What Not To Give Dogs At Christmas Dinner: Unsafe Holiday Foods

by Richard Walther, DVM
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What Not To Give Dogs At Christmas Dinner: Unsafe Holiday Foods
Learn about dangerous Christmas food for dogs with suggestions on pet-safe alternatives from veterinarian Dr. Ricky Walther.

The holidays are a time to gather around the table with family where there is always plenty to eat! But can dogs eat Christmas food, too?

Unfortunately, even the goodest doggos can get into trouble by eating holiday foods that are toxic to pets. While it may be tempting to slide Fido a table scrap or two, even just a small amount of the wrong thing could have some serious consequences. Too much toxic Christmas food in dogs could lead to a trip to the pet emergency room and a pause on all the family festivities.

Keep your four-legged family members safe on Christmas, through the New Year, and beyond by remembering these holiday foods that dogs can’t eat.

Here's a list of what not to give dogs at Christmas dinner, followed by a list of safer alternatives:

Pro Tip: No matter how careful we try to be as pet parents, dogs are clever and known to get into holiday foods that can make them sick. In situations like these, pet insurance is there to help cover the cost of unexpected vet visits.

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Christmas Food Dogs Can’t Eat

Many foods tolerated perfectly well by humans are very bad for pets, with some triggering more severe side effects than others depending on toxicity level. It’s safest to keep the feast on — not under — the table, but be extra careful to avoid feeding these holiday staples to any dog or cat in the house.

  • Ham

If you’re wondering, “Can dogs eat ham?”, the answer is no. Baked hams are typically filled with sugar, whereas deli hams contain high levels of sodium — neither of which are good for pets’ diets.

Even without the additives, ham and similar pork products are fatty meats that can lead to adverse side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, and even pancreatitis in dogs and cats. It’s also super high in calories, so just a small serving can satisfy a pet’s recommended caloric intake, which could lead to obesity and secondary health problems if your dog eats Christmas ham leftovers as a meal replacement for the next week.

  • Turkey Skin

So, if our poor pups can’t eat holiday ham, then can dogs eat a Christmas turkey? The short answer is yes and no. Turkey is not toxic to pets and can commonly be found listed in kibble formulas. However, it does contain large amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that canines can’t produce naturally, and may cause stomach upset if consumed in large quantities.

You can give your dog small amounts of turkey, as long as it’s plain. Some folks eat around the skin of their Christmas turkey and may feel tempted to give their dog a couple of scraps off the plate. But turkey skin is packed with seasoning, high in fat, and often soaked in other fatty substances like gravy that could cause acute pancreatitis in pets.

  • Leftover Bones

As you clear your plate with the pup eagerly waiting at your feet, be extra careful with leftover bones. Cooked poultry bones present a choking hazard to pets and could potentially block a bowel. They also can easily splinter once consumed, which can cause painful internal damage and might even puncture their stomach, leading to a potentially fatal infection.

  • Stuffing

Pets can’t eat holiday stuffing for several reasons. One, it’s filled with salt, pepper, and other seasonings known to trigger gastrointestinal issues in pets. More importantly, it typically contains garlic, onions, and other members of the allium family (such as onions, chives, and leeks) that dogs should never consume.

You may think that offering your dog a little stuffing will be harmless, but even a small portion of these ingredients can be highly toxic to pets. Clinical signs of toxicosis can include pale gums, anemia, weakness, and even collapse. Garlic and onions are also high on the list of food cats can’t eat, so be vigilant around the kitchen and call your veterinarian at the first sight of red flags.

sick dog with food poisoning

  • Gravy

Although some types of gravy is okay for dogs and can be sold as a designated food topper for kibble, it often contains high levels of sodium, fat, and other toxic ingredients listed above. To avoid sodium poisoning and a sudden case of pancreatitis, don’t let your dog lick a plate clean.

  • Mashed Potatoes

Dogs can eat potatoes that are peeled, cooked, and plain. White potatoes can be a great source of several healthy nutrients for pets, such as magnesium, iron, and potassium. However, when it comes to holiday foods dogs can eat, mashed potatoes aren’t one of them.

In addition to the high sodium content, this dish contains a lot of milk and butter, and dairy is known to cause stomach upset in dogs. Many canines have a lactose intolerance and if your dog is one of them, it could trigger a bout of diarrhea.

  • Casseroles

From creamed corn to creamed peas, many holiday casserole dishes are heavy on dairy ingredients. At first, they may sound safe for dogs — and many of these standalone ingredients are indeed healthy — but recipes that call for milk, cream cheese, sour cream, shredded cheese, and similar dairy products are best for pets to avoid.

  • Chocolate

Many pet parents are aware that chocolate is a big “No” for dogs, but less are aware that chocolate in cats is even more dangerous. It contains a compound called theobromine that both canines and felines have a very hard time metabolizing, leading to toxic levels of byproduct waste built up in the bloodstream, which can be far more consequential in a cat’s smaller body.

Generally speaking, dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain the most theobromine and are therefore more toxic than white or lighter varieties of chocolate, but they all should be safe-gaurded far out of pets’ reach.

  • Baked goods

Baked goods — including cookies, brownies, pies, tarts, toffee, and more — use artificial sweeteners like xylitol, another compound that’s highly toxic in pets. You can find xylitol on the ingredient label of common baking products like peanut butter, honey, syrup, and pudding, as well as sugar-free candy, gum, and mints.

