An animal's guide to leftovers

People have fed food scraps and leftovers to animals for thousands of years (in fact, scientists believe that dogs evolved from wolves who were partial to waste dumps).  And our pets today are no exception.  People often feed scraps to animals to avoid creating waste, which is indeed a noble effort.  But while some scraps are fine as treats and even contribute to your pet's nutrition, other leftovers can be unhealthy, or even deadly to your furry and feathered friends.

Do feed the birds
Bird species are on the decline in urban areas, so it's a good idea to welcome them into your garden, especially in the winter, when wild food sources are scarce.  Using kitchen scraps can save money on bird seed and even offer vital nutrients to visiting birds. Some options are stale bread, meat fat trimmings, cheese rinds, fruit peels, leftover pasta and potatoes.  But make sure you still put out bird seed along with other scraps.  Another bonus of using food scraps is the potential of inviting new bird species to your garden, so keep an eye out.  Just make sure these scraps don't invite unwanted furry guests such as squirrels or cats who may scare away the birds.  Use a hanging bird feeder to avoid this.

Don't feed swans white bread
Many people enjoy feeding swans and other birds their stale bread, but be warned that white bread can seriously hurt swans and cause vitamin deficiency.  Brown bread, bird seed and carrots are a better choice.  Save your stale white bread to make eggy bread instead.

Do save scraps for chickens
If you're lucky enough to have backyard chickens, you probably already use them as food waste disposal systems.  In addition to cooked meat, grains and fruit, chickens love veg scraps and even cooked veggie leftovers.  But make sure not to give them potato skins, avocado pits or mouldy food as these can be poisonous, nor onions or garlic, as these can make their eggs taste funky.  Check out this handy list of do's and don'ts of feeding chickens.

Do be careful with dogs
They are masters at dining table begging, and it's hard not to give in, but there are a few important considerations when feeding canines our table scraps.  While lean meats, rice, pasta and many other foods are safe, things they were cooked in, such as oils, onions or wine are poisonous.  Milk products and sugars can negatively affect their digestion, so avoid feeding dogs excess milk and cheese, and be weary of breakfast cereal leftovers.  Here's a good list of safe and harmful foods for dogs.  And remember, while scraps can be a nice treat, feeding leftovers regularly can disrupt dog's digestive health and be a drain on your food bill.  It's better to reduce the waste in the first place than to look for an eager mouth to offer it to.

And cats too!
As I write this, I'm shooing my cat away from various table scraps, and it's a challenge to say the least.  Cats and dogs should never eat these 12 foods, no matter how much they beg.  Some people feed milk to adult cats, but they are even more lactose intolerant than dogs, so this should be avoided.  Cheese, however, is safe as an occasional treat. You may catch your kitty eyeing foods such as melon, bananas, broccoli and spinach - some cats go downright crazy over them (as this cute video attests).  These foods can actually aid feline digestion, so feel free to share these leftovers.

Do visit the butcher for scraps
Commercial cat and dog food is already a waste-saving industry, as many of the bones and scraps at would have otherwise been thrown away are processed for pet feed.  And many pet owners visit their local butchers to pick up cheap or free offcuts, fish skeletons and bones for homemade pet food.  But remember that cooked meat bones can be dangerous for cats, as they easily splinter.  Save them for homemade stock instead.