Pet care over the holidays can be complicated—everything is shining, glowing, and irresistibly tempting to our pets. You might have spent a good portion of the last few weeks trying to convince your dog that the scented candles aren’t food or your cat that the Christmas tree ornaments (and the tree itself) are not, in fact, toys you set up just for them. By the time Christmas dinner rolls around, you’re probably looking forward to a relaxing meal with the most important people in your life. It’s entirely likely that meal will include your pets either subtly or not-so-subtly begging for a piece of the pie (so to speak), so we’re taking some of the stress off your shoulders by letting you know what you can (and can’t) safely share with your furry best friend.
Before we start, remember that the toxicity of any given ingredient will depend on the amount consumed and the size of the offending pet—if your adult German shepherd sneaks a single slice of onion, you probably don’t need to drop everything and rush to the vet. That said, it’s always best to err on the side of caution with these things, so we recommend avoiding toxic ingredients as much as possible.
Planning Your Dinner Accordingly
It probably won’t surprise you that everyone loves your dog or cat as much as you do. It also might not surprise you that your pet may have learned to beg for food from anyone who isn’t you, especially if you’re diligent about not feeding table scraps year-round. To make sure your pet doesn’t end up eating more than they should or something they shouldn’t, tell your guests to either refrain or ask before giving your favourite fluff ball any treats—explain the hazards to drive the point home! In addition, make sure your guests are conscious of where they put down their plates, since a plate of turkey on a low coffee table is just begging to get swiped.
The amount of treats your pet gets on these special occasions matters; ideally, anything that counts as a “treat” shouldn’t make up more than 10% of their daily calories. If you’re worried about not being able to visualize how much food they’ve been getting from a little taste here and there, we recommend putting out a plate for your pet at the dinner table! This way, rather than all your guests sneaking tidbits under the table, everyone can put their contribution on the plate, and you can give the entirety to your pet at the end of the meal. This allows you to easily monitor how much they’ll be getting and remove any food that could upset their stomach or worse.
Not sure what’s safe to share? Keep reading for our run-down of common Christmas foods and what to avoid!
Holiday Foods You Should Avoid Feeding Your Dog or Cat
1. Which Holiday Drinks Are Bad for Pets?
The guests have arrived, boots have been stomped free of snow, and the coats hung with care: the next step for the host is to offer drinks! Unfortunately, most holiday drinks are abjectly terrible for our pets, so be sure to warn your guest to only put down their drink either where they can attend it or where it’s not at risk of an animal snoot checking it out.
Alcohol: Alcohol is extremely toxic to cats and dogs, but as with everything on this list, the level of toxicity will depend on the amount consumed and the size of the offending pet. Best to keep any alcoholic drinks away from prying noses! (Besides, there are lots of things our pets can appreciate, but the flavour profile of that nice bottle of pinot noir isn’t one of them.)
Eggnog: This creamy treat is a crowd favourite around the holidays, so don’t be surprised if your pets (especially your cats!) want to dive straight in. You’ll have to be a Grinch on this one: every part of this drink, from the cream and the eggs to the nutmeg sprinkled on top, is potentially upsetting for your pet. Not to mention, most eggnogs get a little splash of rum added in, making this a well-rounded “best not risk it” addition to the list. (We can’t be killjoys all the time though, so if you have the right ingredients and some extra time on your hands, check out our “Dog-Nog” recipe for a pup-friendly eggnog treat!)
Hot Chocolate: Most people know chocolate can be lethal to our pets, so this one should be easy to avoid, but make sure to remind any children scampering around to not let your pet sneak even a little taste!
Coffee: Our pets are much more susceptible to caffeine than we are, so keep an eye on your mugs of joe—this goes for other caffeinated beverages as well, like tea, soda, and energy drinks.
Almost all “no’s”? How boring is that? Let your BFF join in on cocktail hour with a little bowl of bone broth instead!
2. Which Main-Course Christmas Meals Are Dangerous for Pets?
It’s easy to want to dig into the main course and sneak a little treat to the pet prowling under the table without thinking too closely—after all, drinks are full of obvious toxins, but what’s wrong with meat and vegetables? Unfortunately, main courses can be tricky because it’s rare that we’re eating just roast vegetables or mashed potatoes—those taters could have a heavy dose of butter, and the vegetables could have been roasted with onions and garlic. Be mindful of all the ingredients that went into a dish, not just the most obvious ones. (As a bonus, if you’re eating at someone else’s home this Christmas, this is an easy way to get to the heart of their secret recipes—you’re doing this for the good of the pets, after all.)
