Navigating Christmas Foods: What Dogs Can and Can't Have
Sitting at the Christmas dinner table, facing your dog’s imploring stare? But here’s the question: How much of our festive feast is actually safe for dogs?
We often hear warnings about certain foods being harmful to dogs. However, figuring out which Christmas foods are safe for them and which ones they should absolutely avoid can be difficult.
It's typically a last-minute consideration as you're preparing dinner or sharing treats, and your dog eagerly asks for a share. Planning ahead before the busy Christmas rush is the best approach. This prevents you from anxiously searching 'Can my dog eat Santa's mince pie?' on Christmas Eve while your kids are asleep.
You might believe that sharing a small amount won't cause harm, but it's not worth the risk of your dog ending up at the vet on Boxing Day.
Do not wait if you think your dog has eaten something dangerous - speak to a vet immediately.
Understanding the risks: unsafe foods for dogs
As we tuck into our festive treats, it's tempting to let our dogs join in with the Christmas food fun. But beware. Many human foods are harmful to dogs and can cause choking, toxicity and digestive issues.
The deadly consequences of chocolate and mince pies
A classic example is chocolate. Did you know that cases of chocolate poisoning in dogs peak in December? Chocolate graces the Christmas tree, sits open on the coffee table, and fills stockings and Christmas Eve boxes across the country.
The culprit is a substance called 'theobromine', which us humans digest without any problems but causes toxic symptoms like vomiting or upset stomachs when eaten by our canine companions.
Moving onto another sweet treat – mince pies. The dried fruits inside pose serious risks to your dog’s health. Grapes, raisins and currants are significantly more toxic than fresh grapes themselves (which dogs should also avoid) - even tiny amounts can lead to severe kidney failure.
The Allium family: avoiding onions and garlic
Beyond sweets and desserts, savoury dishes also hide dangers for dogs within their ingredients list. One group of vegetables commonly used during Christmas dinner should definitely be kept out of your dog's reach - onions along with other members of the Allium family such as garlic, leeks, shallots and chives can damage a dog's red blood cells (an essential component of any creature’s circulatory system) leading to potentially life-threatening anaemia.
The danger isn't limited just to raw onions and garlic either - cooked forms also pose significant risk due to their residual toxic properties even after heat treatment.
If your pup has ingested onions or garlic, keep a keen eye out for symptoms of anaemia. These may include lethargy, pale gums and even fainting. Other symptoms could involve gastrointestinal discomfort (think vomiting and diarrhoea) as well as changes in urine colour due to the destruction of red blood cells. Speak to a vet immediately if you spot any of these signs.
It can be tempting to cover your dog's biscuits with leftover gravy but avoid doing this if you’ve opted to put onions in your gravy this year. Gravy, particularly when combined with meat juices, is high in salt and fat. It's not advisable to regularly offer it to your dog, especially if they are already on the heavier side.
The choking hazard presented by bones
Talking about roast dinners leads us naturally onto bones. While your pet may love gnawing on them after you've polished off your meal - think again before handing over that leftover turkey bone.
Bones can easily splinter and pose a serious choking hazard, not to mention the risk of causing intestinal blockages. Cooked bones are particularly dangerous as they’re more likely to split into sharp pieces.
If you want to give your dog a bone, there are plenty of dog safe bones available on the market which are not prone to splintering or causing choking hazards.
We would still recommend not leaving your dog unattended when they have a bone, and always buy the size recommended for your pooch. Larger dogs may choke on bones designed for smaller dogs.
Avoid foods that contain xylitol
Xylitol found in some sugar-free products may sound harmless enough because it helps us manage our blood sugar levels better. But for dogs, it can lead to liver damage if consumed.
So remember, when you're settling down to enjoy your Christmas meal and your dog is giving you those pleading eyes, think twice before sharing.
Instead of offering a morsel from your plate, consider keeping some dog-safe snacks to the side like carrots or swede. That way, your dog will feel involved and you won’t have to worry about them becoming ill.
Avoidance is better than cure
The best way to avoid problems with human food is simple: don't feed it to your dog. It's crucial to be vigilant and ensure your dog doesn't accidentally consume any of these harmful ingredients.
Dogs do not have the same impulse control as humans. They don’t understand there are foods they should and shouldn’t consume for their own health.
Therefore, keep things out of reach, high up where your dog is unable to reach or in containers that your dog can’t get into. If you have a dog, choosing plastic baubles instead of chocolate and candy cane decorations for the tree is a safe and equally attractive option.
This goes without saying all year round but avoid your dog drinking alcohol - put your glass of mulled wine out of reach to avoid your dog sipping while your back is turned.
Dried fruits and nuts that can harm your dog
It's tempting to share festive treats with our dogs, but some foods can be harmful. Avoid dried grapes in cakes and mince pies, as they contain toxins leading to severe kidney damage. Regular grapes are also risky, even in small amounts. Keep nuts, especially macadamia nuts, away from your dog to prevent weakness, vomiting and hyperthermia.
Be cautious with sweets containing dried fruits, as the concentrated sugars can harm dogs by raising blood sugar levels over time. Remember, dogs metabolise substances differently than humans, making certain foods hazardous for them.
Dairy products and dogs: a word of caution
Many pet parents believe that a bit of cheese won't harm their furry friends. However, it's essential to know that not all dairy products are dog-friendly. Some types, like blue cheese, can pose serious health risks.
Roquefort, along with other blue cheeses, contains a substance known as roquefortine C. This compound isn't harmful to humans but can cause muscle tremors and seizures in dogs.
If your canine has by chance ingested any sort of blue cheese, they may display indications such as being sick or having looseness of the bowels due to the high fat content found in these sorts of cheeses.
In severe cases where the offending dairy product contained roquefortine C (as found in some varieties of blue cheese), more alarming signs could surface within one to two hours post-ingestion including agitation, panting excessively or seizures.
A safe dairy alternative for dogs
All this information doesn't mean that dogs must completely avoid all things dairy. There are safer alternatives out there. Cottage cheese is one such example; it’s lower in fat and salt than other cheeses making it more suitable for our canine friends.
The dangers of overindulgence in rich foods
During Christmas, prevent dogs from overindulging in rich and fatty foods, including cakes and biscuits, as these treats contain high-fat content harmful to dogs' digestion. Dogs process fats differently than humans, and excessive intake can lead to digestive upset or serious conditions like pancreatitis. Overeating may cause vomiting, diarrhoea and pancreatitis, a potentially fatal condition. If your dog shows signs of discomfort after indulging, promptly seek veterinary attention to ensure their well-being.
Feeding your dog safely during Christmas
A roast dinner is a classic Christmas meal in many households. But before you share these treats with your pet, it’s important you know what they can enjoy without harm.
Dog-friendly options include turkey meat (without skin or bones), green beans, carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes - best without butter and cooked plainly without any added fats or spices). Make sure portions remain small. Even safe human food shouldn’t replace their regular dog food completely. Moderation is key when it comes to store-bought dog treats.
Also consider giving your dog toys that they’ll enjoy playing with nearly as much as scoffing your Christmas dinner leftovers.
Dog-friendly alternatives exist – walks, playtime or specific pet-safe treats work wonders without compromising their wellbeing. Let them join in the festivities but always keep an eye out for those harmful foods.
Remember, if you’re worried about your dog throughout the Christmas period don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local vet who will be more than happy to advise you on next steps if you think your dog has consumed something they shouldn’t have.
If your dog eats something, bring the food wrapper to the vet. It helps them assess the potential danger of what your dog consumed.