Dogs and Christmas leftovers

Article by Lara Shannon, Host of Channel 10’s Pooches at Play.

As a certified Pet Food Nutrition Specialist, I am all for feeding our pets human-grade food, but we do need to be careful when feeding our dogs the Christmas leftovers that we aren’t feeding them toxic ingredients, foods high in salt or fat, or upsetting their digestive systems by over-feeding them or changing their usual diet.

As a dog behaviourist, I’m also wary of feeding our dogs tasty leftovers regularly, as it can lead to dogs becoming fussy eaters. Or rather, (given what is really happening with ‘fussy eaters’) is they may start to refuse their usual meal, holding out for the tastier options they know will come if they hold out long enough for you to give in!

There is often an influx of dogs in emergency rooms following Christmas celebrations, pancreatitis being a big issue, as well as toxicity from foods and alcohol, so it is important to keep pets away from any foods laying about and also to avoid feeding them to your dog.

What are the top things to avoid?

Cooked bones
While appropriately sized raw meaty bones can be beneficial for our dogs, cooked bones – especially turkey, chicken and other bones that can easily splinter should be avoided as they can cause damage to your dog’s throat, stomach and bowel.

Salty ham, pork crackling, fatty meats
It can be very hard to refuse those puppy dog eyes looking up at you as you carve the Ham or the Pork or scrape the leftovers from your plate. Whilst a one-off tiny sliver of ham isn’t likely to do too much harm, hams are high in salt and highly processed so too much of these and other processed meats are just no good for our dogs (and let’s face it, nor for us!).  Cracking and other fatty meats can very quickly lead to pancreatitis in our dogs, a very painful disease that costly to treat and can be deadly if picked up too late.

Christmas Puddings & Fruit cakes
The traditional Christmas Pudding or Fruit Cake are both full of many toxic ingredients for dogs. From grapes, sultanas and raisins, to nuts – especially the extremely toxic macadamia nuts, and in some cases alcohol, not to mention the brandy sauce.  Not even a tiny bit of pudding or cake should cross their lips.

The darker the chocolate the more toxic it is for your dog, but even your usual milk chocolates should be kept well out of reach as it could cause a serious medical emergency. Chocolate also contains both theobromine and caffeine which can speed the heart rate and stimulate the nervous system of dogs.

Anything with Xylitol
A commonly used artificial sweetener in many foods, Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, or even death in dogs.

No pet should be exposed to alcohol, even small amounts that might be found in brandy custard, puddings etc. When a dog or cat is exposed to alcohol it causes depression of their central nervous system, which can slow their breathing and heart rate and alter their blood chemistry. It can also have dangerous drops in their blood sugar levels causing seizures and even worse brain damage.

Onions (and garlic)
Small amounts of garlic can be found in some dog food diets, as low levels can have health benefits, but don’t try it yourself.     Onions are a definite no-go as they are toxic.

Other ingredients
As mentioned in the cake and pudding section, worth mentioning again is macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins and sultanas, and also keep avocados away (many a dog has had to have surgery to remove the stone!), too much cheese or other dairy products.

Gifts & toys
Also be wary of small plastic toys, batteries or any other Christmas gift items that might look like good fun for your pet to chew.

Warning Signs to look out for:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive drooling or frothing
  • Restlessness
  • Increased urination
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Wobbling on their legs or collapse

Always take them straight to the Vet or emergency pet hospital if you see any of these signs and symptoms or suspect they have snuck in a toxic treat or ingested a foreign object.

Food that is okay to give to your dog in small amounts:

Note: Any new food or diet should be transitioned slowly, so best to just mix in small amounts into their usual meal and remember to count those extra calories into their daily intake and reduce their usual meal portion accordingly.

Appropriate raw meaty bones
Inappropriately sized raw bones can cause damage to your dog’s teeth, or if eaten too quickly can be difficult to digest, so it is important to check with your Vet as to the ideal sized and type of raw meeting bone for your individual dog, particularly with puppies.

Steamed or pulped veggies
While dogs do not officially require carbohydrates in their diet to survive (and sadly most consume far too much) it is generally accepted that in the wild they consume around 5-10% of plant matter.

Dark leafy green vegetables for example contain important minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium as well as phytonutrients. Carrots are great but avoid feeding too many vegetables in the cabbage family as they can depress the thyroid and try to avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and tapioca. Fruit should be fed ripe or it can cause diarrhoea.

To aid with the digestion they should be lightly steamed or pulped. You can give them what is in season – but avoid any seeds or pips – and again avoid onions, grapes and raisins, and avocados.

Raw, human grade muscle and organ meat
I am a big advocate of raw feeding and our dogs need a high proportion of quality muscle meat in their diet and around 10% offal (heart, lungs, liver etc.) so giving them some of the raw cut offs can be good for them – but again if your dog has not been on a raw food diet, you need to introduce them in small amounts.

For more food and nutrition tips for your dog and other pet care advice visit

As a one of Australia’s most well-known animal welfare advocates, Lara Shannon is passionate about educating and empowering people to help improve the lives of companion animals.  A certified dog trainer & behaviourist and pet food nutritionist, Lara is the Producer and Host of Channel 10’s Pooches at Play, featured in The Pet Rescuers on Channel 9 and is the Author of ‘World of Dogs’ (October 2021) and ‘Eat Play Love (Your Dog)’ (June 2020), published by Hardie Grant Books.


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