Turkey, Roast Beef, and Ham: The main event is tempting to everyone! Try choosing the leanest part of the animal if you’re treating the local furry vacuum. Avoid giving turkey skin (it’s just pure fat!) and definitely don’t let your pet near the turkey drippings. Ham can be quite salty, so don’t let your pet pig out on it.
If you’re settling down to eat in the dining room and worried about a sneaky cat jumping up on the counter to snack, remember to cover the food or put it away before they can get into it.
Stuffing: Stuffing falls under the old faithful for anyone giving advice: it depends. Stuffing is challenging to give a definitive yes or no to because it tends to be the most variable recipe between families. If it has raisins, then it’s a hard no: grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in both cats and dogs, and it doesn’t take much. Another thing to consider is if it’s loaded with onions or spices, then take the pass. A small amount of garlic is okay for pets, but if you’re at all unsure of what’s in there, then it’s best to just skip it altogether. If there are no raisins, onions, or significant spices in the stuffing (if we’re being honest, we’re not sure what your stuffing is made of if not these ingredients) then we still recommend feeding it in moderation—after all, it’s carb-heavy, which is still not ideal for pets.
Cranberry Sauce: Another “it depends”: if it comes from a can, it has too much sugar for your pet; homemade usually isn’t a whole lot better, so while your grandma’s recipe might be slightly easier on their tummies, it’s still probably not the best treat. Moderation is key for this one!
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy: Gravy is mostly fat, so we’re going to say no to this one. If your recipe for mashed potatoes calls for lots of butter, that’ll also strike it from your pet’s dinner plate.
Vegetables: It’s tempting to think vegetables would be an easy go-to for under-the-table feeding, especially since you might see some of those same vegetables listed in your pets’ commercial food. Sweet potatoes and yams, for example, are a great supplement for our pets—but Christmas candied yams are full of sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon: all things that can make your pet sick! If you really want to give your pet a dish of their own, we recommend setting aside some broccoli, carrots, yams or sweet potatoes and roasting them plain (without seasoning or oil).
3. Which Desserts Are Toxic for Pets?
No doubt your dog has been overly attentive while you’ve been prepping your Christmas baking, and your cat has been dreaming of dancing sugar-plums throughout their multiple naps of the day. But if you’ve been reading through this far, you’re probably prepared for what’s coming: Christmas desserts are sweet and delectably spiced. In other words, a great treat for us, but not so much for our pets. We’ll go over the standard Christmas treats here, but if you’re looking to make something extra special for your pooch this holiday, check out our blog on DIY dog-friendly holiday recipes!
Gingerbread: Even if it weren’t for the sugar, gingerbread is full of nutmeg and cinnamon, so this will be a no.
Christmas Pudding OR Fruitcake: We’re sorry to dash your dreams if you were hoping to pawn off some of these, er, delectable Christmas treats under the table, but both of these desserts have raisins (again, so toxic to your pets), lots of sugar (or worse, the artificial sweetener Xylitol), and brandy or rum. If you’re going to try and politely avoid these desserts, you’ll have to find a way to do it other than slipping it to your pet.
Pumpkin Pie: Pumpkin on its own is a healthy and tasty treat for pets, but pumpkin pie is loaded with sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Hopefully, we’re all on board with understanding these ingredients, but if you’re not, then remember cinnamon can cause gastric upsets in pets in large quantities and nutmeg is toxic to dogs and cats. While a small amount may not create any problems, why take the chance?
What Can My Pets Safely Consume This Holiday?
We don’t mean to be spoilsports here—we know that treating your pet can be half the fun of holiday feasting, so we’ve added in a few tips to make sure you can include your four-legged friends in your favourite meals.
Dog Nog: We’ve said it once, but we’ll say it again: this dog-friendly version of eggnog will ensure your canine friend never realizes they’re being denied some other treat! Not to mention, it can be a great source of entertainment for your guests to watch your pooch try and lick every last drop out of this delectable drink.
White turkey meat: lean, white turkey meat is a perfectly healthy and acceptable treat for your pet.
Homemade cranberry sauce: a little bit won’t hurt, so long as the primary ingredient is actually cranberries, not sugar!
Plain roasted vegetables: so long as they’re roasted without oil, salt, or other spices, veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are a tasty and healthy treat!
Whipped parsnips: these are a pet-friendly substitute for mashed potatoes! Remember to feed them in moderation though, as they can be high in starch and natural sugars.
Need more? We’ve got you covered, from raw Christmas puddings to cookies for Santa Paws!
