Can Dogs Eat Lunch Meat?

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We know that our dogs love treats and they certainly aren’t shy about letting us know. Most dogs will go crazy over anything that even remotely sounds like the wrapper for treats. That means sprinting into whatever room the action is in and wagging away just hoping to get a taste.

This 6th sense for treats is also triggered by a lot of foods that aren’t specifically made for dogs. With similar but still very different biological systems, it can be confusing to know what’s safe for dogs to eat and what isn’t. Especially when it comes to foods like lunch meat that seem like that’d be a natural choice for a meat-loving dog.

But is that actually true? Can dogs each lunch meat and is it safe?

Lunch meat or cold cuts are a bad choice for dogs and should be avoided. Even though lunch meat is usually safe in very small amounts, processed deli meats contain high sodium and a variety of potentially harmful additives like nitrates that could cause health problems for your dog. 

Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about our canine companions and lunch meat.

Wait…Isn’t Meat Normal For Dogs?

We know that even the fluffiest of pups descended from wild wolves. Most folks also know that wolves and other wild dogs are big meat eaters and will happily chow down on freshly hunted animals or sometimes even old, rancid meat.

So it stands to reason that our dogs would be able to handle meat too and lunch meat should be okay, right?

Not exactly.

The problem isn’t the meat but instead all the extras that go into it. Things like nitrates, sodium, spices, and other preservatives make lunch meat very different from the wild game that your canine’s wolf ancestors would have eaten.

What Lunch Meat Ingredients Are Bad For Dogs?

There are some ingredients that you’ll find in every type of lunch meat and others will depend on the specific type cut or the flavoring. Let’s take a look at each so you know exactly what to look for.

High Sodium Content

Salt is required to help preserve lunch meat and keep it fresh before you eat it. While there are low sodium options, and they are generally better for both people and dogs, lunch meat will always be relatively high in sodium.

But what exactly is “high sodium” for our dogs?

According to, a 30-pound dog should have no more than 100 mg of sodium per day. Bigger dogs will not only need more sodium but will be able to handle more as well.

When we look at the amount of sodium in a typical lunch meat brand, we see that 100 grams contain a whopping 964 mg of sodium! That’s almost 10 times the daily requirement which makes lunch meat like a sodium explosion inside your dog’s body.

The exact amount will vary between lunch meats but usually, 100 grams represents about 3 to 4 standard slices of lunch meat. Most folks probably aren’t giving quite that much to a 30-pound dog but even on the lower estimates, one slice of lunch meat is likely two to three times the amount of sodium that a 30-pound dog would need.

Keep in mind that lunch meat is not your dog’s only source of sodium and your pup should already be getting their daily sodium requirements from their food.

While it wouldn’t be great for your dog, most animals can handle quite a bit of sodium without too many problems.

But if the extra sodium becomes a habit, the consequences of too much salt can be severe. Salt is an important electrolyte and when it’s out of balance dogs may suffer from confusion, lethargy or even seizures. However, if you’re just giving your dog a few slices here and there you’re more likely to deal with an upset stomach and indigestion.

Nitrates & Nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites are a critical part of lunch meat since they’re what help cure the meat and keep it preserved. It also gives it a distinct taste that most folks immediately associate with deli meats.

But nitrates are also a big part of the problem not only for dogs but also humans.

According to the World Health Organization, the consumption of nitrates and nitrites can be connected to cancer. Analysts at the Harvard School of Public Health explain that “Consumption of processed meat was classified as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic after the IARC Working Group – comprised of 22 scientists from ten countries – evaluated over 800 studies.”

However, those studies were based on humans…so what about our dogs?

While you won’t find such a massive data set as the one used by the World Health Organization, there are a handful of studies out there that suggest a connection between elevated nitrates and specifically mammary cancer

Still, cancer isn’t the only concern and it’s likely that nitrates and nitrites can negatively impact a dog’s thyroid and cardiovascular health.

We don’t know exactly how much nitrate consumption is too much for dogs but it’s reasonable to guess that a little lunch meat once a month or so probably isn’t going to be catastrophic to your dog’s health. It’s also not going to provide anything positive either and that’s another reason why it’s generally recommended to just avoid lunch meat for our dogs.

High Calorie

As if sodium and nitrates weren’t enough, there’s also the issue of calories. This is, of course, a problem with all people food but when you consider that many types of lunch meat are especially calorically dense you can really see the problem.

The number of calories will vary between the types of lunch meats but if we look at a fattier cut like hard salami we can see that the Boar’s Head brand has 110 calories per one ounce serving– not to mention 430 mg of sodium!

But how does this compare to the daily requirements of a dog?

Sticking with a 30-pound dog for our examples, a dog of that weight would need roughly 600 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight.  That means just 1 oz of hard salami would represent 20% of a dog’s total daily calorie requirements!

