Not really. Bread is very high in carbohydrates and calories, which means large quantities aren’t good for anyone — human or canine. Even so, there are some situations in which bread can be beneficial.

  • To hide medication. If your bread-loving dog isn’t so crazy about taking medication, try hiding his pill in a small bread pocket. To entice him further, add a bit of (xylitol-free) peanut butter.
  • When he’s eaten something he shouldn’t. Bread is a great encapsulator, so if your dog accidentally ingests something sharp (like a bone splinter) or a long piece of yarn or string (like from a plush toy he’s destroyed), feed him a piece or two of bread before you call your veterinarian. Often, the bread will encase the foreign object and allow it to pass safely through his gastrointestinal tract.
  • To soothe an upset stomach. Bread is also a great sponge, so eating a piece or two may help soak up excess stomach acids when your pup is feeling just a bit queasy. Of course, if your dog is vomiting, lethargic, or has diarrhea, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Healthy snack substitutes for bread include fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, carrots, and sweet potatoes. In moderation, these foods are high in nutrients and low in calories. Of course, each dog is different, so experiment to see which foods your dog likes and how they affect his digestion.

As a reminder.…

While there’s no denying the bond you feel when you share food with your dog, it’s best to remember that dogs have very different nutritional needs than we do. Experts recommend snacks compose no more than 10% of your dog’s total daily calorie intake. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention  says that 54% of U.S. dogs are overweight, a condition that increases your pet’s risk for developing heart disease, osteoarthritis, and cancer.

Simply put, your dog depends on you to make the best decisions about his diet and exercise. That’s why it’s important to consult with your dog’s veterinarian to understand your pup’s specific dietary needs. Whether it’s a small bite of bread or a crunchy carrot, sharing the right foods in moderation pays dividends in health and happiness.

Want to learn more? Check out our guide on dog DNA tests.

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