Sharing Holiday Leftovers: What’s Safe and What is Not

Food is love, right?

Most of our celebrations involve food, be it meals, snacks, desserts, or special foods. Since our pets are family it’s only natural that we’d like to share our foods with them, too. Unfortunately, though this isn’t always a good idea.

Let’s take a look at what foods are safe for our dogs and then which ones we should not share. Last, we’ll take a look at what we can share with our feline friends. There are fewer foods that are safe for our cats, that our cats will truly like, but there are enough to allow our cats to share in the holiday spirit.

Safe Foods to Share with Dogs

If you are having a beef roast, turkey, or chicken for a holiday meal you can share some of that meat. Choose cooked, less fatty pieces of meat, and cut it into small pieces to mix in with your dog’s normal meal. Or if you wish to feed him some by hand, that’s fine, too, just do so away from the table. (Hand feeding him from the table will lead to begging or food stealing.)

Plain (as in unseasoned), cooked vegetables can also be shared with your dog. Green beans, carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables that are cooked, finely chopped, or grated can be mixed into your dog’s food. Roasted sweet potatoes, unseasoned, chopped or mashed, are appealing to most dogs as the baking brings out this tuber’s sweetness.

Pumpkin is a wonderful food to share with your dog in small amounts. When baking other foods for your meal, place a few pieces of raw pumpkin in a separate pan and roast them until soft. Mix these into your dog’s food or share by hand as a special treat. Raw or roasted apples, again unseasoned, are a welcome treat for many dogs, as are raw or roasted pears.

Your dog can share some plain yogurt, a bit of cheese (especially low fat cheese), some peanut butter (read the label to make sure there is no xylitol) on a cracker or two, or even a small pretzel or two. Just keep an eye on all of these extras as it doesn’t take much to cause an upset tummy even if the food itself is fine. If your dog isn’t used to these extras, make sure they are limited in quantity.

dog table food

©istockphoto/Milan_Jovic

Foods to Avoid Giving Dogs

Although roast beef, turkey, and chicken are fine to share with your dog, be cautious about sharing your ham or other pork products. If your dog isn’t used to pork, it could lead to gastrointestinal upset. The same applies to fish, duck, or other less common meats. If your dog is used to those meats, then go ahead and share it with him, but if he’s not used to them, then don’t tempt fate. You don’t want him to be miserable.

Avoid giving your dog the turkey or chicken skin or the outer crust of the roast beef with seasonings and fat. Seasonings could cause gastrointestinal upset and too much fat can cause pancreatitis; a potentially life-threatening illness. Don’t give your dogs any poultry bones, raw or cooked, as they can shatter when eaten—and no cooked beef bones, either, for the same reason.

Don’t share your green bean casserole or sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. The seasonings, cream of mushroom soup, marshmallows, and other ingredients aren’t good for your dog. Plus, some marshmallows are now made with xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic (and fatal) to dogs. Gravy is another food to avoid, too, as it usually is high in fat (meat drippings) and seasonings.

As a general rule, don’t share desserts with your dog. He doesn’t need sugar at all nor does he need the extra fats that are in many desserts. Chocolate is never good for dogs—dark, baking, or bitter chocolate can be life-threatening.

Make sure the trash can where kitchen leavings are placed is secure. Many dogs end up in the emergency room over the holidays because they got into the kitchen or outside trash can looking for snacks. The turkey carcass, meat scraps, leftover sweet potato casserole, and scrapings off the plates can all tempt your dog. So be extra cautious about disposing of these foods.

cat table food

©istockphoto/Bebenjy

Foods for Feline Friends

Cats are generally more cautious eaters than dogs, so are less apt to get into trouble eating foods they shouldn’t have. However, many a cat has tried to run off with portions of the turkey or roast beef, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what your cat eats just as you do for your dog.

Your cat can have some cooked beef, turkey, chicken, or fish cut into tiny pieces. Avoid the seasonings, skins, bones, gravy, and fatty parts. If you are cooking bacon to use in another dish, a well cooked, tiny piece (the size of your pinkie fingernail) is okay.

Not all cats appreciate vegetables but some will eat a few pieces of cooked, finely chopped green beans. Some cats are attracted to baked sweet potato or pumpkin, mashed, with no seasonings. A half a teaspoon of either of these is more than enough. Your cat can also have a few licks of plain yogurt or a couple of shavings of cheese.

Thankfully, most cats aren’t attracted to sweets so these usually aren’t a problem. However, if you have some whipped cream for the pies after dinner, you can share a lick or two of the whipped cream.

Be Cautious

With both your cats and dogs, be cautious of straying too far from their normal diet. A taste or two of safe foods is fine but don’t let them overindulge. Too much of even good foods will upset the tummy if your pet isn’t used to those foods. This means, of course, you need to make sure other family members and guests understand this, too.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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