Can I feed my pet table scraps?

Kelly Gredner

8 min read

Can I feed my pet table scraps? - Vetster
Photographed by lizzie.bear

Families love including their pets in holiday traditions and this may include holiday meals. But feeding table scraps to your pets may not be a good idea. “People food” can cause various health problems in pets, so be sure to know which ones to keep out of reach. To play it safe, it is best to throw table scraps away instead of letting your pets lick the dishes clean after the holiday feast!

Unsafe traditional holiday foods

Many foods that we usually eat can be harmful to our pets if they eat enough of them. Here are some of the foods to keep away from your pet.

Turkey: Plain roasted turkey contains protein and calming properties from the naturally occurring amino acid, tryptophan. In small amounts, turkey can be a nice treat for your dog. However, eating too much can be a cause for concern. Turkey is often basted with oils and served with the skin on. An excessive amount can cause GI upset of pancreatitis or an upset stomach in dogs. Bones can also splinter and harm dogs as they try to ingest them.

Mashed potatoes and gravy: Any foods high in fat can upset a pet’s stomach, such as mashed potatoes with all the fixings and gravy. If eaten in large amounts, vomiting and diarrhea may occur, so ensure your dog does not get into these dishes before you do. These foods are easy for pets to ingest quickly if they have access. Gravy can also be quite salty, making senior pets or those with certain medical conditions, like heart and kidney disease, quite sick.

Stuffing: Stuffing is one of the most popular dishes during the holiday feast, but again not good for dogs and cats. If eaten in large amounts, the ingredients: sodium, onion, and garlic can cause vomiting and a breakdown of red blood cells, weakness, and a high heart rate. Onion poisoning in cats can be life-threatening and is caused when they ingest dangerous amounts of any plants from the Allium genus, such as onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, and chives. Dogs can also experience onion poisoning and be at significant risk if they ingest large amounts of these foods. Raw or cooked, or in more concentrated forms like dried flakes and powders, these ingredients can harm your pets, causing an upset stomach or any other conditions mentioned above.

Holiday bread: These desserts contain raisins and nuts, which can be poisonous for dogs. Even though the exact dose when these foods become hazardous is not known, we recommend treatment for any dog who ingested more than one grape or raisin per 10 pounds of body weight. This type of toxin can cause vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, excessive urination, and diarrhea. All of these symptoms are an early indicator of kidney failure. The odds for a good outcome are much better if veterinary care is obtained immediately after ingestion instead of waiting until symptoms begin. If the kidneys fail and urine output drops, the prognosis is poor.

Macadamia nuts are another potential toxin found in breads. There are no reports of this toxicosis in cats; however, they can harm dogs. The minimum toxic dose is approximately one nut per 10 kg of body weight, so holiday bread is only a concern if it contains a high dosage of raisins and nuts.

Desserts: Chocolate, a common ingredient in all kinds of  holiday sweets, can be poisonous for cats and dogs. Chocolate toxicosis is rare in cats simply because cats are less likely to eat a large amount of chocolate - especially compared to dogs. Dogs, on the other hand, tend to eat all the chocolate they can get their paws on. Chocolate contains the methylxanthine chemicals theobromine and caffeine, which are poisonous to dogs and cats. Within a few hours following ingestion, an affected dog experiences mild symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. If the dose is high enough, more severe symptoms, such as hyperactivity and seizures, and even lethal cardiovascular and nervous system damage may occur. In either scenario, if a cat or dog eats a worrisome amount of chocolate, don’t delay reaching out to a veterinary professional for help.

Tips to keep your pets from joining the feast

Aside from being aware of all the delicious foods that can be unhealthy for your pets, there are other actions you can take as a pet parent to keep them safe. Ask your guests not to feed your dog or cat people food from the table. Also, distract your pets from the holiday feast by having treats or kibble available. As cute as your pets are, do not tempt them into eating your leftovers by letting them sit at the table or on the counter. And make sure to secure what’s left of the meal immediately. An open trash can is one of the biggest temptations for a dog. Take the trash out of the house as soon as possible. Keeping food out of reach of your dog or cat allows them to safely join in the festivities!

Safe alternatives in small quantities

If you genuinely must share your meal, consider offering foods from this list to keep your pet healthy:

  • Plain cooked turkey without skin or gravy
  • Plain potatoes without butter, milk, or salt and pepper
  • Plain cooked or raw carrots and bell peppers
  • Store-bought packaged treats

If you must let your furry friends join in on holiday, moderation is key. Smaller amounts are more likely to be tolerated better. Treats should only be 5-10% of a pet’s daily calories. Talk to your vet about suitable treat options if your pet has medical conditions or dietary restrictions. And if the worst does occur, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is the best poison-related emergency helpline, available 24 hours, 365 days a year.

Of course, we all want our beloved pets to have a joyful holiday with us. But to keep them happy and healthy, consider sticking to pet-safe treats and foods. Have a pleasant time with your family and friends and avoid a trip to the emergency veterinarian’s office by booking an online virtual care appointment with Vetster. An online vet will be happy to answer any questions you have about holiday foods that may be safe for your pet. The best strategy is knowing what you can feed your pets before the festivities begin so you can enjoy the celebrations! Happy Holidays!

Written by Kelly Gredner
RVT, VTS
Kelly Gredner has been a Registered Veterinary Technician for 15 years. For the last five years, she has specialized as a Nutrition Technician, certified through the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT). Her interest in nutrition grew as the years went on and she loves being able to help beloved pets, one bowl at a time. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, with three cats, and works part-time in a small animal practice. She’s available to answer all your nutritional questions on Vetster, too!
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