Make the holiday season merry and bright by keeping kitty safe with the right tasty treats.
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cat sniffing food at the table for Christmas dinner
Credit: Image: M_a_y_a / Getty

As we hustle and bustle in the kitchen making scrumptious traditional favorites and decadent desserts, kitties often poke their noses into all creations. Are there specific Christmas foods cats can eat and ones they should avoid? Yes … and yes!

What to Know About Giving Your Cat Christmas Food

"Like people, cats have their individual dietary sensitivities, so be mindful," says Genna Mize, DVM, a technical services veterinarian at Virbac. "Typically it's best to refrain from giving them human food, but if you feel compelled to add something to your pet's typical diet, consider small amounts of a lean, unseasoned protein you know your pet can tolerate." 

Basically, you have to eliminate all the "fun stuff" we usually enjoy this time of year. Any preparations that are sweet, salty, seasoned, or fatty, plus human foods that are actually toxic to cats, can make your little furball quite sick, Mize adds. 

And not to be all bah humbug about it, but before giving your pet any human foods, ask your veterinarian about what's safe for their nutritional needs, and treats shouldn't exceed 10 percent of your pet's daily caloric requirement.

infographic with list of Christmas Foods cats can and can't eat
Credit: Kailey Whitman / Jody Tramontina

Christmas Foods Cats Can Eat Safely

Mize says generally speaking, the following Christmas foods are safe for cats—in small quantities. Plan for anything savory to be fully cooked, unseasoned, unsalted, and without butter or other fats. 

Ham 

Healthy cats can enjoy a smackerel of ham, as long as it wasn't prepared with onions or garlic. But because this smokey treat is often high in sodium, keep your senior cat or a kitty with medical issues such as heart disease away from it. 

Turkey 

"A bite of plain turkey breast is probably fine, but the dark meat covered in gravy? That's a no-go. Too much fat! Too much sodium! And some seasonings (e.g. garlic powder) are toxic as well," Mize says. "Remember, bland is always best—and it's doubtful your cat will complain about the flavor profile you're offering."

Sweet Potatoes

A bit of sweet potato is fine for a celebratory occasion—especially when combined with salmon in this special cake!  

Green Beans 

Although cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet of animal protein for survival, some curious kitties also like to munch on fruit and vegetable treats. Steamed and cooked green beans might seem like a surprising holiday menu item, but they're full of fiber. Save the green bean casserole for Aunt Tilly, though, and not kitty. 

Cranberries

If your cat seems interested in tart, unsugared fruit snacks, raw cranberries could add a holiday pick-me-up to their usual kibble, but make sure to dice them finely to avoid a choking hazard. 

Pears

While making a festive rustic pear galette, it's OK to slip your kitty a tidbit of pear flesh—no peel, stem, or core—as a juicy, vitamin-rich snack.

Pumpkin

Fiber-rich pumpkin, cooked or canned, is another Christmas food cats can eat. You don't want to fill their bowl full of it, but if they have constipation or diarrhea, up to a teaspoon could help ease their troubles.

Squash

Different types of unseasoned, roasted squash such as butternut, acorn, and spaghetti are generally safe for cats to eat—but that doesn't mean they'll crave it! At least you won't have to worry if they steal a little from the dog's bowl.

Whipped Cream

This is a tricky one, because most cats are actually lactose intolerant. However, if homemade whipped cream or a prepared product such as Reddi-wip catches their fancy, a couple of licks shouldn't hurt. Non-dairy whipped toppings have too much sugar and other additives, though, so they're on the naughty list.

Christmas Foods to Avoid Giving Your Cat

Mize says all of the following can make your cat ill, and the gamble simply isn't worth it. So if your pet is prone to jumping on the counter in search of something to eat, make sure these foods are safely tucked out of reach.

Chocolate 

Under no circumstances should cats eat chocolate. "The caffeine and theobromine (methylxanthines) found in coffee and chocolate are particularly toxic, and can cause death in the worst-case scenario and gastrointestinal upset in a best-case scenario," Mize says. So curious cats need to stay out of your holiday latte, too.

Eggnog

While cooked eggs are OK for kitties sometimes, eggnog is made with heavy cream and sugar, too, which isn't good for them. Foods high in fat can cause pancreatitis.

Peppermint

'Tis the season for peppermint. However, candies often contain xylitol, which is toxic to cats, and if they start playing with the cellophane wrapping, accidental ingestion might cause intestinal blockage.

Gingerbread

Traditional gingerbread houses and cookies are a staple in Christmas baking, but often contain spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg that can be toxic to cats. Since the oven is already warm, whip up some tuna and catnip treats instead.

Mashed Potatoes

A smidgen of cooked and mashed potatoes is OK as long as kitties have their share with all the "uns": Unseasoned, unsalted, and unbuttered. No table scraps. 

Onions 

Onions, including leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots, are a huge no-no for cats. They can cause gastrointestinal upset and even anemia, so keep all versions of this veggie (fresh, cooked, and spices) away from your cat, Mize says.

Garlic 

For the same reasons cats can't eat onion, avoid garlic in any and all forms, including fresh, cooked, or garlic seasonings.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a popular sweetener often in foods such as peanut butter, gum, ice cream, and yogurt, but the sugar substitute is toxic to pets and can cause liver damage.

Alcohol 

Your frisky kitty is more likely to knock your cocktail glass off the table than drink from it! Nevertheless, keep all forms of alcohol away from them. If you want to ring in the new year together, one of these cat wines might be the purrfect gift.  

Grapes and Raisins

Researchers are still unsure why grapes and raisins are toxic to cats, but nevertheless, keep your furry friend from nibbling on and batting them around because the health repercussions can be severe, including kidney disease.  

Macadamia Nuts

Another high-fat holiday treat fit only for humans and not for cats. Also known as Australia nuts and Queensland nuts, the exact cause of toxicity is unknown, but the consequences might include vomiting, weakness, lethargy, and even tremors. 

If your pet gets into any of the foods on the naughty list, please call one of the following as soon as possible:

Other Ways to Treat Your Cat This Christmas

If you'd rather not worry about what Christmas foods cats can and can't eat and simply stick with their usual meals, that's okay, too. You can still make their feeding station more festive with a sparkly bowl or water fountain.  

"Your pet is probably just happy for your company and doesn't necessarily need an edible holiday treat," Mize says. So give the gift of your presence by trying new bonding activities with your feline friend to keep them mentally and physically engaged. And of course, new toys under the tree (or far, far away from it!) are always good, too.