You hear a lot about the dangers of fat in the human diet. You've also probably heard dogs shouldn't eat most people food. But that meaty, fatty piece of gristle seems too natural a choice for a doggy treat to let go to waste. A little goes a long way.
Dog foods are formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of your beloved canine as a complete diet. This delicate balance can be thrown off, some manufacturers claim, by addition of any other foods. However, many "people foods" are okay in moderation as long as they aren't highly processed. A few can be deadly -- but gristle is definitely not on that list.
Dogs and Fat
Dogs typically don't suffer the same fat-related diseases humans do, such as congestive heart failure and stroke. Dogs need much more dietary fat than people do. Your canine friend evolved from wild animals with heavily meat-based diets. Provided you normally feed appropriate amounts of a nutritionally balanced dog food, you don't have to worry about adding a little fat with something such as a snatch of gristle.
Dogs and Crude Protein
Dogs need lots of protein, much more than people do. Moreover, dogs evolved to eat all parts of the animals their ancestors killed, not just the tender muscle meats humans prefer. In fact, much of the "crude protein" listed in dog food is very crude by our standards: beaks, feathers, blood, guts, that sort of thing. While some veterinarians advise against feeding dogs some of these byproducts, the Food and Drug Administration and the Association of American Feed Control Officials -- the bodies that approve pet foods and set guidelines for their contents -- insist that all byproducts used in American pet foods are safe and fulfill a nutritional function.
So, About That Gristle?
The gristle your pup is watching you cut off your dinner is made entirely of fat and crude protein. Should your pup eat it? It won't hurt him not to. Can he? Sure -- in moderation. The National Research Council says a minimum of 5.5 percent of your pup's dietary calories should come from fat and a minimum 10 percent from protein. It says a 33 pound adult dog has a daily allowance of 14 grams of fat and 25 of crude protein. Fifteen grams is about a half-ounce. So, for a 33-pound dog this means less than a half-ounce of gristle as an occasional treat shouldn't interfere with the nutrient balance in his regular diet. Be sure to cut pieces to a size small enough to avoid blocking a gulping dog's throat -- you don't want that treat to become a choking hazard.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.