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Holiday Food Dangers for Pets

​We all look forward to the holidays – the travel, family times, visits with friends, and of course, the food! OMG – the food – generally lots of it and stuff we generally don’t routinely eat. Most people are used to eating foods high in fat and cooked with a lot of spices and salt. So, aside from the danger of over-indulging and having to loosen the belt a notch, people rarely get anything but a mild case of indigestion after a big holiday meal.

​Unfortunately, dogs (and cats) usually respond differently to dietary indiscretion – that is, excess calories or high-fat foods (e.g. gravy, turkey skin).

​Animals in general are creatures of habit. For the most part, a pet's diet is usually the same on a daily basis. Although this may seem boring to most people, it is quite natural and healthy for a pet. When a change in the diet happens abruptly, such as in a generous helping of table scraps, it is not uncommon to see severe indigestion and bloating - or in severe cases - pancreatitis! That is why when switching from one pet food brand to another kind, it should be done gradually over a period of a week or two.

​Probably of more significance is the effect of supplemental table scraps on the older pet. Many senior pets, especially those with age-related heart, liver or kidney disease, are unable to handle foods high in fat, protein and salt. Turkey, stuffing, and gravy are classic examples of these ingredients! For instance, the amount of salt that humans usually cook with can easily be enough to push an older, at-risk dog into congestive heart failure

​Every year the day after big holiday meals my emergency service saw at least one case of pancreatitis. This occurs when a dog eats food it is not used to eating, specifically food high in fat. The pancreas, the organ responsible for producing the digestive enzymes necessary to digest and process fat in the diet, goes into overdrive and the animals become deathly ill. If not treated aggressively, the patient may die.

​If you feel compelled to give your pet some extra holiday treats I would suggest giving only a small amountof skinless turkey breast, chopped into small pieces and added to their normal diet. Alcohol, stuffing, candied yams and apple pie are definitely on the “Forbidden” list. Do yourself and your pet a favor, and leave off the spices, salt and gravy!

​In addition to the tips above, don’t let your pets get into the post-holiday feast trash. That is a sure way to end up with a visit to the Veterinary ER clinic and a horrible way to end your festivities!

​Below is a list of forbidden foods (not just during the holidays, but year round!):


Foods never to feed your pets:

Turkey skin, drippings and gravy

Turkey Twine

Turkey Bones

Ham bones

Corn on the cob




Raisins and Grapes


Fat trimmings and all fatty foods

Bread dough

Any chocoloate!




Douglas Mader, MS, DVM

Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Canine/Feline)

Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Reptile/Amphibian)

Diplomate, European College of Zoological Medicine (Herpetology)

Human-Animal Bond Certified

Author of The Vet at Noah’s Ark: Stories of Survival from an Inner-City Animal Hospital (affiliate link)