10 Foods to Keep Away from Your Dogs This Holiday Season (and 10 That are Safe to Eat!)
The holiday season is upon us once again. Anyone with a beloved pet naturally wants to include their furry companions in the festivities. And no holiday merrymaking is complete without an ample supply of food.
Unfortunately, not all human food is good for dogs. However, several surprisingly common holiday staples are dangerous to feed your pets. Do not let an emergency vet visit put a damper on your celebrations. Here are the 10 foods to keep away from your dogs this festive season.
The Worst Holiday Foods for Dogs
Do your dog a favor and keep these foods far away from their doggy bowl.
1. Ham (and Bacon)
Why It’s Bad: High Sodium Content, High Fat Content
The holiday season is pretty much ham season. But while ham is a protein and dogs need protein for muscle building, building bone, body mass, and supporting nerve function, among others, there are just better protein sources out there than ham. And no, we do not mean bacon.
Store-bought ham and bacon have high sodium content. Sodium in large quantities is bad for humans. It’s the same with dogs. Not only that, but ham also has a higher fat content than other meats. This makes it more difficult for dogs to digest.
Too much salt and fat can be toxic for dogs and can cause:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Abnormal fluid accumulation
- Kidney damage
- Other digestive issues
So save the ham for your sandwich and avoid feeding it to your dog.
Why It's Bad: Myristicin
Nutmeg is such a Christmas scent. One whiff is enough to bolster the festive ambiance. This warm spice is used to flavor many different kinds of food, from meats to potatoes to sauces and baked goods.
Sadly, nutmeg contains a compound called Myristicin, an anticholinergic drug. In very simple terms, it prevents specific nerves from firing. It’s highly toxic to dogs.
What happens if a dog eats nutmeg? If a high enough quantity is consumed, it can cause:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
These signs can last up to 2 days. The risks are higher for smaller dogs than bigger ones. While low doses aren’t much cause for worry, it’s not unheard of for dogs to still experience some diarrhea or vomiting after taking a bite of that nutmeg-infused cookie on the counter. So play it safe and just keep the nutmeg shaker and baked goods away from reaching paws.
3. Nuts, especially Macadamia
Why It's Bad: Potential choking hazard, High Fat content
While not all nuts are bad for dogs, it’s essential to know that nuts of almost all kinds have high-fat content. On top of the obvious potential choking hazard issues, eating too much can lead to:
- Pancreatic issues
Signs of nut poisoning in dogs include:
Which nuts are bad for dogs?
- Macadamia – toxic but not usually lethal. As little as 2 pieces per pound of body weight can already cause temporary paralysis of the hind legs
- Walnuts – non-toxic but high in fat content and can also cause obstruction
- Hickory Nuts – non-toxic but can cause upset stomach and obstruction
The following are safer, but consuming large quantities regularly can still result in weight gain, upset stomach, and pancreatitis.
- Brazil Nuts
4. Grapes (and Raisins)
Why It's Bad: unsure, but the side effects are nasty at best and lethal at worst
Grapes are always on the list of the most dangerous foods for your dog, regardless of the season. Can a single grape kill a dog? The short answer is yes. Experts are still not 100% sure why this otherwise healthy fruit for humans can hurt dogs so severely. But even one small piece of grape or raisin can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, kidney failure and death in canines. Of course, this can vary per dog size. For instance, one grape won’t likely be as toxic to a Great Dane as it is to a chihuahua. But best not to tempt fate. Grapes and dogs just don’t go together.
What can you do if your dog has eaten a grape? Look out for signs like:
- Decreased appetite
- Sudden weakness
- Increased thirst
- Decreased urination
- Abdominal pain
- Why It's Bad: Theobromine and Caffeine
Who doesn’t love chocolate? People of all ages love this delectable treat. Unfortunately, dogs can’t partake of the so-called “food of the gods.” Why can’t your dog eat chocolate? The answer is theobromine. This bitter compound is present in cacao seeds. Dogs cannot metabolize it effectively, making it is highly poisonous to them.
What happens when a dog eats chocolate? It can vary depending on dog size and the amount and type of chocolate consumed. However, some of the most common signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased heart rate
In very severe cases, ingestion of chocolate can result in muscle tremors, seizures, heart failure, and death in dogs.
Just how much chocolate kills a dog? Depending on the type of chocolate, it can take as little as 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight to kill a dog. To put that into context, an average adult French Bulldog weighs 20 to 28 pounds. A single-size Snickers bar is roughly 1.86 ounces. So eating just 2-3 bars can seriously rough them up.
