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Holiday People Food: What's Safe - and What's Not - For Your Dog

Holiday People Food: What's Safe - and What's Not - For Your Dog

As the holiday season rolls around and people start to dig out those cherished recipes they wait all year to make, some pet owners might think it’s okay to indulge their dog or cat with a home-cooked, people-appropriate treat, especially if it only happens once or twice a year. The reality, though, is that a lot of people food actually isn’t healthy for animal consumption. In fact, if your pet is exhibiting a loss of appetite, lethargy or weakness, or vomiting and/or or diarrhea, it’s possible they may have eaten something they weren’t meant to, and a trip to your vet should be your first course of action.

Avoiding a trip to the vet for food-related issues this season is as easy as knowing what you can and can’t feed your pet. Some of the most common seasonal food items that pet owners should keep away from their furry friends, according to Gina DiNardo, executive secretary with the American Kennel Club, include the following:

Human foods your dog CAN'T eat

  • Stuffing: Stuffing is stuffed with ingredients that are not good for your dog, including: onions, garlic, sage, butter, pan drippings, raisins or nuts.
  • Table scraps: Turkey skin and fatty trimmings can cause acute pancreatitis.
  • Bones: It makes sense that dog owners might consider all bones safe for canine consumption, but they should actually be wary. “You may find that you want to share bones off your plate with your pup, but it’s best to avoid doing so,” said DiNardo. “Turkey bones, for example, post a serious choking hazard for your dog and can lead to an emergency trip to the veterinarian.” Besides turkey, other poultry bones are also dangerous because they can splinter during digestion, which can cause blockages or even tears to the intestine.
  • Garlic and Onions: Similar to onions, leeks and chives, garlic is part of the Allium family, and it’s extremely dangerous for dogs. “Garlic can lead to anemia, which causes side effects such as pale gums, elevated heart rate, weakness, and collapsing,” said DiNardo. “Monitor your dog for a few days if you suspect he or she may have ingested garlic or onions, as poisoning from Allium plants may have delayed symptoms.”

  • Walnuts and Macadamia nuts: Walnuts can cause gastroenteritis and are considered poisonous to dogs. Macadamia nuts may be to people, these nuts are one of the most poisonous foods for dogs. “They can cause vomiting, increased body temperature, inability to walk and lethargy,” said DiNardo. They can also affect the nervous system in a dog, so it’s very important to keep them out of reach.
  • Nutmeg: Consumed in large quantities, nutmeg can be toxic to dogs
  • Baking Powder and Baking Soda: Consumed in large quantities, baking powder and baking soda are toxic for dogs.
  • Grapes: A seemingly harmless food, grapes (and their counterpart common in seasonal baked goods, raisins), are toxic to dogs, although research has yet to pinpoint what in grapes is the cause. “Because of that, even peeled or seedless grapes should also be avoided,” DiNardo cautions.

  • Avocado: Swapping butter for avocado in your holiday treats may be a healthier option for humans, but the pit, skin and leaves of avocados contain persin, a toxin that often causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. “The fleshy inside of the fruit doesn’t have as much persin as the rest of the plant, but it is still too much for dogs to handle,” said DiNardo. 

  • Cherries: With the exception of the fleshy part around the seed, cherry plants and seeds contain cyanide and are toxic to dogs, said DiNardo. “Cyanide disrupts cellular oxygen transport, which means that your dog’s blood cells can’t get enough oxygen,” she added. So, while it may not be too common for your dog to find cherries around, be monitoring your trash bin to ensure your pet doesn’t get into anything harmful. “If your dog eats cherries, be on the lookout for dilated pupils, difficulty breathing and red gums, as these may be signs of cyanide poisoning.”
  • Chocolate: Most people know dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate, but they might not know why. “Chocolate contains very toxic substances called methylxanthines, which are stimulants that stop a dog’s metabolic process,” said DiNardo. “Even just a little bit of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can cause diarrhea and vomiting. A large amount can cause seizures, irregular heart function, and can even be fatal.”

