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Can Dogs Eat Lunch Meats? What Our Vets Say

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

A turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes

Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can thrive on various foods, not only meat like their feline counterparts. That said, dogs still need the essential amino acids found in protein, so it’s important that you ensure your pup is getting a high-quality protein source in their meals.

You might be looking at the turkey sandwich you picked up from the deli in your hand and wondering if this is something you can share with your dog. While the turkey in your sandwich is certainly a source of protein, it’s not a great option for your dog. Lunch meats contain many potentially harmful ingredients that could set your dog up for health issues.

Keep reading to learn more.

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Why Isn’t Lunch Meat Good for Dogs?

Your dog might be interested in your turkey sandwich as it probably smells delicious. But the truth is that all lunch meat and cold cuts are unhealthy for dogs. These meats are highly processed and contain a lot of sodium nitrite, seasonings, and potentially harmful additives that could cause health problems for your pooch.

Sodium Nitrite

These meats have extremely long shelf lives because of a preservative known as sodium nitrite. This preservative is often used in canned pets to extend their shelf life, but the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (USDA) has strict rules regarding how much is allowed in pet food. Foods must contain no more than 20 parts per million, and the label needs to list its inclusion and concentration.

Thankfully, sodium nitrite is harmful to dogs only in high doses. If your dog ingests 7.9 to 19.8 mg/kg of sodium nitrite in a day, it may lead to methemoglobin production, but 40 mg/kg per day is what’s considered the lethal dose.

Sodium isn’t all bad, however. It helps keeps your dog’s body fluids in balance and even plays a part in muscle and nerve function.

According to VetInfo.com, a 30-pound dog should eat around 100 mg of sodium daily. Unfortunately, according to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of pre-packaged sliced ham contains a whopping 1,040 mg of sodium. While 100 grams of ham may sound like a lot, it only equates to around three or four slices. Even just one slice of ham could have 260 mg of sodium, well above what a 30-pound pup should eat in a day.

Couple sitting with dog at restaurant
Image Credit: sirtravelalot, Shutterstock


Spices and seasonings add a lot of flavor and health benefits to human food, but dogs don’t need them to stay healthy. In fact, certain spices often found in lunch meats can be very harmful to your dog.

Onions and onion powder can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, onions contain sulfoxides which can cause damage to your dog’s red blood cells, potentially leading to anemia over time.

Garlic can be toxic for dogs. Though it takes quite a bit of garlic to put your pup in danger, it’s best to avoid the risk altogether.

Salt is another common seasoning in lunch meat. While it makes the meat tastier for us, too much salt can cause excessive thirst and urination in dogs, potentially leading to dehydration. It may also cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when it’s ingested in larger quantities.


Additives in deli meat will vary from brand to brand. We recommend reading the label, even if you’re not feeding deli meat to your dog. It’s good to know what you’re putting in your own body, too.

Deli meat sometimes contains a binder known as carrageenan to keep the meat together. Carrageenan is often used in dog foods to fill and thicken, but it can cause digestive system issues and gastric inflammation.

Some deli meats may be made with artificial coloring agents. Caramel colors are especially dangerous as they can create carcinogenic contaminants when processed with ammonium.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been a flavor-enhancing additive for many years. It’s found often in deli meat and even in poor-quality pet food to disguise the inferior food quality.

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What Health Risks Are Associated With Lunch Meat?

a sick beagle dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Elena Loza, Shutterstock

Several health risks are associated with feeding your pup a diet high in lunch meat.

While nitrates and nitrites are both found in deli meat, nitrites can be dangerous as they can become nitrosamine.

When your dog swallows nitrites, it can react with the acidic environment of your pup’s gut, potentially creating nitrous acid. If this acid were to react with amines, it could create nitrosamines. Nitrosamines can also occur when a processed food product with nitrites is heated at a high temperature. Nitrosamines are thought to be carcinogenic, with studies showing that they can cause tumors in the lungs and liver and liver cancer. In addition, diets high in nitrates may also lead to gastric cancer.

The high-fat content of some deli meats, such as ham, can lead to pancreatitis, a potentially deadly condition. In addition, because some meats are high in fat, offering too much to your pup can also result in obesity.

Deli meat poses the risk of the bacterium listeria, which can cause the foodborne illness listeriosis in your pup. Not all dogs exposed to listeria will develop symptoms, but those that do will exhibit signs such as diarrhea, nausea, fever, lethargy, stiff neck, and incoordination.

What Do I Do If My Dog Ate Lunch Meat?

If you shared a piece or two of lunch meat, you likely have nothing to worry about. The serious health issues associated with lunch meat won’t show up after a small exposure. However, chances are your pup will get thirsty from the extra salt and may also experience some digestive upset since its system isn’t used to the meat.

However, if your pup ate several pieces of lunch meat, you might want to call your vet for advice. Your pet may be fine, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Better Alternatives to Lunch Meat

diced cooked chicken breast in a bowl
Image Credit: Dawn Minkow, Shutterstock

If you must share some of your meals with your dog, please know that there are much better alternatives. Of course, you could try to find low-sodium or nitrate-free lunch meat options, as these are better for both you and your dog.

Here are even more appropriate protein-centric human foods for your pup:
  • Cooked eggs
  • Natural unsalted peanut butter
  • Cooked boneless salmon
  • Cooked chicken
  • Cooked pork
  • Sardines
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Cooked tuna

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Final Thoughts

If you’ve fed your dog a slice or two of deli turkey or ham, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Such small portions shouldn’t cause any serious adverse effects. We don’t, however, recommend making a habit out of it. There are much better food options for your dog than sodium-laden lunch meats.

Featured Image Credit: Erenn, Shutterstock

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