Pet Talk: Safe Holiday Snacking for your Pet

Many people spread holiday cheer through tasty treats, warm beverages, and feasts, but this type of celebration may not be fit for Fido. In fact, many “people foods” can cause health problems in cats and dogs. Dr. Christine Rutter, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained what foods are unsafe for your pet.

“Grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, peppers, garlic, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, alcoholic beverages, and fatty foods, such as gravy, buttery sauces, fatty cuts of meat, sausage, or oily fish are the biggest mistakes I see over the holidays,” Rutter said.

She explained that grapes and raisins can cause kidney injury, which may not make the pet sick until two to four days later. Additionally, large quantities of onions, peppers, and garlic can damage a pet’s red blood cells, which can lead to conditions such as anemia. Rutter also said caffeine and chocolate are toxic to pets, and fatty foods can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis, which may be evident immediately or up to seven days later after consuming the fatty food. Pet owners should also avoid placing wrapped food gifts, including alcoholic beverages, within the pet’s reach to avoid any health concerns.

“In addition, pet owners should be aware of sugar-free products that contain xylitol because they are also quite toxic to pets,” Rutter said. “Veterinarians most commonly think of sugar-free gum when considering xylitol intoxication, but it is becoming more common for xylitol to be used as a sugar substitute in baked goods, both purchased from a store and made at home.”

Though there are many foods that should be kept out of your pet’s reach, there are still healthy options if you want to treat your pet this holiday season. Rutter said to consider vegetables, fruit, poultry, or grilled or dry baked whitefish as a treat for your dog or cat. Some vegetables Rutter recommended include carrots, green beans, peas, asparagus, and eggplant. She also recommended fruits such as seedless melons, apples, pears, and bananas.

If you decide to give your pet a tasty treat, Rutter emphasized to keep your pet’s diet as close to normal as possible. Give treats in moderation, and be sure to check with your veterinarian if you have any questions about your pet’s diet.

“Just like a sudden diet change can cause gastrointestinal unrest in people, the same is true in pets,” Rutter said. “The stress of visiting family, excited children, parties, and a schedule change makes keeping your pet’s diet consistent more important.”

Lastly, there are also holiday hazards outside your pet’s food bowl. Dogs and cats may try to climb or knock down decorations, or maybe even chew on ornaments or electrical wires. But before you blame your pet for bad behavior, Rutter said pets may be more stressed than we realize during the holiday season.

“Pets are more prone to naughty behavior during the holiday season because of the extra stress,” Rutter said. “Anxiety in animals manifests as atypical behavior. A dog who never gets in trouble may decide to shred a fleet of storm trooper toys and ingest a tin of cookies. In conclusion, maintaining routines, giving pets lots of exercise, dietary consistency, and keeping pets away from non-pet-proof areas is ideal year-round, not just during the holiday season.”

Though the holiday season is an exciting time for many, keep in mind that your pets may not have the same experience. Additionally, the same foods you enjoy may not be suitable for your pets this holiday season. Be sure to consult your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet’s diet.

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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