Common Christmas Foods that are Dangerous To Pets

Last Updated 1 NOV 2019

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

'Tis the season to be jolly! With the festive season upon us, it's time to untangle the Christmas lights, get together with family, and eat an embarrassing amount of delicious food.

However, while you're clinking your champers and popping the Christmas crackers, it's important to be aware which delicious festive foods pose a danger to our furry friends.

Human food is for humans

Mmm, Christmas food... Roast turkey, king prawns, ham off the bone, fruit cake, pavlova - is there anything more comforting? While you prepare your tastebuds for a comfort-food-extravaganza, it's important to remember that human food should only be eaten by humans. Some popular festive foods that should be kept well out of reach of your furry friend include:

Ham and fatty offcuts

It may seem strange that dogs (who many believe to be carnivores) can have a bad reaction to eating meat, but the culprit here is an overdose of fat, which can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is actually one of the most common illnesses that vet clinics are inundated with at Christmas time.

Why does this happen? Leftover ham, sausages, or the fatty offcuts from a Christmas turkey contain a lot more fat than your dog's body is used to ingesting in one go. In an effort to digest all this fat, the pancreas can quickly go into overdrive and become painful, inflamed, and swollen in a condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can cause vomiting, nausea, dehydration, and worsening illness. It can even leave your dog with a lifelong sensitivity to fat, and you will be left having to feed them a special therapeutic diet for the rest of their life. Best to resist the urge to 'treat' your dog and save the meat for your own leftover lunch on Boxing Day!

Macadamia nuts

Whether they're part of a fruit cake, within a delicious slab of boutique chocolate, or just as a tasty treat on their own, macadamia nuts are highly poisonous to dogs. While the exact cause of the toxicosis is unknown, signs of macadamia nut poisoning include an inability to walk or stand, wobbly gait, tremors, hyperthermia, and vomiting. If encased in their shell, they can also pose a risk as a gastrointestinal foreign body. Yikes! Be sure to keep these crunchy morsels out of reach!

Grapes, sultanas and raisins

Often found on Christmas day within a fruit cake, fruit platter, or as part of a spiced meat sauce, grapes and their dehydrated versions can actually cause kidney failure in cats and dogs. The exact mechanism of this is unknown, so it is impossible to calculate a universal toxic dose. Best to keep them out of reach!

Alcohol

Just like small children, cats and dogs are much more sensitive to alcohol than adult humans and can become poisoned very quickly. Alcohol is absorbed rapidly by the canine and feline body, and symptoms may include ataxia (walking wobbly), vomiting, decreased body temperature, loss of consciousness, or difficulty breathing.

Onions and Garlic

If you'll be roasting some onion or garlic along with your Christmas turkey, best to also keep these away from your pets as they contain a toxin which can cause damage to your dog's red blood cells. If enough red blood cells are destroyed, your dog could become anaemic, lethargic and weak.

Lilies

While they're not a food, we thought we'd include Lilies in our list, as many people give and receive flowers around the holidays. Lily flower petals, pollen and leaves are extremely toxic to cats. The toxin found in Lily plants causes kidney failure. If possible, do not keep lilies in your house if you have a cat - it's just not worth the risk!

Chocolate

Most pet owners these days are fairly clued in to the dangers of chocolate in pets. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both toxic to cats and dogs as they can't metabolise these compounds as well as humans can. Dark chocolate poses a higher risk than milk chocolate. Signs of chocolate toxicity may include vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, tremors, and coma.

The risk of chocolate toxicity directly depends on your pet's weight, how much they ate, and how dark it was. If your pet has ingested chocolate, you can calculate their risk of toxicity by inputting their weight, the type of chocolate, and how much was ingested into an online chocolate toxicity calculator.

Give them a treat of their own

Not sure what treat to give your pet to keep them away from your Christmas lunch? Here are some of our favourites:

Christmas-themed treats

What better way to give your pet a gift under the Christmas tree that they'll actually appreciate! Kazoo Treats have a great range of Christmas treats this year, as do Fuzzyard. Or perhaps you'd like to spoil your dog with a treat-and-toy gift pack? The Curious Pet Boxes contain toys, treats and other curiosities to keep your pet occupied this silly season. (This is also perfect for those people visiting a friend for Christmas who treats their pet like their child! You'll be in their good books for ages if you surprise them with a gift pack for their fur baby!)

A low-fat treat for the pudgy or sensitive tummy pooch - Just because your pet has a sensitive tummy or is on the heavy side doesn't mean they should miss out on all the fun! The Whimzees Natural Treats are vegetarian and gluten free, and are even suitable for most dogs with a history of pancreatitis (but just check with your vet first!). For more suggestions on low-fat treats, see our article on Managing Pancreatitis in Dogs.

A treat to keep them occupied - Occupier treats are the perfect option for keeping your dog out of the way on Christmas day (and particularly during Christmas lunch!). Keeping your pet away from the table is perhaps the safest option if you don't trust members of your family not to sneak them some food under the table. ('But he looked like he was hungry! I didn't know that he would start vomiting! It was only a handful of ham fat and half a slice of chocolate cake!').

The Nature's Cuts Goat Horn is a long-lasting, natural product that helps clean their teeth as they chew.

See our top recommended occupying dog treats:

Whimzees Dog Treats

These fun hedgehog-shaped treats have plenty of grooves to clean your dog's teeth. With a base of potato starch, they are grain free, vegetarian, and low in fat.

Savourlife Dental Bars

Savourlife Dental Bars are highly palatable and high in nutrients. The best part is that Savourlife donates 50% of all profits to support shelter dogs.

Natures Cuts Goat Horn

Goat horn might sound strange, but this long-lasting, low-odour natural chew will have your pup gnawing for hours.

Greenies Grain Free

These Grain Free Chews are a delicious treat proven to clean your dogs teeth. With multiple different flavours including blueberry and pumpkin spice, you'll be spoiled for choice!

Something for our feline friends - While the aforementioned occupier chews and rawhide treats are fine for cats, most felines don't tend to go for them. Greenies are known for being highly palatable and come in a variety of flavours including catnip! Another tasty option is the range from Zeal, a New Zealand-made line of natural treats with Fish Skins. Or perhaps your cat has an ailment, such as stiff joints or dull fur? The treat range from Vetalogica has options that are infused with beneficial ingredients to support a specific health concern.


With all this in mind, you and your fur baby will be able to have a happy, healthy Christmas free from any unexpected vet visits!


You might also be interested in:

Dangerous Foods for Dogs

What is the best treat for your dog?

How to tell if your dog has a food allergy

Summer Dangers: Avoid heatstroke in pets

Dental Care for Cats