If you bake on Christmas morning, note that raw dough is strictly off limits for dogs. If a dog eats yeast, it’s an emergency situation that could end in fatal bloat or alcohol poisoning. Breakfast cinnamon rolls are unsafe for dogs because cinnamon can trigger vomiting, diarrhea, low blood sugar, increased or decreased heart rate, and even liver disease. It may also irritate the insides of their mouth, and if inhaled in the powder form, cause difficulty breathing.

Fruit cakes are popular around the holidays, but anything containing grapes, raisins, currants, grape jams, or other grape products can lead to kidney failure in dogs and cats. Dates are another common ingredient in holiday baked goods that are very high in sugar and fiber, often leading to episodes of diarrhea.

Finally, be aware of baked goods and holiday desserts containing nuts around dogs. Although there are some nuts safe for dogs, like peanuts, cashews, and hazlenuts, others are potentially dangerous. For instance, dogs can’t have walnuts or macadamia nuts. Walnuts are susceptible to moisture and mold that can cause major gastrointestinal issues, whereas macadamia nuts can lead to consequences such as weakness, vomiting, hypothermia, and ataxia in dogs.

  • Alcohol

If you wind down with some liquid libations, remember that even trace amounts of alcohol are poisonous to pets. It can lead to dangerous drops in blood pressure, blood sugar, and body temperature. In severe cases of alcohol poisoning, pets can experience seizures and even respiratory failure, so be extremely careful with the booze around the house.

See The Full List of Foods Dogs Can't Eat

Safe Christmas Food For Dogs

Now that we’ve covered all the plates your pup should stay away from, let’s return to the question of “what can dogs eat on Christmas”. Fortunately for Fido, there are plenty of holiday foods he can snack on in moderation. Keep in mind that human foods should only be given as occasional treats and comprise no more than 10% of your dog’s caloric intake.

  • Plain turkey

Dogs can have Christmas turkey meat if it’s plain, without seasoning, and cooked all the way through. Generally, it’s better to serve lean, white turkey to dogs because dark meat has higher fat content.

  • Raw bones*

*Technically, dogs can eat raw meat and bones, but that doesn’t mean they should. In fact, the FDA specifically advises against feeding pets raw poultry or red meat1. There’s a high risk of those foods containing harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and other pathogens that can make both pets and humans sick to the stomach. Be sure to immediately wash your hands after any time you handle raw meat so you do not contaminate other food or household objects upon contact.

  • Apples

Apples are a great example of Christmas food dogs can eat. They’re full of dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus. Cut an apple into small pieces before serving to pets so the fruit is easier to chew and digest. Also, take a moment to remove the apple seeds because they contain trace amounts of cyanide.

  • Berries

Feel free to share a bit of a berry medley with your pup, so long as it doesn’t contain grapes. Cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are good for dogs. They’re brimming with antioxidants that help strengthen the immune system, in addition to many essential vitamins and minerals. Just be mindful of their sugar content, because too many can cause diarrhea in dogs.

  • Pumpkin

If you’re making pumpkin pie this holiday season, pick up an extra can to share with your pup. Dogs can enjoy plain, canned pumpkin puree; it’s actually easier to digest than the raw flesh of the fruit, and typically far more concentrated in fiber and nutrients (but sharing one bite of your pumpkin pie is generally safe and won't hurt your pup).

Vets often recommend this holiday staple ingredient as a natural remedy for dogs with upset stomachs because the fiber effectively helps firm loose stools or aid constipation. Just be careful that your canned pumpkin doesn't contain xylitol.

dog stealing vegetable

  • Carrots

Dogs can eat carrots and enjoy many of the same benefits humans do. They’re safe to serve either cooked or raw as a low-calorie treat. Frozen carrots provide a tough chew that gently cleans plaque off teeth. You might find your pup to love the vegetable’s cool, crunchy texture, along with all the vitamins and minerals they have to offer, but be sure to introduce them slowly to reduce the risk of stomach upset.

  • Green Beans

Rich in vitamins A, B6, C, and K, green beans are great for dogs! They’re best served lightly steamed and chopped up into small pieces to prevent pets from choking or getting an upset stomach from the proteins contained within the raw vegetable.

  • Sweet Potato

Dogs can’t eat holiday desserts, but sweet potatoes are actually a healthier alternative to white potatoes and they taste super yummy to most canine palettes. Your pup will be delighted to indulge in a spoonful of sweet potato as part of their Christmas meal, just remember to steer clear of any additives like marshmallows that may contain xylitol and large amounts of sugar.

Final Thoughts

Even safe holiday foods for pets can cause stomach upset if eaten in an excessive amount, so always introduce new fare slowly and check to see if your dog exhibits any adverse reactions due to a possible food allergy. It’s also a good idea to let your guests know about any food on display that’s dangerous to pets so they don’t mistakenly treat them to something toxic.

Pro Tip: Accidents can always happen, but pet insurance is worth the value for reduced financial risk and increased peace of mind. If your dog eats Christmas food that leads to an emergency vet visit, you can rest assured that your pet will receive the critical care they need at a minimal cost to your wallet.

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Key Takeaways

  • Holiday food dogs can’t eat include ham, turkey skin, garlic, onions, yeast dough, chocolate sweets, and dishes with grapes.
  • Dogs can have Thanksgiving foods such as plain turkey meat, healthy fruits, and low-cal vegetables.
  • Pet insurance can offset the financial risk pet parents take on in high-risk settings like holiday feasts.

References:

  1. FDA, “Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets Can Be Dangerous to You” Accessed Nov. 17, 2021.
Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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