I know I’m not the only one that hangs stockings for my furry family every year. I also know that I’m not the only one that gets puppy pictures with Santa. My canine companions are a big part of my holiday celebration, but I draw the line at sharing my holiday feast with them. Why? It’s not because I don’t have enough napkins to set them a place at the table, it’s because holiday foods can be harmful to our best friends.
Turkey, ham, prime rib, or Cornish hen, whatever meat you choose to be the center of your holiday feast, doesn’t have a place in the center of your dog’s dish. While a dog’s diet is made up primarily of protein, the meat scraps that we often catch our guests sneaking our pooches under the table can be loaded with fat. Poultry skin and pork or beef fat are not only bad for our pups from a weight gain perspective, but it can also be rough on the digestive system, causing vomiting and diarrhea that you don’t want to be cleaning up when Santa makes his nocturnal appearance. Not only that, high amounts of fat can cause pancreatitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening disease that can have repercussions that last well past the holiday season. If you just can’t keep people from slipping your dog meat bits, make sure they are small, lean pieces that have been cooked thoroughly.
Along with meat scraps come the bones. Dogs = bones are often the thought when someone cooks a large piece of bone-in meat for the holidays. While chewing on bones can provide many benefits for our pups, giving them poultry or cooked bones can be very detrimental. Poultry bones are hollow and, therefore, splinter very easily when crunched on. Those splinters can end up puncturing the mouth, esophagus, or any of the various other parts of the digestive tract as they make their way through. The same goes for cooked pork or beef bones. The cooking process not only leaches bones of their nutrients, but it also makes them brittle and more likely to cause a problem.
Member of the allium family, including onions, chives, and garlic, are big-time no-nos for doggy treats. These favorite additions to stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole can lead to life-threatening destruction of red blood cells if consumed by our pups, even in small amounts. Destruction of red blood cells leads to anemia, which can cause your dog to feel lethargic, short of breath, and have vomiting or diarrhea. Just be on the safe side, rather than picking the onions out of food that you want to share with your dog, give them the plain, low sodium, canned green beans instead.
Yes, your dog drank milk as a puppy, but things have changed since them. Adult dogs lack adequate amounts of lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, so when faced with larger quantities of dairy products, your dog could experience vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. While most of us wouldn’t knowingly pour milk into our dog’s bowl, we often forget that holiday mashed potatoes are more than just potatoes-we dress them up with cream, butter, milk, you name it. This goes for some types of gravy and desserts (whipped cream anyone?) as well.
Since we just mentioned gravy, milk-free gravy is not ok for your dog either. Most gravies are made from meat juices and guess what the makeup of those juices is-fat. Again, high amounts of fat can cause vomiting and diarrhea at best, pancreatitis at worst.
Not So Much Nuts
Since we’re still on the high-fat equals problems train, nuts are not on the table either, specifically pistachios and macadamia nuts. The high-fat content of these nuts can lead to all of the above that we’ve already talked about, plus add to the problem the fact that nuts, in general, are just harder to digest. Digestion of nuts works smoother if they’re mechanically broken down by chewing. But since some dogs are inhalers rather than savorers of their food, large pieces of nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts can become lodged in the digestive tract and lead to an obstruction.
Don’t Think So Desserts
Dogs and chocolate is a well-known issue that most dog parents are aware of, but there are other dessert ingredients that can be detrimental as well. First, let’s reiterate the potential toxicity of chocolate as a quick refresher. Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine that can cause considerable digestive upset if consumed by our pooches. More severe cases can actually produce seizures, muscle tremors, and heart failure. Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of toxin. As a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the more toxin. So, your baker’s cocoa or bitter chocolates are by far the worst, while milk and white chocolate are on the less toxic side. This doesn’t mean you’re safe to offer your dog a white chocolate candy bar and remember that dogs have excellent noses and can sniff out your chocolate stash. So be sure to keep it well out of reach of curious noses.
Grapes and raisins are other common problem foods for dogs, with raisins being high up on the toxicity scale. The exact toxin behind the problem isn’t known, but the end results are kidney failure. Ingesting just a few raisins can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in more severe cases, death within 24 hours. Keep that fruit salad or cinnamon raisin bread far from your dog’s reach.
Here’s one you may not have known, nutmeg. One of the main spices in pumpkin pie and a popular topping for holiday beverages, nutmeg, is capable of causing your dog to hallucinate, have seizures, tremors, and even go into shock and die.
Let’s just hit on one of the other main ingredients in desserts, sugar. Your dog’s normal dog food typically isn’t high in sugar, so gobbling up one piece of pumpkin pie could send their blood glucose on a dizzying rollercoaster, making the feel anything but merry. While one quick gobble usually doesn’t have lasting effects on your pup, long-term sugar consumption can cause weight gain and even diabetes. If you’re using a low-calorie sweetener, like xylitol, for your holiday desserts, it’s even worse. Xylitol consumption can lead to liver failure.
Alcohol works the same on dogs as it does on people, only instead of a glass of wine, helping a person to relieve tension and unwind, it can cause a dog serious problems. It doesn’t take much alcohol to cause a dog to stagger and pass out, or much to lead to a dangerously slow respiratory rate or cardiac arrest, so no spiked egg nog for Fido.
Foods You Can Share
If you just can’t bear to leave your furry friend out of the holiday food festivities, here are some treats that you can gift them without worry.
-- Pumpkin and sweet potato are great dog treats if they are in their purest form. That means no additives like butter, sugar, or spices. Plain canned pumpkin and plain cooked sweet potato will help your dog’s digestive system, and they usually like them, so win-win!
-- Green beans can make a dog very happy. Choose the low sodium variety and give them to your pup like French fries. Just make sure they are free from seasonings and other additives like the cream of mushroom soup that makes up green bean casserole.
-- Lean meat will help satisfy that protein craving. You can un-guiltily give your pup a few small bites of meat if it’s free from excess fat and cooked.
-- Their own dog food also works like a treat if you give it to them at a different time or in a different place. If you can’t stand those sad eyes and strings of drool as your dog sits longingly next to your holiday dinner table, slip them a few bits of their own kibble. If it comes from the table while you’re eating, it will lead them to think that they’ve been very good this year.
While the holidays may be touted as the season of giving, that generosity shouldn’t extend to your dogs at dinnertime. Keep your holiday leftovers out of your dog’s food bowl and out of your guests’ under-the-table hands to prevent unwanted doggie emergencies this season. Also, supervision is key to keeping sneaky mouths away from your kitchen counters. Holiday food, even more so than your everyday food, can be very upsetting and even toxic to your pooch. Rather than share your holiday feast this year, instead, share your holiday spirit with your dog so that you can celebrate a truly prosperous and healthy new year.