Why It's Bad: High Fat content, risk of salmonella
Eggnog is one of those traditional holiday drinks. Made with eggs, milk, sugar, cream, and alcohol, this treat is packed with calories and fat. Most homemade recipes of this drink use raw eggs, making it a food poisoning risk for humans.
For dogs? Eggnog’s high-fat content ingredients can cause:
- Inflammation of the pancreas
7. Dairy Products
Why It's Bad: Lactose
Just like people can be lactose-intolerant, dogs can be, too. They have low levels of lactase which is needed to break down the sugars in dairy. Because of this, giving them milk and other dairy products can:
- Trigger allergies
- Cause vomiting and diarrhea
- Change the color and consistency of their stool
- Make them gassy
- Cause digestive issues
So maybe hold off on the cheese for now.
Why It's Bad: Caffeine
Coffee contains caffeine, another substance toxic to canines. Can a cup of coffee kill a dog? How much caffeine is dangerous for dogs? According to the American College of Veterinary Pharmacists, toxic caffeine consumption for dogs is at 63mg per pound of body weight. According to the USDA, a typical cup of coffee (8 fl oz, or 237g) has almost 95mg of caffeine. So while a cup may not necessarily kill a bigger dog, it can still be life-threatening for smaller pups.
Signs of caffeine toxicity in dogs:
- Loss of muscle control
- Gastrointestinal Upset
- Why It's Bad: Ethanol, Hops
Sure, the rum cake sounds positively delicious. But it may not be the best holiday treat to share with your dog.
The intoxicating agent in beers, wines, and liquors is ethanol. It has the same effect on dogs as it does on humans. Even the hops that are used to brew beer can lead to alcohol intoxication in dogs.
What happens if a dog drinks alcohol? A common sign of intoxication is vomiting. It can also result in:
- Unsteady feet
- Low body temperature
- Difficulty in breathing
- Increased blood acidity
- Low blood sugar
In extreme cases, alcohol intoxication in dogs can lead to seizures, coma, and death. But how much alcohol is toxic to dogs? According to the Australian Animal Poisons Helpline, the lethal dose is 5.5 to 7.9 g per kilogram of 100% ethanol (2.75 to 4 g per pound). One milliliter of ethanol is equivalent to 0.789 g.
Why It's Bad: Because Xylitol. That's it.
Xylitol is a natural substance often used as a substitute for sugar. It’s present in some fruits like berries and plums and vegetables like lettuce and corn. Even mushrooms contain xylitol in some amount.
It has gained widespread popularity not only because of its low glycemic index, but also because it can fight dental plaques. You may find it in your sugar-free gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, OTC nasal sprays, allergy medicines, mouth lozenges, and many more. Except for a mild laxative effect, xylitol is safe for human consumption.
Not so for dogs.
Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.
Why is xylitol dangerous for your pet canines? When dogs ingest xylitol, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This triggers the rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. That, in turn, leads to a quick drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This entire process can happen in 10 minutes to an hour after ingestion.
Left untreated, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening for dogs. It can result in:
- Liver failure
The xylitol content in commercially available products varies, so it’s hard to say just how much xylitol is toxic to dogs. But it has been reported that 0.05 g of xylitol per pound of body weight can already result in hypoglycemia. For example, gums usually contain 0.22 – 1 g of xylitol per piece.
There may be a lot of food that isn’t meant for your doggos. But that doesn’t mean they can only stick to their usual kibble during the holidays. A little treat is not so bad to have. So which people foods are safe for dogs then?
The Best Holiday Foods for Dogs
Bring on the merry with the following human foods that are safe for dog consumption.
Turkey is a common ingredient in many commercially-available dog foods. So yes, turkey is safe to eat for dogs. It has protein, riboflavin, and phosphorous making it a nutrient-rich treat. However, a few things to keep in mind when feeding your dog some turkey:
- The turkey must be cooked plain. So no Thanksgiving leftovers, please. Those are rarely ever plain.
- Don’t give them the skin.
- Feed-in small quantities.
- Make sure there are no bones in the meat.
- Do not make it a daily treat unless feeding under the guidance of a veterinarian.
2. Green Beans
Chop them, steam them, feed them raw. You can even get the canned kind. Plain green beans are safe for dogs to eat. Sure, it may not sound very appetizing to us humans, but for our pets, it’s a great healthy treat. So save some beans when you whip up your famous Green Bean Casserole. Your dog will love you for it.
