What can dogs eat at Christmas, and which festive foods should they avoid? Get expert advice on feeding your canine right over the holiday season – plus a great dog-friendly Christmas dinner recipe!
What dog would turn up their nose at turkey and trimmings on Christmas Day? None that we know of.
But before you fill your dog’s bowl with stuffing, pigs in blankets and Yorkies, find out which parts of Christmas dinner dogs can eat safely, and which seasonal snacks could cause a toxic reaction. After all, the last thing you want to be doing over the festive season is taking your dog to an emergency vet!
Here, expert animal nutritionist Bianca Major shares her top tips – and a dog Christmas dinner recipe that your pet is sure to enjoy.
Dogs taste food in a similar way to humans, picking up sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savoury, meaty) flavours, says Bianca. ‘Their noses are super-sensitive and at Christmas, there’s a mind-blowing olfactory experience going on for them! As a rule, however, savoury foods are better for dogs than sweet ones, which contain unhealthy sugars,’ she says.
Christmas food dogs can’t eat
Not all seasonal treats are safe for dogs, so make sure your pet gives these festive foods a wide berth.
‘Dogs can’t metabolise the theobromine and caffeine in chocolate, and they can react with a high temperature, hyperactivity, diarrhoea and vomiting,’ explains Bianca. ‘Even if your dog has previously had chocolate with no apparent ill effects, it remains a high risk, and you cannot know what amount will cause a reaction.’
Onions contain components called disulfides and thiosulphates, which can damage dogs’ and cats’ red blood cells. So, no sage and onion stuffing for your dog – and beware of hidden onions in things like sausages and sauces, too!
Xylitol artificial sweetener
‘This sweetener turns up in all sorts of foods, such as yoghurts, low-sugar cakes and biscuits, sweets, chewing gum and even vegan foods, too,’ says Bianca. ‘Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs, affecting the liver. It may even kill them.’
Bread, Yorkshire puddings and other carbs
When the cold buffet and turkey sandwiches come out on Boxing Day, don’t be tempted to share a slice of bread or a cracker with your eager four-legged friend.
‘Dogs are facultative carnivores, eating both animal and non-animal foods, but their main diet comes from fats and protein,’ says Bianca. ‘They can process carbohydrates to a limited degree, but they don’t possess salivary amylase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down starchy foods. A high carb and fat intake can cause pancreatitis and may make your dog hyperactive (unlike we humans, who become lethargic from excess carbs).’
Macadamia nuts, raisins, sultanas and grapes
Bowls of nibbles are everywhere at Christmas, frequently positioned at dog height. These moreish bites are all dangerous for dogs – which means absolutely no mince pies, Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, either. ‘Macadamias can lead to vomiting, lack of coordination and weakness in dogs,’ warns Bianca. ‘Grapes and their dried varieties contain a chemical component that damages the liver and kidneys.’
Dairy produce from cows
Dogs don’t have the lactase enzyme to process cow dairy, so avoid ‘treating’ your dog to any ice cream or festive trifle.
Mock dog wines and champagnes may be a fun marketing idea, says Bianca, but she advises against serving them up. ‘If you give dogs a choice of water or apple juice, they’ll go for water by instinct – and they don’t mind if it’s from a mountain spring or a muddy puddle. Carbonated drinks are not suited to a dog’s digestive system, and more seriously, these drinks may contain palatants – flavour additives – that are often not declared on the ingredients list and can cause a negative reaction.’
What dogs can eat at Christmas
Here are some parts of Christmas dinner that dogs can eat – and other festive foods that are fine to share with our four-legged friends.
Dog-friendly Christmas dinner leftovers
‘Make up a small bowl with a bit of unsalted turkey meat, some Brussels sprouts and other veggies, but keep it onion-free, and preferably keep the carbs out of it, too,’ Bianca says.
Raspberries, blueberries and cranberries
These berries are sweet treats you can allow your dog to eat. ‘All of them contain a fantastic number of nutrients, but be more cautious with strawberries as they can affect dogs with thyroid issues,’ says Bianca. So a smear of cranberry sauce (without Xylitol) can be added to your dog’s festive meal.
A juicy, uncooked bone
This is great for keeping your dog occupied while the humans chow down. Always give your dog raw bones, as cooked ones can splinter and injure their gut. Make sure you choose the size appropriate for your dog to avoid them choking or swallowing the bone.
Dogs have individual taste preferences, but you can augment their meaty treats with whatever veg they enjoy: carrot sticks, raw cauliflower, cucumber, peppers. ‘While dogs don’t have cellulase enzymes to process whole veggies, these cause no harm, and provide a filling and nicely textured treat,’ says Bianca. ‘Lightly cook them or blitz them in a food processor if you would like your dogs to get the nutrients from these vegetables.’
A sip of goats’ milk
Goat and sheep milk are gentler on the canine gut than dairy, so if you want to offer a doggy dessert, Bianca suggests ice cream made without sweetener or a slurp of these milks. ‘That’s a great treat for your dog, and will be far superior to any doggy champagne.’
Ground rules for family and guests
Our sociable dogs tend to love Christmas and other holidays when their ‘pack’ expands and there’s extra attention – and potential treats – to be enjoyed. ‘We feel such an affinity with dogs that it makes us happy when they’re eating. And they know just how to play the sad-eyed, “I haven’t been fed for days” begging game,’ says Bianca.
‘Be very firm with guests who might be tempted to sneak things off their plate to the dog. Explain there’s a special dog Christmas dinner for the furry family member and prepare a box of safe treats they can use,’ she continues. ‘But once it’s finished, that’s it, no more – however adorably pleading the face!’
Don’t miss our Petplan advent calendar
See what treats are behind each door every day from 1st December until Christmas.
When to feed your dog over the holidays
‘Regular mealtimes for humans go out the window over the holidays, but unless your dog has health issues which require a strict timetable, it’s fine to vary when you feed your dog,’ reassures Bianca. Stave off begging at the table by giving your dog their meal while you’re all eating – maybe popping it in another room so you can eat in peace.
Make a dog-friendly Christmas dinner
‘There are lots of festive doggy treats to buy, but the quality can be variable,’ says Bianca. Instead, she suggests making your own treats to avoid preservatives and other potential nasties. Her dog Christmas dinner recipe below is just as good for dogs as their owners (unless either of you don’t like Brussels sprouts!) She says: ‘It’s absolutely fresh and will probably disappear instantly!’
Christmas meatballs for dogs recipe
500g turkey mince
1 large egg
100g grated carrot
50g diced Brussels sprouts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp cranberry powder
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Using a spoon, create small meatballs from the mixture and place on a baking tray.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked through.
- Allow meatballs to cool before serving to your dog. Store in the fridge, or put some in the freezer for later.
Christmas plants dogs shouldn’t eat
Human food isn’t the only festive hazard for our pets. Plants are a favourite decoration, but mistletoe, poinsettias and holly are all toxic to dogs if eaten. If you have any of these seasonal blooms and berries in the house, position them well out of the reach of inquisitive pets.
As well as making sure your dog eats the right things this Christmas, it’s important to make sure you have the right dog insurance to help them access the best possible care should they fall sick over the festive period.