By: Cate Burnette

Because we adore our furry companions, many pet parents make the mistake of indulging our pets with human foods over the holidays. According to the PetMd website, 56 percent of the site’s readers admitted to sharing Thanksgiving table scraps with their animals.

To help you get through the holidays without guilt – and without making your cats and dogs sick – we have listed foods that can be dangerous to give to your pets and some treats that are safe. Happy Thanksgiving and healthy eating to all!

Dangerous Thanksgiving Foods for Pets

You’ll want to check your ingredients list for any prepared foods that might contain these elements used in cooking.

  • Certain kinds of nuts can be toxic to pets. Macadamia nuts and some walnuts can cause toxic poisoning resulting in seizures and neurological damage. Pistachios, almonds, peanuts and pecans may upset the digestion system of your pet and/or cause intestinal obstructions (pecan shells and acorns are well-known sources of blockages). Vomiting, a loss of muscle control and lethargy are other symptoms of nut ingestion. Learn more about nuts dangers to dogs on the Veterinary Pet Insurance website.
  • Chocolate in all its forms is highly toxic to pets. Typically, the darker the chocolate, the higher the risk of toxicity. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate contains large percentages of methylxanthines that can cause your animal to experience diarrhea, uncontrolled urination, vomiting, hyperactivity, heart arrhythmias, tremors, seizures and – if left untreated – can lead to death. Read more on chocolate toxicity here.
  • The fat and trimmings from holiday meats (ham, turkey, lamb, beef roast) may be too rich for your pets and can create the digestive issues leading to such deadly illnesses as pancreatitis and “fatty liver” disease.
  • Bones, particularly cooked chicken or turkey bones, can splinter and cause lacerations in your pet’s intestinal tract. Additionally, bones have been known to be the source of obstructions in the stomach and intestines of some animals.
  • Garlic, chives, leeks and onions contain an ingredient called thiosulphate that is toxic to dogs and cats. Ingesting even a small amount of these vegetables can result in a hemolytic anemia that destroys the animal’s red blood cells. Signs of this toxicity include digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, drooling) as well as lethargy, pale gums, exercise intolerance, elevated heart and respiratory rates, weakness and collapse.
  • Alcohol causes unsafe decreases in body temperature, heart rates, and blood pressure. Intoxicated animals can experience respiratory distress and seizures.
  • Fruit toxins from grapes, raisins, peach and plum pits are deadly to both dogs and cats. Not only can the pits cause intestinal blockages, but peach and plum pits contain cyanide that an animal can ingest should the pit be chewed or broken open. Grapes and raisins can result in acute kidney failure in dogs; in small dogs, as few as 4 grapes or raisins may have an adverse affect on your pet.
  • Milk and other dairy products can be too rich and upset your pet’s digestive system. Many small animals are lactose intolerant (lactose being the main enzyme found in cow’s milk). Diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting and abdominal pain can result.
  • Nutmeg, a spice used in baking, has a rich, spicy scent that is attractive to dogs. High levels of ingestion can lead to seizures, tremors and other neurological issues that result in death.
  • Raw eggs, accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor during baking, can be a great treat for dogs just waiting for a few crumbs. However, raw eggs may contain salmonella and E. coli bacteria, leading to painful cases of food poisoning for your pet. Additionally, excessive consumption of raw eggs can result in a biotin (water-soluble Vitamin B7) deficiency that affects your dog’s hair coat and causes skin problems.
  • Rhubarb, a vegetable used in pies, contains oxalates that prevent the absorption of calcium. This substance triggers abnormalities with the kidneys, digestive and nervous systems in animals.
  • Yeast dough, if ingested, releases gasses that swell and expand in your pet’s stomach and intestines, resulting in vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Extreme cases can lead to “bloat,” a life-threatening condition that typically can only be resolved by surgical intervention. Some yeast dough also ferments into alcohol, which contributes to signs of lethargy and alcohol toxicity.
  • Xylitol, a chemical sweetener commonly found in sugarless gum, children’s vitamins and diet candies, is extremely dangerous to your dog. Ingestion of a food product containing xylitol causes a rapid release of the hormone insulin that results in hypoglycemia and abnormally low blood glucose levels. Affected dogs experience vomiting, weakness and sometimes seizures, and, in some severe cases, liver failure. Xylitol is so toxic one stick of sugar-free gum can be poisonous to a 20-pound dog. Make sure your animals are protected by learning all you can about xylitol poisoning.

Digestive Issues

Veterinarians recognize that more animals show up at the vet clinic with digestive problems during the holidays than any other time of the year. While many of those pets have just a simple upset stomach, others are diagnosed with serious – and potentially life-threatening – diseases.

Foreign body ingestion and intestinal obstruction can be a very common problem for both dogs and cats at this time of the year. Blockages can be caused by uncooked bones, large amounts of raw meat, yeast dough, nutshells, as well as non-food items such as tinsel, wrapping paper and bows, and tree decorations.

Symptoms typically include repeated vomiting, an inability to swallow, diarrhea, dehydration and weakness. The pressure of the foreign body can cause painful stretching or bunching of the stomach and intestines and poor blood circulation to the tissues. Without immediate veterinary treatment, those tissues can die off and send the animal into shock. The walls of the organs can perforate and massive infection set in.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can be caused by feeding your pet foods high in fat. Animals that eat table scraps or who get into the garbage often find themselves with this painful condition. The symptoms of pancreatitis are similar to those of other diseases and may include a very painful abdomen, abdominal distention, lack of appetite, depression, dehydration, a ‘hunched up’ posture, vomiting, and perhaps diarrhea. Fever often accompanies these symptoms. As the disease progresses, affected pets can develop heart arrhythmias, difficulty breathing, sepsis, and body-wide hemorrhaging.

Hepatic lipidosis, also known as “fatty liver disease,” occurs mainly in cats after a change in diet or a bout with pancreatitis. Foods high in fats and carbs and low in proteins (desserts, breads, the skin and fat off meat dishes) are the chief culprits and should never be used as cat treats. Obese cats are the more typical victims of hepatic lipidosis. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, rapid weight loss, prolonged inability to eat, drooling, jaundice, depression and sitting so that the head and neck are stretched out and down. In the latter stages of this disease, the animal will collapse, go into shock, and die.

What CAN Pets Eat During the Holidays?

There are some holiday foods you can share with your pets as long as they don’t overindulge.

Baked or boiled turkey, skinless and boneless without any seasoning, is a terrific source of protein that both dogs and cats enjoy.

Yams, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes can be boiled or roasted and fed either mashed or cubed to your animals. Just ensure these veggies are free of butter, brown sugar, gravy and other seasonings.

Brown or white rice makes for a nice addition to a pet’s diet as long as it is bland and not covered in fatty gravy or seasonings.

If your pet is all right eating cheese and some dairy, a small serving of macaroni and cheese can be the perfect treat.

Cooked or raw veggies (carrots, spinach, green beans) add extra vitamins and minerals to your pet’s diet without causing digestive issues.

Adding a cooked egg to your pet’s breakfast (minus salt and pepper) brings in additional protein as well as flavor to mealtime.

Enjoy the holidays with your friends, families and pets without overly indulging the furry members of your family!


Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.

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