You're back home from a fantastic Christmas dinner with your family and putting away leftover turkey, ham, stuffing (or dressing), greens and more — and your pet is begging for a bite. Do you share? If so, what foods from your holiday feast are safe for a dog or cat, if anything?
According to Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, board certified veterinary nutritionist, while we may want to give our pets special holiday food treats, they can get just as much enjoyment out of spending time with us. She adds, “Like taking a walk, getting brushed, playing fetch. “So, it’s good to also consider non-food related activities as a treat for our pets during the rest of the year.”
Don’t worry though, there are vet-approved Christmas leftovers you can share with your pets.
“Of course, there's so many different menus,” says Mark Verdino, DVM, vice president and chief veterinary staff of North Shore Animal League America. “If I think about what I would typically have on the plate, turkey in moderation certainly, obviously nontoxic, some vegetables are nontoxic. I would certainly try to avoid things that have heavy sauces and stuff like that. It could just upset their stomach.”
These veterinarians agreed the following holiday foods are safe for your pets, assuming they have no medical issues:
Small amount of cooked turkey — 1/4 cup is about 60 calories
Cooked or raw vegetables such as green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, lettuce
Fruit — apples, pumpkin, banana, oranges, strawberries, blueberries or melon
If your pet has any medical issues, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about appropriate treats. As far as people food that should be avoided at all costs, Freeman shares this list:
Onions/garlic/leeks/chives (Allium species)
Raw meat, bones or eggs
Bones of any kind (raw or cooked)
Xylitol (in many gums, candies, baked goods, toothpaste)
High fat, rich foods
“Some people have raisins in their stuffing or in breads or other goodies,” adds Verdino. Raisins, in particular, can be quite toxic to some animals. Others eat them and don't have an issue, but some typically get serious problems. They can cause renal failure or even death.”
It’s also important, if you have a dog, to secure your trash to keep your pup safe. Oftentimes, Verdino explains, “The dog rips into the trash bag and eats the whole turkey carcass bones and all, and they can end up with pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas and it can be quite dangerous. Or obviously, if an animal were to eat the bones, that can be a problem, they can get stuck in there.”
And when you do share leftovers, keep portion size in mind, as pets are much smaller than humans and calories add up quickly. “The goal is to have all treats (commercial pet treats, table food, rawhides and other chews) account for less than 10 percent of daily calorie needs to avoid unbalancing the diet,” says Freeman. She recommends checking the Pet Nutrition Alliance website to estimate your pet's daily calorie needs, and then give your pet 10 pets of their calories a day in treats.
An active 25-pound dog needs about 600 calories/day — treats would be 60 calories (inactive dog would be closer to 40 calories/day maximum)
Active 70-pound Lab needs about 1300 calories/day — treats would be 130 calories (inactive dog would be closer to 70 calories/day maximum)
10-pound cat needs about 216 calories/day (maximum of 22 calories/day in treats)
Another key to avoiding overindulgence and illness? Let your guests know — or the other guests if you’re at someone’s house — that they really shouldn’t feed your pet table scraps during Christmas dinner.
“Your options are to keep Spot in a different room so he can't get in everyone's face at the table,” says Verdino, “or just tell your guests, ‘Even if it looks at you with big, sad eyes, please don't give him anything.’”