He Ate What? Keeping Your Pet Safe During the Holidays

He Ate What? Keeping Your Pet Safe During the Holidays

The holiday season is the perfect time to spend with friends and family, but travel and holiday obligations can make the season particularly hectic. Between shopping, wrapping, baking, visiting family and friends, and holiday parties, our days and nights tend to stay chaotic, which means we may have less time for our four-legged family members. 

Your pets won’t mind—in fact, they may prefer to stay out of the fray. They’ll probably make themselves useful as furry vacuum cleaners, picking up any dropped holiday goodies, which leads to the importance of keeping your pet safe from hazards this holiday season. 

The holidays are busy for you, but they can be particularly busy for veterinary and animal emergency clinics. One of the most common problems they see, particularly in dogs, is called “dietary indiscretion,” which goes along with all the holiday feasting and rich foods. 

Dietary indiscretion refers to pets consuming food and non-food items they are not supposed to eat, from heavy holiday foods, to ribbons and bows on packages, to tree ornaments.  Temptations are everywhere, and they all affect pets differently. 

Festive food can spell trouble for pets

Pets typically eat the same meal day in and day out and, hopefully, seldom eat human food; during the holidays, however, we celebrate with heavy, rich foods that are often toxic to pets. Because the holidays are a time for giving, we often want to share these meals with our pets, but your table scraps, Aunt Linda’s table scraps, and your nephews’ unwanted buttery brussels sprouts can cause nothing but trouble for your pet.

Such dietary changes can lead to gastroenteritis (i.e., inflammation of the stomach and intestines) in your pet. The first signs are vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.

In worst-case scenarios, pets who consume rich or fatty table scraps may develop pancreatitis, a severe medical condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas has two important rolessecreting (1) digestive enzymes so that food can be digested and (2) insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes are prematurely released internally, and they may digest the pancreatic tissue which, in turn, can lead to further pancreatic inflammation that can affect the adjacent liver tissue. Severe inflammation can affect the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin and result in temporary or permanent diabetes.

Avoid holiday gastroenteritis or pancreatitis in your pet by withholding table scraps altogether, and asking guests to do the same. We know this can be difficult, especially at the holidays, when we want everything to be magical, including for our pets.

So, instead of table scraps, prepare your pet’s own holiday meal beforehand. Focus on the least fatty foods, such as white meat, plain or uncooked green beans or carrots, and boiled potatoes before you load them with butter and cream. Also, avoid foods laden with onions or garlic, which can be toxic to pets in high doses. 

Consider baking a special treat for your pet this holiday season, such as these biscuits from Chow Hounds by Ernie Ward, DVM:

Sweet potato biscuits


  • 1 large cooked sweet potato
  • 1 banana
  • ½  cup quinoa flour
  • ½ tbsp vegetable oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, mix the sweet potato and banana until well-blended.
  3. Add the vegetable oil.
  4. Mix in the quinoa flour.
  5. Place teaspoonfuls of the dough on a nonstick baking sheet, lightly flattening each cookie.
  6. Bake 30 minutes. 

Makes about four dozen biscuits.

These biscuits are low in calories, so you can also give them to guests who want to treat your pet.

Holiday decor can spell danger for pets

The holidays are full of temptations for pets, from toys stuffing stockings or under the tree, and shiny  ribbons, bows, and ornaments. Unfortunately, many pets can’t resist these snacks, which puts them at risk of developing life-threatening intestinal obstructions. 

Cats are particularly prone to ingesting yarn, ribbons, and tinsel, which may be thin, but they can still cause  linear foreign-body obstructions when one end of the ribbon or string becomes lodged in the intestinal tract. The intestine attempts to move through the rest of the string, which bunches around the end that is stuck. This can damage the delicate intestinal tissues and lead to a life-threatening intestinal rupture.

We know the last thing you want over the holidays is a pet with gastroenteritis, or worse, whom you have to take to the emergency clinic, so follow our advice and keep festive foods and decorating items away from pets. 

Happy holidays from the Peoria Area Veterinary Group team—we look forward to seeing you and your pet in the New Year.