What’s the holiday season without tasty treats? This year, let your dog or cat in on the fun and flavor by learning how to select and serve the best pet-friendly holiday treats, chews, and food-based puzzles. The Wales Animal Clinic team provides information on treats that will tickle your pet’s taste buds and satisfy their stomach.

The naughty list: Avoid these harmful pet treats and foods

First, it’s helpful to remember that not all foods are created equal. Many holiday favorites—including parts of the turkey—can be dangerous or deadly to pets. Whether you’ll be baking, cooking, or simply sharing some leftovers with your pet, stay away from toxic and hazardous foods, including:

  • Turkey fat, skin, and pan drippings
  • Gravy
  • Turkey or ham bones
  • Corn on the cob
  • Garlic, onions, and leeks
  • Chocolate in any form (e.g., candy, cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate)
  • Raisins and grapes
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Yeast dough
  • Xylitol (i.e., a sugar substitute found in many sugar free baked goods and prepackaged snack foods)

If you prefer to stay out of the kitchen during the holidays and to purchase your pet’s treats, holiday favorites that could pose a problem and should be avoided include:

  • Rawhide
  • Cow hooves
  • Knuckles, femurs, and other hard animal bones
  • Artificially colored or dyed treats 
  • Sugary treats containing corn syrup, fructose, or white sugar 
  • Artificially preserved treats containing ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, propylene glycol

Table to bowl: Pet-safe holiday foods from your holiday menu

Fortunately, you can share many excellent and safe foods with your pet during the holidays. To ensure maximum health benefits and avoid contamination with harmful ingredients, these foods should be served plain (i.e., no sauces or added salt) and on their own (i.e., not in a casserole). Vegetables may be steamed or lightly cooked to enhance digestion. Pet-friendly options include:

  • White-meat turkey with the skin removed
  • Green beans
  • Butternut squash
  • Pure pumpkin—not pumpkin pie filling
  • Apples or unsweetened applesauce
  • Peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn—not on the cob
  • Carrots  

Presentation is everything: Serving options for pet-friendly holiday treats

While treating your pet by hand or in their bowl is perfectly OK, you can add to your pet’s enjoyment with food or treats in an enrichment toy. That not only makes eating fun but also is an easy way to offer soft or messy foods (e.g., mashed sweet potatoes) and encourage slow, mindful eating.

Select a toy based on your pet’s species, preferences, and the treats or food you plan to serve. Our favorite enrichment toys include:

  • Kongs and hollow rubber toys — Kongs, WestPaw Toppls, and similar hollow chew toys can be filled with food of various flavors and textures for a long-lasting treat. 
  • Lickable mats — These flexible textured, food-grade silicone mats are perfect for spreadable foods. Licking relaxes dogs and cats and can help calm nervous or anxious pets. These mats are ideal for cats and flat-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) dog breeds.
  • Treat-dispensing balls and toys — These interactive toys respond to your pet’s motion and are best for dry treats or non-crumbly foods, such as corn, diced apples, or peas.
  • Snuffle mats — Fabric snuffle mats encourage pets to sniff out hidden rewards and are best for dry treats, while silicone snuffle mats can be used for wet or spreadable foods.

Always supervise your pet to ensure responsible eating and remove the toy when your pet has finished.

Bake up some love: Homemade treat recipes for pets

If you’re already in the kitchen cooking for the holidays, why not whip up a batch of our favorite homemade dog or cat treats? These recipes ensure you’ll have plenty of bite-sized training treats for your pet, as well as some for gifts for fellow pets. 

Homemade treats should be kept in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

  • Recipes for dogs — In addition to xylitol-free peanut butter and pumpkin-based dog treat recipes, dogs love these healthy and festive cranberry dog treats
  • Recipe for cats —  Fish-loving cats appreciate these high-value training treats. This simple basic recipe can also be made with canned salmon or mackerel, but ensure you buy water-, not oil-packed fish. For a seasonal touch, check out this salmon and pumpkin recipe. 

Portion police: How much to treat your pet

Treats are a great way to express your love for your pet, but don’t overindulge your four-legged friend and cause weight gain and obesity. As a general rule, treats should be no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories.

Picky palate? Health issues? Alternatives to food-based treats

Lastly, remember that you can take other routes to your pet’s heart than through their stomach. If your pet has food allergies, digestive problems, a health condition, or is on a diet, experience-based rewards can be a great alternative. Try taking your dog on a long leisurely sniff walk and allowing them to set the pace and distance, play fetch in the park, or sign up for a fun local dog training center class. Snuggle with your cuddly cat for long sessions, or treat your independent pet to a new toy or bed.

Holiday treats are meant to be shared, but pet owners must be careful to avoid unpleasant pet side effects, illness, or toxicosis. Ensure you spoil your dog or cat with a pet-safe holiday treat or experience so they have something to bark or purr about.

Don’t wait until the holidays to give your pet the gift of health. Contact the Wales Animal Clinic team to schedule an appointment or discuss your pet’s veterinary care needs.