‘Tis the season to indulge! Savory prime rib, sugary cookies, and somewhere-in-between fruitcake tempt our taste buds, but none of these foods belong in our pet’s food bowl. In fact, many foods we eat during the holidays can be toxic to our pets, particularly dogs, who tend to be nosier than cats, says Dr. Ayeley Okine, an Internal Medicine specialist at SAGE Concord.
Here’s a list of forbidden winter holiday foods. We’ve included a few that are generally ok to share at the end of this post.
These centerpieces of the holiday table include prime rib, ham and crab, and they are not healthy for dogs or cats to consume. Prime rib and ham are forbidden foods because of their high fat content, which can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis). Crab (and shrimp) have shells that make them dangerous. These foods also have a potential to cause allergies. They are not common food sources for dogs and are not recommended.
Cookies, cakes and breads
A key ingredient in most baked goods is butter or oil, both of which are not healthy for dogs or cats. Some baked goods also include chocolate, and any type of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and especially cocoa powder is very toxic to dogs. Cats are also susceptible, but seem to be less curious about chocolate and cocoa.
Chocolate’s toxicity is linked to theobromine, a chemical related to caffeine. When pets get into chocolate, they can experience everything from hyperactivity to signs of stomach upset to cardiac conduction disturbances (problems with the electrical impulses of the heart).
White chocolate is not toxic, since it contains only sugar and no theobromine, but we still do not recommend giving to pets.
Bakers often use raisins and currants to sweeten cookies, cakes and breads—keep your dogs away from these foods. Even a few raisins or currants can wreak havoc on a dog’s health. Raisins may also be toxic to cats, but reports are limited.
Dr. Okine says the reasons behind grape and raisin toxicity is something of a mystery to veterinarians. The chemical leading to the toxicity remains unknown. Each dog has a different threshold for how much of these foods it can consume before it experiences kidney damage and kidney failure. If your dog ingests grapes or raisins, we recommend that you treat it as a medical emergency and seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
Raw cookie dough may be all the rage, but it is not healthy for dogs to eat because it is high in fat content and could contain ingredients—like chocolate or raisins—that are toxic to pets. Raw bread dough can cause dogs to bloat. Other raw foods, like meat and eggs, can be a cause for concern if they are contaminated with bacteria, particularly salmonella, Dr. Okine says.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions can cause anemia in dogs and cats. Don’t give your pets foods that have been cooked with garlic or onions. Garlic and onion powder are often more toxic than garlic and onion themselves.
We splurge when we cook holiday foods, adding spoonfuls of butter, oil, and seasonings to make everything more delicious. Generally speaking, leftovers are not healthy for dogs or cats to consume. High-fat foods can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis) leading to vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and dehydration. While these signs can range from mild to severe, these conditions, especially pancreatitis, can be life threatening and lead to bleeding problems and multiple organ failure. Both dogs and cats can suffer from pancreatitis. Patients treated early and aggressively often recover, but some patients need to be hospitalized.
As the days pass, leftovers can grow mold, which can cause liver toxicity in dogs. Bacteria in these foods, especially raw foods, can lead to gastrointestinal infections and signs of systemic illness. Bones and any containers that food is stored in are especially dangerous, as they can lead to foreign body obstructions in the gastrointestinal tract.
Keep pets away from the punch bowl! We see the same clinical symptoms in pets after they consume alcohol that we would in humans: lack of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression of the central nervous system that can lead to a decreased rate of breathing and heart rate, and loss of consciousness.
This artificial sweetener is found in a wide range of foods, like peanut butter, and non-foods, like chewing gum or sugar-free candy. Xylitol causes increased insulin release in dogs, which can cause low blood sugar. It can also cause liver toxicity.
Generally acceptable foods
Dr. Okine recommends that pet owners talk to their primary veterinarians about any special dietary needs or sensitivities their pet may have before giving them people food. But, generally speaking, dogs and cats can eat these foods:
Broccoli (in very small amounts)
Popcorn (unsalted, unbuttered)
Of course, if these foods are sautéed in butter or oil (making them high in fat) or cooked with garlic or onions, they move back to the forbidden list. Generally speaking, it is recommended to keep treats to a minimum for both cats and dogs to prevent excessive weight gain and to minimize nutritional imbalances.