December 17, 2012

Sharing a moderate amount of holiday leftovers with your pet can be a great way keep her included in the festivities. There are lots of ‘people foods’ that are fine for most pets to eat, and they can add some healthy variety and extra nutrition to her regular meals. Here are some seasonal holiday ingredients that can be added safely (or amended and then added) to your dog’s usual fare, to make her feel special and part of the family when everyone else is enjoying a feast.

Turkey, Ham, Prime Rib and other meats - These can all be added to your dog’s food in moderation. The key things to remember are that dogs should never be fed any type of cooked bones because they can splinter and damage or impact the GI tract. Too much fat and gristle can be problematic and can lead to pancreatitis, which is very painful and potentially dangerous. Try to avoid prepared meats that have added lots of added sodium, nitrites and preservatives. Whenever you can, choose free-range, natural and grass-fed meats, which are better for you and your pet as well as the animal who provided the meat in the first place.

Green Bean Casserole – a natural creamy sauce with the green beans is okay in small amounts, but don’t include the onion topping. Alternatively, just add some fresh raw or cooked green beans to your dog’s usual food. Most dogs love the naturally sweet taste – just be sure to trim them to a manageable size for smaller dogs.

Sweet Potatoes – these are an excellent source of beta carotene and make a highly nutritious meal addition for dogs. Steamed or baked sweet potatoes are ideal; raw root vegetables can be difficult to digest unless completely pulverized in a blender or food processor. Avoid giving your dog the kind of holiday-themed sweet potato side dishes that contain lots of maple syrup, melted marshmallows or candied nuts.

Cranberries - These are a great addition to your pet’s meals at any time of year and especially during the holidays. Many dogs enjoy fresh cranberries but cranberry sauce and jelly can be full of sugar and other ingredients that Fido doesn’t need. Dried cranberries are a nice alternative, provided they don’t have lots of added sweeteners. Cranberries contain natural compounds that can help prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, so they are an excellent choice for cats and dogs who are prone to urinary tract infections.

Pumpkin & Squash are great foods to share with cats and dogs in moderate amounts. Most pets love the taste of these nutritious, fibrous vegetables. If you’re making a soup, consider setting aside some of the gently cooked cubes of squash before you begin adding wine, cream, onions and other less pet-friendly ingredients to the mix.

Winter Greens like chard and kale are a super source of vitamins and antioxidants. Brussels sprouts and cabbage are also loaded with nutrients, but they tend to cause gas. These can be added raw, lightly steamed or sautéed. Avoid serving your pet large amounts of winter greens that contain lots of added salt, wine, soy-sauce or butter.

White potatoes are fine in moderate amounts. They contain fiber and minerals. Try to avoid serving your pet potato dishes that are prepared with lots of cream, ranch dressing, oil or butter. Potatoes provide a good source of Vitamins B3 and B6, Vitamin C, Potassium, Iron, Copper and Fiber. Potatoes have been associated with some adverse publicity in the past due to their content of glycoalkaloids, which can develop in the stems, shoots and green parts of the skin of potatoes that are improperly stored and where the skin is subjected to excessive or prolonged exposure to light. The shoots and green parts of potatoes should not be consumed by people or animals for this reason and should be removed before serving.

Holiday Foods to Avoid

Stuffing and corn pudding should be avoided for most pets, because they tend to contain onion and sometimes raisins, as well as ingredients like bread and cornmeal which aren’t very nutritious and can actually exacerbate ear infections and skin problems.

Desserts and cheeses should be avoided too, because they can cause tummy upsets, especially when eaten in excess.

Relishes, pickles and sauces are also best left out of your pet’s bowl because they tend to contain heavy spices, sugar, onion and other ingredients than can unsettle their GI tract.

The following foods are toxic to dogs and cats and should not be offered in the form of leftovers or people-food additions to her usual meals: onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins & candies containing the sweetened xylitol.

If you do decide to share your holiday meals with your dog or cat, ensure that you make additions gradually to ensure he or she can tolerate what you’re serving. Don’t allow your pet to gorge excessively either, because this can lead to health problems such as pancreatitis and bloat. If you do have an incident where your pet gets up on the counter or into the holiday trash and consumes a large amount of leftovers, keep a close eye on him. The homeopathic remedy nux vomica can be helpful for the side effects of minor overindulgences but if you notice any sign of bloating, vomiting or other digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation, a visit to the vet office is recommended, without delay.