What to look out for:
- Do not feed canned beans with added salt.
- Do not cook the green beans with oils, spices, garlic, or onion.
- Chop them into smaller pieces so they’re not a choking hazard.
Carrots are low-calorie snacks high in fiber, beta carotene, and vitamin A, and this crunchy orange veggie is an excellent treat for dogs.
How many carrots can you give your dog? The general rule of thumb (as with all other treats) is that it shouldn’t be more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. For example, a puppy can eat 2 or 3 baby carrots just fine.
What to remember when feeding carrots to your dogs:
- Chop them up into smaller pieces to avoid potential choking hazards.
- Lightly cook or steam the carrot as dogs cannot metabolize the vegetable’s nutrients when eaten raw.
- Feed-in moderation.
Cranberries are holiday food favorites, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. A lot of people also enjoy them dried as part of their trail mix. This fruit is packed with antioxidants and has many health benefits. Another great thing about it is cranberries are perfectly safe for dogs to eat.
When it comes to cranberries, the question isn’t whether it’s safe for dogs to eat but, rather, would your dog even like to eat it? Some dogs aren’t particularly fond of cranberries’ tart flavor.
Here are some cranberry feeding suggestions if your dog doesn’t mind the taste.
- Feed-in moderation. Overeating can lead to an upset stomach.
- Make sure your dog can handle the small fruit. Raw cranberries can be a choking hazard.
- When feeding dried cranberries, make sure the package does not contain raisins. You also need to ensure that no xylitol was used to process it.
You may also just want to skip cranberry sauce for the simple reason that it may contain other ingredients that are potentially harmful to your pet.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes have a lot of health benefits for humans. And they’re good for dogs too! They’re a good source of dietary fiber, which is helpful for good digestive function. They are less likely to cause digestive upset compared to other food. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, and iron.
When giving sweet potatoes to your dog:
- Remove the skin.
- Cook it properly.
- Never feed your dog a raw sweet potato. It’s difficult for them to chew and can result in intestinal blockage.
How much sweet potato can you give a dog? Start with small servings of a couple of ounces. Less for toy breeds. You can give a bit more if your dog can tolerate the first serving.
A word of caution, do not give sweet potatoes to a diabetic dog. The high glycemic index is not ideal for them.
Pumpkin is safe for dogs to eat, whether they’re raw or cooked. Dogs can even eat pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin is some sort of superfood for dogs. It has many essential micronutrients and fiber that are excellent for your furry companions.
When serving pumpkin:
- Serve it plain.
- Give your dog plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Feed-in moderation.
7. Plain Yogurt
When it comes to yogurt and dogs, it’s not a question of can they but should they. Dogs can eat yogurt for sure. Yogurt isn’t toxic to them. But, yogurt has lactose which many dogs cannot digest.
So if you do opt to give your pet some yogurt, choose:
- Non or Low Fat
Greek and regular yogurt are mostly fine. But always check the ingredients to ensure you’re not giving your dog something potentially harmful.
How much yogurt is safe for dogs to eat? A spoonful or two a day on top of their food is usually okay.
Not all fruits are created equal in doggy eyes (see: grapes), here are some of the best ones that are safe for your dogs.
Just remember that some fruits are high in sugar, so always feed in moderation.
9. Xylitol-Free Peanut Butter
We’ve talked about the dangers of xylitol and nuts. But peanut butter is a good source of protein for dogs. So if you want to give them this tasty treat, by all means, go ahead. However, make sure that the peanut butter does not contain xylitol, chocolate, or added sugar. So many popular commercial brands contain all those ingredients, so keep a keen eye out.
How much peanut butter is safe for dogs to eat? Generally, ½ to 1 teaspoon per day is alright, depending on dog size.
10. Low-Fat Cheese
Yes, cheese is a dairy product that contains lactose and fat. And yes, low-fat cheese exists. Mozzarella and cottage cheese both have low fat and low sodium content. Cottage cheese also has lower lactose, reducing the risk of intestinal upset. Even cheddar with its low salt content is okay.
So if you’re planning a charcuterie cheese board for the holidays, maybe set aside some cottage cheese for the doggo to enjoy. And again, feed in moderation.
Dogs do not digest food the same way people do. Eating the wrong kind can quickly lead to health problems and even death in severe cases. Do they need all the food listed above? The short answer is no. But a treat now and then is okay. Food is a big part of the holiday festivities for humans. So wanting your dog to share the merriment (and the goodies) with you is normal. Just remember, always check what you’re feeding your pet. And always feed in moderation.