During the holiday season, you naturally feel extra generous toward your pet. After all, your four-legged friend gifts you with companionship and affection every day of the year—the least you can do is spoil them during the holiday season.

Of course, we all know that our overindulgence usually comes at a price—and the same is true for pets. Indiscriminate eating and inappropriate or unhealthy foods can lead to serious health consequences, such as weight gain, digestive upset, pancreatitis, or poisoning. 

To help pet owners, the Fairfax Veterinary Clinic team has compiled a list of our favorite tips and tricks for treating pets during the holiday season.

Lumps of coal: Never feed your pet these holiday foods

Before we present the various foods that are safe for spoiling your pet, a review of the everyday ingredients that can injure or poison your pet is in order. Never treat your pet to harmful foods in any quantity or form. Harmful foods include:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes, raisins, or currants
  • Xylitol-containing foods
  • Onions, garlic, and leeks
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Meat bones (e.g., turkey legs, ham bones)
  • Skin, grease, or fat from holiday meats
  • Yeast dough
  • Corn cobs
  • Cured meats (e.g., ham, summer sausage)

If your pet ingests a harmful food or exhibits abnormal behavior or illness signs, immediately contact Fairfax Veterinary Clinic. If our offices are closed, call the nearest veterinary emergency center or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline.

To pets with love: Safe holiday foods for pets

Don’t be scared by the long list of popular holiday treats that are dangerous for pets, because an equal number of treat options are not only safe but tasty and healthy, too.

Serve these foods in small quantities to avoid weight gain and digestive upset and ensure they are plain—no salt, seasoning, sauce, or other spicy ingredients. We recommend setting aside a few bites for your pet before preparing your holiday dishes. 

Treat your pet right with pet-safe holiday foods that include:

  • Skinless and boneless white turkey meat
  • Sweet potato
  • Apple slices and unsweetened applesauce
  • Cranberries
  • Raw or steamed vegetables (e.g., carrots, green beans, spinach, peas, squash, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Pumpkin

Dine in or carry out: Serving ideas for your pet’s holiday treats

While delivering a tasty treat right to your pet’s muzzle or mixing it with their normal meal is perfectly fine, you can add excitement and interest to your pet’s holiday treat by serving up a four-paw dining experience.

Present your pet’s food in a new and unusual way to increase the mental and physical health benefits, such as increased enjoyment and slowed food consumption.  Our favorite non-traditional feeding strategies include:

  • Muffin tins Fill muffin tin wells with different foods and see what your pet eats first.
  • Bark-cuterie board — This play on the traditional charcuterie board involves serving multiple foods, ideally with varying textures and shapes, on a flat surface, such as a dish or cutting board. 
  • Hollow rubber toys — Pets love receiving a Kong or West Paw Toppl stuffed with fun ingredients. These toys can be served frozen for long-lasting enjoyment. 
  • Lickable mat Textured silicone lick mats are a great alternative for flat-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) dog breeds and cats, who may find accessing food in a hollow toy too difficult. Spreadable ingredients, including mashed sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, applesauce, and pureed vegetables, are best for lick mats.
  • Scatter feeding and snuffle mats — Dry ingredients (e.g., raw vegetables, dehydrated turkey cut into small pieces) or regular pet kibble or treats can be tossed on clean, untreated grass or a snuffle mat, which is great mental exercise as the pet sniffs out the individual treats. 

Remember—no matter how you serve holiday treats, always separate pets to prevent anxiety and resource guarding.

Paws in the kitchen: Homemade holiday pet treats

Baking or cooking for your pet can be as rewarding as preparing food for family and friends. Homemade treats are also a great way to ensure you know exactly what you feed your pet and to avoid mystery ingredients, harmful additives, and unhealthy fillers that most store-bought pet treats include. 

Many free pet treat recipes are available online, but the Fairfax Veterinary Clinic team recommends ones that include:

  • Limited ingredients — Recipes containing fewer than five ingredients are not only easier to make, they’re also likely more digestible.
  • Safe ingredients — Double check the ingredient list to ensure the recipe doesn’t contain harmful foods.
  • Familiar foods — Don’t try unusual foods during the holidays. Stick with ingredients you know your pet enjoys to avoid digestive upset and allergic reactions.
  • No sugar — Do not include sugar in any pet treat recipe. Use naturally sweet ingredients, such as honey, coconut oil, applesauce, and pumpkin, which safely provide plenty of flavor.
  • Minimal fat and calories — To avoid weight gain, treats should comprise no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories—if the treats are naturally low fat or calorie, your pet can enjoy more. 

If you find imagining the holiday season without your favorite main dishes, sides, and desserts impossible, imagine how your pet must feel. This year, show your four-legged friend some love and celebrate the season together with pet-safe holiday treats. 

As the New Year approaches, make providing your pet with the best possible veterinary care at Fairfax Veterinary Clinic your number one resolution. Then, schedule an appointment with our knowledgeable team and experience our exceptional service and endless compassion.