Are All Christmas Foods Bad for Dogs? Here's What Your Pup Can and Can't Eat According to a Veterinary Nutritionist
If your dog has made it onto the coveted "Good Boy" list this Christmas (as if there's any other option), you might be tempted to treat him from your own plate. After all, who can resist those pleading puppy eyes?
But playing Santa is only jolly good fun if it's safe, and odds are your holiday table includes Christmas foods your dog can—and can't—eat, including human foods that are toxic to pets. So we asked a board certified veterinary nutritionist to make a list of safe and dangerous Christmas treats for dogs and check it twice.
Feeding Christmas Foods to Dogs
Many items used as treats are rich in calories, so it's important to only share them with your dog in moderation to ensure he still has an appetite for the food he needs to eat and to prevent obesity and unhealthy weight gain.
"All treats (commercial and/or people food) should comprise less than 10 percent of a dog's daily caloric intake," says Valerie Parker, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM, Nutrition), a professor of small animal internal medicine and nutrition at the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. "For small dogs (up to 25 pounds), that probably means giving fewer than 20-50 calories in treats per day. For large dogs (50-75 pounds), the amount is probably 80-100 calories a day."
RELATED: How to Determine Your Dog's Healthy Weight and Body Condition
Christmas Foods Dogs Can Eat
To let your pup partake in holiday feasting, the following foods are vet approved (but pay close attention to the caveats!).
If you give your dog a bite of cooked turkey, keep it small. It can be high in calories as well as fat, which can lead to pancreatitis, Parker says. Make sure the piece is unseasoned and boneless as well.
Similar to turkey, any pieces of roasted ham shared with your dog should be small (due to calories and fat content), unseasoned, and boneless. Also avoid turkey and ham bones, which are prone to splintering and can be a choking hazard.
Raw, cooked, dehydrated, or frozen carrots can be a safe and healthy treat for dogs. Cut them into bite-sized slices so they're easier for your pup to chew and swallow.
Raw cranberries can be safe for dogs, but their size can be a choking hazard—particularly for small pets. If you'd like your pet to try cranberry sauce or cooked cranberries, it's best if you make the dish yourself so you can ensure it's free from anything that could poison your pal. Dried cranberries are also suitable as long as you check the bag's ingredient list. You'll want to avoid anything that's high in added sugars and anything that contains toxic ingredients like raisins and a common sugar substitute called xylitol, which is poisonous to dogs. You can even use dried cranberries to make these dog-friendly cranberry oatmeal cookies.
Both raw and steamed broccoli are good choices for pampering your pooch, but Parker offers a word of warning: Broccoli can cause gas in some dogs.
Cooked sweet potatoes are the best bet for your pet, without butter and not as part of a sweet potato casserole, as it's a high-calorie dish. And that delicious marshmallow topping? It's best to simply avoid it because some marshmallows contain xylitol and they're generally not healthy for your pet.
If you're going to give your dog nuts, unsalted, shell-free pistachios are the safest occasional option for your pooch, but Parker notes that moderation is especially important with such a high-calorie treat.
If your true love gives you a partridge in a pear tree, it's OK to share some of the fruit with your pet. Once you remove the skin, stem, core, and seeds, and then cut the pear into small bites, it can move from your dish to your dog's in moderation.
Acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, summer squash, zucchini, and pumpkin are all good gourds for pooches. Pare the skin, remove any seeds or strings (if applicable), and then bake or steam the squash without any spices.
Considering pumpkin's popularity this time of year, it deserves its own category. Canned pumpkin can be a safe, high-fiber treat for your hungry hound. More complex (and high-calorie) items such as pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins usually won't poison your pet, but don't make it a habit of feeding your dog these desserts. Comb through the ingredient list to check for common toxins like chocolate and xylitol before you let your pet nearby while you're baking in case you drop some on the floor.
Raw or cooked green beans from the garden, grocery store, and can are all fine for Fido, and the plainer, the better. Green bean casserole, however, should stay on your plate.
If you want to give your holiday hound a bit from your cheese tray, keep it small, Parker says. Swiss, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese are all safe options, but steer clear of blue cheese, goat cheese, and feta.
Christmas Foods That Are Bad for Dogs
Saying no when your pet wants a piece of your plate doesn't make you a Grinch—especially when these toxic foods are involved.
Keep the hot chocolate, advent calendar chocolates, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate yule logs, and chocolate peppermint bark out of your pup's paws. Chocolate contains chemicals called methylxanthines that can cause cardiovascular and neurological problems in dogs. Instead, try one of these dog-friendly advent calendar options.
Macadamia nuts (also called Australia nuts and Queensland nuts) are another no-no. While the source of their toxicity isn't known, the ASPCA says they can cause lethargy, weakness, vomiting, and tremors.
Both raw and cooked onions are dangerous for dogs because they have sulfur-containing oxides that destroy their red blood cells.
Garlic and onions are from the same family and can cause the same problems in dogs—only garlic is even more potent. Any foods made with fresh garlic and garlic powder are off-limits to pups.
Mashed potatoes are often packed with butter and spices like garlic, chives, scallions, and leeks which contain a chemical called thiosulfate and can be toxic for dogs. It's also important to be cautious when prepping this holiday staple because raw potatoes contain a compound called solanine that's also toxic. A small serving of cooked mashed potatoes is fine as long as it's unseasoned and unbuttered, so make pup his own little bit before whipping up the big dinner batch.
Grapes and Raisins
Grapes and raisins are sweet snacks that are better left on your plate. The cause of their toxicity is still a mystery, but the effects are not. In some dogs, it can lead to kidney failure.
It probably won't come as a surprise that beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages aren't appropriate picks for wetting your pet's whistle. Even a sip can cause alcohol poisoning in some dogs.
Xylitol is a popular sweetener that can be found in sugar-free foods like peanut butter, ice cream, and jam. Always read the label before you offer your pet any packaged foods because xylitol can lead to liver damage in large quantities.
If your dog gets into any of the above foods, please call one of the following as soon as possible:
What to Give Your Dog for Christmas Instead of Human Food
Much like Mariah Carey, all your pet wants for Christmas is you. That's right—your attention is the perfect non-toxic, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium treat. It's the kind of warm, fuzzy thought that can make your heart grow three sizes.
In other words, treat your dog with what he likes to do best. Maybe that's a nap on your lap. Or maybe it's a hike in the woods. If eating really is your dog's favorite activity, Parker adds that giving him small portions of his regular food outside of regular mealtimes (in his dish or by way of a food puzzle) can be a safe way to "treat" him.
General Tips for Treating your Dog
Unfortunately, several treats traditionally given to and even designed for dogs can present problems. Parker notes that dental chews and rawhides are particularly high in calories and that bones can fracture dogs' teeth and get lodged in the esophagus. "Jerky treats should be avoided as they have been implicated in inducing kidney disease in dogs," she continues, "and high-fat foods may induce gastrointestinal upset (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea)."
Finally, if your dog has a health condition (such as diabetes) or is on a special diet, please talk to your veterinarian before treating your furry best friend with any human foods. They're only considered to be safe for healthy pets. In fact, it's always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian before introducing a new food into your pet's diet, regardless of his health status. Your veterinary team is in the best position to tell you what your pup can and can't eat.