  • Sugary foods/desserts: Desserts are not only fattening, they can be deadly. Sugary foods do not offer any nutritional benefit and can contribute to pet obesity. Sugar-free candies, gums and baked goods are often sweetened with Xylitol, which can cause liver failure in dogs.

If you suspect your dog has eaten something he shouldn't: Call your vet, the closest emergency clinic or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Human foods your dog CAN eat

The news isn’t all negative on the food front, though. Pet owners who really look forward to sharing people food with their animals should take note that there are many fruits and vegetables that are fine — and even healthy — to share with pets. Some good examples include:

  • Apples: Apples are an excellent source of fiber and vitamins A and C for your dog. They are also low in protein and fat, making them the perfect snack for senior dogs, said DiNardo. “Just be sure to remove the seeds and core first,” DiNardo cautioned. Great news for while you’re prepping all the fruit from your fall apple picking excursion. 

  • Bananas: Bananas are a great low-calorie treat for dogs in moderation. “They’re high in potassium, vitamins, biotin, fiber and copper,” said DiNardo. “They are low in cholesterol and sodium, but are high in sugar. Because of that, bananas should be given as a treat, not part of your dog’s regular diet.”

  • Blueberries: Rich in antioxidants to help prevent cell damage and packed full of fiber and phytochemicals, blueberries make great snacks for people and their dogs.

  • Carrots: Carrots are an excellent low-calorie snack that are high in fiber and beta-carotene, which produces vitamin A, said DiNardo. Crunching on a carrot is also great for your dog’s teeth.

  • Cheese: Dogs can eat cheese in small to moderate quantities. “While rare, dogs can be lactose intolerant, so cheese may not work for all dogs,” said DiNardo. “Many kinds of cheese can be high in fat, so go for low-fat varieties like cottage cheese or mozzarella.”

  • Coconut: While it may not be the most common during this season, coconut contains Lauric, which helps strength the immune system by fighting off viruses. “It can also help with bad breath and skin conditions like hot spots, flea allergies and itchy skin,” DiNardo added. “Coconut milk and coconut oil are safe for dogs, too. Just be sure your dog doesn’t get its paws on the furry outside of the shell, which can get lodged in the throat.”

  • Eggs: Throw some extra eggs in the skillet the next time you’re cooking them, because eggs are a great source of protein for your pup, and can even help with an upset stomach.
  • Green Beans: A little green in your dog's diet is a good thing, especially for this low-cal treat. Green beans contain vitamins C and K and manganese.
  • Potatoes: A good source of vitamins C and B6, potassium and fiber, cooked or mashed potatoes are a fine treat. Do not serve potatoes raw or with any leaves or shoots.
  • Pumpkin: Plain pumpkin is a great source of fiber, beta carotene, vitamin A, zinc, iron and potassium. Mix a bit in with your dog's food for an added treat.
  • Rice: A little plain rice or pasta is a tasty treat—especially for dogs who have been experiencing stomach upset. Do not add butter or seasonings.
  • Sweet Potatoes and Squash: A great source of dietary fiber, beta carotene and vitamins B and C, cooked sweet potatoes and squash are a powerful antioxidant. Try them sliced and dehydrated as a chewy treat for your dog.
  • Turkey: While skin, fat and bones should be avoided, a few strips of cooked, lean turkey is sure to be gobbled up quickly.


If you’re feeling adventurous, you might like to try a DIY dog treat recipe inspired by the season.

Turkey Liver Dog Treats


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat germ OR 1 cup cornmeal OR 1/2 cup of each
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup turkey broth
  • 1 cup chopped turkey livers, cooked


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and wheat germ or cornmeal. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg with the oil, then add the broth and parsley, then mix well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, stirring to combine. Fold in the chicken livers. The dough will be firm. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it briefly. Roll the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch, and cut it into desired shapes. Place cookies one inch apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes or until firm. Store cookies in the refrigerator or freezer. Makes about 24 small or 15 medium-sized cookies.