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Winter Holiday Pet Safety

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States! For some, the day is about giving thanks, having a delicious meal, and being around family and friends. If you decide to involve your pets in the festivities, here are some tips on how to keep them safe!

Many major winter holidays are officially here for North America and while these celebrations can be a great way to get through the darkest part of the year, it is important to keep your pets safe during all the festivities. There are, sadly, plenty of foods in holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner that are toxic, injury-causing, or fatal for pets. And with a lot of people around, the holidays can also be an overwhelming time for animals. There are, of course, plenty of other ways to keep your pets safe during this time of year but not sharing certain foods and giving them a routine and safe space can really make a difference.

Foods to Avoid Sharing With Pets

While there are plenty of foods that humans, cats, and dogs can all safely eat, there are many others that our furry friends cannot have. During the winter season, there are more than a few of these foods and ingredients included in holiday meals, which means that table scraps or leftovers from the holidays shouldn’t be shared! The following list is not an exhaustive one of all the foods that pets cannot have but rather, some relatively common ingredients or dishes found in Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holiday meals.

  1. Onions and Garlic
    1. Onions and garlic are both intergral holiday ingredients that are toxic for dogs and cats alike.
  2. Cooked Bones
    1. This is especially true for chicken and turkey bones, as cooking these birds often causes the bones to become brittle. That, in turn, can cause the bones to break apart while the animals are eating them. But avoid giving any type of cooked bone to your pet (no matter the puppy eyes they give you!), as bones can cause issues like broken teeth, bones getting stuck in their esophagus or lower jaw, intestinal blockages, constipation, or even severe rectal bleeding.
  3. Turkey or Ham
    1. While carnivorous animals like cats and dogs can eat turkey and pig, the ones made on Thanksgiving Christmas, or other holidays, are much too rich for our pets. Between the seasonings, fat, skin, and bones, there are too many risks of illness or internal damage for pets to share in what might be the main meal for many families.
  4. Gravy
    1. Like with turkey and ham, gravy is just too high in fat, salt, and spices for pets.
  5. Fruitcake
    1. There are plenty of fruits that we can share with our canine friends but unfortunately, fruitcakes often contain raisins and nuts. The exact cause is unknown but grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs and cats and have been known to cause kidney failure among other things.
    2. Some nuts are also toxic to dogs; macadamia nuts, for example, have been known to affect the canine nervous system and cause issues walking or lethargy. Raw nuts can also result in intestinal blockages in cats.
    3. Similarly, fruitcake cannot be shared with other pets, like rabbits, guinea pigs, other small mammals, and birds. It’s true that fruit and vegetables can make up a small percentage of a rabbit, domestic rat, or guinea pig’s diet, the added sugar and spices in a fruitcake would not be good for these animals.
  6. Other Deserts
    1. Most people know that chocolate is particularly bad for dogs (and it’s not so great for cats either!). The exact level of chocolate toxicity depends on a few factors, mainly the size of the animal, the quantity of the chocolate, and the type. Even so, it’s best to just avoid your pets getting into chocolate.
    2. Sugar and sugar substitutes like xylitol (birch sugar) are also bad for pets! Sugary treats, like cookies and pies, are iconic parts of holiday meals. But added sugar and some sugar substitutes are actually toxic/fatal to some animals.
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Make Your Pets Feel Safe

Being around a lot of people might be overwhelming and stressful for your pets, particularly if they’re in a new place or their routine has been drastically changed. During the holiday season, be sure to give your animals a safe, quiet space they can go to if they start to feel overwhelmed. If possible, stick to a usual routine, like when your pets are fed or walked. This gives the animals a sense of familiarity and some pets, particularly dogs, do really well with a regular schedule.

It’s also important that everyone who interacts with your animals understand your pet’s body language and respect their boundaries. By setting up boundaries and allowing your pets to escape a social interaction or leave when they feel overwhelmed or threatened, you can keep your pets and the people around you safe. While there are a few different issues that could cause pet aggression, there have been plenty of pets that have reacted poorly/aggressively to boundaries being crossed. By having guests be respectful of your pets, you can limit conflict or aggression.


There are, of course, plenty of other ways to keep your pets safe during the winter holidays (and the season in general!). But knowing what’s toxic, fatal, generally bad, or overwhelming for pets can help prevent a disaster in a time that should be joyous and fun.

What are your plans for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

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