Creating an Emergency Action Plan
The old adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” could be a little harsh in this scenario, but there is a kernel of wisdom there: when you are under unexpected stress, a logical sequence of actions can be difficult to follow off the top of your head. While we’re hoping your beloved fur baby stays out of trouble this holiday season, sometimes it’s best to prepare for the worst. We made an emergency pet information form that you can download and print. Remember to fill it out with all the necessary information before the holiday action! Here are some of the details below!
1. Pet Poison Helpline
Have the Pet Poison Helpline number printed and posted where you won’t have to scramble to find it: +1 (855) 764-7661. We recommend putting it on the fridge—that way everyone can access it if you need to start delegating tasks. This is a 24/7 hotline, and they can run the calculations comparing your pet's weight with what and how much they ate and determine if you can continue with at-home monitoring or if you need to go to an emergency veterinary clinic. There is a reasonable per-incident fee (follow-up calls are included), but we promise you: when you need this service, the last thing you will care about is a nominal fee. If you have pet insurance, some companies offer this service as part of your plan, so check with your provider for details.
Be prepared to have the following information available when you make the call:
The weight of your pet (weigh them before Christmas dinner, and write the number down! You won’t remember this if you are panicking).
If they got into a commercial treat, chocolate or otherwise, keep the wrapper on hand—the vet will want to know the ingredients. How much cocoa was in that chocolate can be the defining detail of how serious the situation is.
What time they ate the offending item, or when you first noticed symptoms. This will be important to track the progress of the toxin. If the symptoms suddenly change or worsen, note the time again.
2. Emergency Vet
Have the phone number and address of your closest emergency vet clinic printed and available. If you know your pet has ingested a dangerous and potentially lethal amount of toxin (e.g. an entire chocolate bar), there is no need to call the Poison Helpline first: call the vet and tell them you have an emergency, or start heading to your nearest emergency vet. Time is of the essence here. If you’re not sure how much they ate, but you're starting to see symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea? This means they ate enough for it to be a problem, and it’s been long enough that the toxins are starting to take effect. Don’t wait! Get to your vet ASAP.
3. Monitor Behaviour
When a cat tastes something funky—whether it’s a serious toxin or not—they turn on the waterworks and start drooling like nobody’s business. This isn’t necessarily an emergency, as they could just be trying to flush out an unpleasant taste in their mouth. Monitor them closely (unless you know what they got into was toxic, then contact the vet immediately); if you start to see vomiting, diarrhea, twitching, seizures, or any difficulty breathing (laboured, wheezing, or hyperventilating), call the Pet Poison Helpline and be prepared to go to the emergency clinic.
4. Induce Vomiting Only When Advised by a Professional:
There is a misconception when it comes to making your pet vomit after you suspect they’ve ingested a poison. There are several reasons this might not be recommended, but the main reason is this: most at-home methods for inducing vomiting can cause some other kind of medical concern, and there’s no guarantee it’ll work the first time, particularly with cats. So you might run into the scenario where you’ve tried giving your pet something to make them vomit, but they don’t, you wait a bit and try again. And again. And again. And now it’s been an hour, your pet still has that toxin in them plus whatever other irritant you’ve been using! You could have been at the vet by now! Even if they throw up, they will not get 100% of the toxin out, so a vet visit might be necessary anyway!
As with everything, there is some situational wiggle room here. If you live more than 2-3 hours from an emergency vet clinic and the Pet Poison Helpline has given you the go-ahead to induce vomiting, get your pet and a helper into the car and start heading to the hospital now, and try to get them to vomit on the way. Bring a bucket or tray of some sort to catch the throw-up if it happens. Not only will this avoid a messy car, but the vet will likely want to see what and how much came up (it’s gross but true!) as it may help to determine the next necessary steps in treatment.
5. Heimlich Maneuver
Familiarize yourself with abdominal thrusts (aka the Heimlich maneuver) for dogs and cats in case they start choking. There won’t be time to watch a video if this happens, so best to be prepared.
Finally, one last adage: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Take a deep breath before you call your vet or hotline. Make sure you have all of your information ready on hand. Being flustered and spitting out every detail of the incident like you’re trying to perform the world’s most stressed-out rap won’t help the vet get to the bottom of the issue as efficiently as they can. If you can’t compose yourself (we understand: a sick pet can be terrifying), then get one of your guests to make the call and drive you to the vet. Calm, collected thinking will make the process easier, faster, safer, and above all, the most beneficial to your pet.
Be Merry and Bright
While caution and preparation can ease the load off a worried mind, this wasn’t meant to stress you out. The holidays are a beautiful time to reconnect with the ones we love and those who love us—which obviously includes our pets! Treat them in the way they deserve: decadence and pampering, but in a healthy and responsible way that will ensure you get to celebrate with them for years to come.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Red Dog Blue Kat!