If a dog is already getting their daily needs met by their dog food, then that extra lunch meat could actually be 20% more than they need which will quickly lead to obesity. Again, this is a problem with all people food but because many cuts of lunch meat can be so high in fat, they can be especially problematic.

But high fat content isn’t the only reason that lunch meat is so high in calories, lunch meat also frequently contains high fructose corn syrup which can really help pack on the pounds. High fructose corn syrup isn’t harmful to dogs on its own but the simple sugars can quickly turn to fat, especially if your dog is already getting plenty of calories from their daily dog food.

Spices and Extra Flavors

Then there’s the issue of spices and flavor additives some of which can be toxic to dogs.

Lunch meat flavors can get pretty wild and things have come a long way from something simple like honey ham. Instead, you can choose from an endless number of flavor combinations all of which may present unique risks for dogs.

But it’s not the unusual ingredients you need to worry about in most situations.

Instead, it’s common ingredients like onions and garlic that are toxic to dogs. According to VCA Hospitals, “Besides making your dinner taste great, onions, garlic, leeks and chives can cause serious medical problems for your dog. Although clinical signs of illness, such as vomiting, can occur soon after your dog eats any of these, the full onset of signs may take several days to appear.”

The exact reaction will depend on the individual dog but in most cases VCA says that owners should expect to see “gastroenteritis or inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Irritation of the mouth, drooling, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur.”


Are Some Lunch Meats Better Than Others?

Yes…and no.

Overall, there’s really no lunch meat that makes sense to give your dog. You may find some options that are better compared to others but that still doesn’t mean they’re a good choice for dogs.

The first problem is that almost all people food, including lunch meat, will be considered high calorie for canines. Bigger dogs may have a little more room to indulge but for small dogs, just a little lunch meat can quickly turn into extra weight.

Sodium will always be an issue as well, even with lower sodium options. Remember that even though a low sodium choice may only have 55mg per serving, that’s still half of a dog’s total sodium intake.

While that’s a big improvement from almost 10 times the daily requirement as in the standard lunch meat option it’s still too much sodium for your pup.

Some brands will also label their lunch meat with “no nitrates added”. Even though this sounds great for both people and pups, research from NPR found that lunch meat with the “no nitrate added” label may have just as many nitrates as those without.

Finally, there’s the issue of toxic additions like garlic and onion. You can scour the nutrition label to make sure there’s nothing bad for your dog, but with all the other concerns around lunch meat, it seems an easier choice would be to pick up a dog-friendly treat!

Overall, there are better lunch meat options for dogs but they all still have the same problems. Even if things like nitrates or sodium are addressed, lunch meat usually represents a huge portion of a dog’s daily calorie requirements which can quickly lead to weight gain.

What If My Dog Got Into Lunch Meat?

Accidents happen! Especially when curious and hungry dogs are involved. Sadly, I know all too well that it only takes a second for a dog to make their move and turn your sandwich station into their lunch.

Consider yourself lucky if all you have to guard is your lunch meat since some dogs can make a snack out of anything including acorns!

So what should you do if your dog gets into lunch meat?

While it will depend on your dog’s weight and overall health, a few slices are usually nothing to worry about. Still, if you’re ever unsure you should always consult your veterinarian.

It’s also worth noting that even small amounts of lunch meat can be toxic if there’s a dangerous ingredient or spice involved and you’ll need to make sure you check the ingredients against ASPCA’s toxicity database or something similar.

If your dog has eaten a lot of lunch meat or you’re not sure how much they ate it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

What’s A Better Treat For Dogs?

If lunch meat is out, what’s a better option?

Luckily, many dogs are likely to be equally enthusiastic about almost any treat so it’s not too difficult to find a great alternative to lunch meat. But if you want to keep it meat-focused, I’m a big fan of the treats from Milo’s Kitchen which you can check out on Amazon by clicking here.

They have several flavors including chicken, beef, and even duck at a very easy on the budget price. You’re not going to have to worry about massively spiking your dog’s sodium with these and while they can quickly add up to a lot of extra calories it’s a lot easier to manage with dog-specific treats.

Of course, that’s just one of many options out there! The fact that there are so many options is just another reason to skip the lunch meat when it comes to your dog!

Closing Thoughts

While dogs can eat lunch meat in moderation, the pros typically don’t out weight the cons.

Yes, our dogs will be extremely happy to have that slice of lunch meat…but there’s a good chance they’d be happy for a dog treat too!

Not only does lunch meat have the same issues as just about any other type of people food in that it’s high calorie, but you’ve also got to worry about sodium levels, nitrate content, and even toxic spices in some cases!

Instead of navigating the world of lunch meat, it’s likely a better idea to stick with a quality dog treat!

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