WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Holiday meals and pets

Close up image of kitten eating out of a person's hand, and black senior dog wearing santa hat while laying on a couch.
Photo credit

During the holidays, it’s always tempting to slide a chunk of turkey or two off your plate to a furry friend, but even in the giving season, it may do more harm than good. The holidays, and the feasts that come with them, result in thousands of veterinary visits every year for ill pets.

Can my pet get sick from eating holiday foods?

During holiday periods, WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital routinely sees an uptick in the incidence of cats and dogs with vomiting and diarrhea. After eating high-fat foods, some pets can also develop pancreatitis, a serious condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed by activating digestive enzymes before they reach the small intestine. Activating those enzymes in the pancreas causes pain and swelling and can result in diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and a swollen abdomen.

What foods should I be sure not to feed my pets?

The best tip is to avoid giving your dog or cat “people” food, but if you really want to give your pet a treat, a little piece of turkey is probably not a big deal. If you give them a full Thanksgiving dinner made for a person, they could very well get sick.

It is best to not give your pet foods high in fats, like gravy or leftover meat on a turkey or ham carcass.

Common foods that can be toxic to dogs include anything high in onions, garlic, alcohol, chocolate, the white sap found in poinsettias, the berries found on mistletoe, and lilies.

Bones from ham and turkey carcasses also cause problems around Thanksgiving, and in some cases require surgery to remove.

What are some other tips to help keep my pet healthy during the holidays?

Some dogs are notorious for countering surfing and finding a way into the garbage to search for scraps, so be sure food is stored in places your pets can’t reach and that garbage cans have secure lids.

Your pet can also become stressed due to changes in its routine or an increase in visitors to your home around the holidays, which can lead to nausea. Be sure to provide stressed-out pets access to a quiet room, the backyard, or a crate. Depending on the pet’s anxiety around visitors and their boarding history, boarding facilities may also be an option.

What should I do if my pet gets sick over the holidays?

If your pet is showing signs of sickness contact your veterinarian or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711. Emergency services for small and large animals are available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.