By: Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD
When gathering with loved ones to celebrate the holidays, for many of us, it seems natural to want to include our pets in our holiday traditions as well. While it’s important for our pets to be part of the family, this shouldn’t include sharing in the holiday feast. Sharing your table scraps with your cat can lead to a number of health issues, including obesity and pancreatitis.
Holiday dishes in particular feature foods that are dangerous or toxic to cats. These are some people foods that you should keep away from your cat during the holidays.
Seasoned Turkey Meat and Skin
While plain, cooked turkey is relatively safe for pets to eat, holiday recipes usually call for the turkey to be brined or seasoned. These processes add hefty amounts of salt, pepper and herbs to the meat, making it less safe for pets to consume. Turkey skin is particularly fatty, and if cats eat it as a scrap, it can lead to pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Also, turkey bones pose a choking hazard for pets and can cause an obstruction in the intestine.
Most stuffing recipes contain onion, scallions or garlic, all of which belong to the Allium family. Vegetables within the Allium family are extremely toxic to cats because they cause oxidative damage to the red blood cells, which causes the cells to rupture, resulting in anemia. Other consequences of allium poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.
Many stuffing recipes also include raisins, which (along with grapes) are highly toxic to cats.
This popular holiday condiment is either served straight from the can or homemade from a recipe. To reduce the tartness of the berry, cranberry sauce recipes typically call for large quantities of white sugar, and the canned sauce usually contains high-fructose corn syrup. Unlike humans, cats don’t have a sweet tooth and cannot tolerate sugary foods. Excess sugar can also lead to obesity, diabetes and dental disease.
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
When eaten in small amounts, plain-cooked potatoes are not harmful to pets. However, the ingredients used to make mashed potatoes put cats at risk of gastroenteritis. Mashed potato recipes usually call for some form of dairy, such as milk, butter or cheese. Because most cats become lactose intolerant after weaning, dairy can cause unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and gas.
As for gravy, this tasty topping tends to be high in fat and contains potentially toxic seasonings, such as onion and garlic.
Sweet Potato Casserole
While cooked, plain sweet potatoes can be a great treat for cats, sweet potato casserole is strictly off-limits. This side dish usually contains milk and brown sugar, making it too rich for a cat’s digestive tract. If the casserole is topped with marshmallows and pecans, these ingredients add even more sugar and fat. (Did you know that a single, regular-sized marshmallow contains 4 grams of sugar?) Cats cannot readily digest nuts, so large pieces can cause a blockage in the intestine.
Green Bean Casserole
It’s true that plain green beans can be an excellent treat for pets. But green bean casserole is a no-go. This holiday classic gets its creamy flavor from a dairy-based sauce. Most green bean casserole recipes are also rich in onions—both within the casserole and added as a crispy French onion topping. Onions, like all Allium members, can cause fatal red blood cell damage in cats.
Candied yam recipes are often passed down through generations, but this traditional side item is another one to keep away from your cat. The dessert-like dish gets its name from the rich helpings of brown sugar, butter and marshmallows that make it oh-so-sweet. Cats can’t handle such high levels of sugar and fat, so avoid letting your cat lick your plate of candied yams.
Corn on the Cob
A plain, cooked corn kernel or two is not a hazardous treat for cats. However, you should never feed corn on the cob to your kitty. Corn cobs present a choking risk and could lead to intestinal obstruction if consumed. You should also beware of the extra ingredients commonly added to this dish, including salt, pepper and butter.
Macaroni and Cheese
The ultimate comfort food, macaroni and cheese is a holiday favorite for many families. However, nearly all cats are intolerant of dairy in their diet, so the cheese can lead to diarrhea, gas and abdominal pain.
What holiday feast is complete without pumpkin pie? This iconic Thanksgiving dessert gets its rich, custardy taste from sweetened condensed milk, which adds heavy amounts of sugar and dairy. Even switching out the sugar for an artificial sweetener is not good, as some artificial sweeteners (like xylitol) are highly toxic to pets. One of the most common flavors added to pumpkin pie is nutmeg, which is also highly toxic to cats.
All alcohol should be completely off-limits to pets. Even small amounts can cause alcohol poisoning, a dangerous and potentially fatal condition for our furry family members. One of the most popular alcoholic drinks of the holiday season, eggnog, also contains raw eggs, cream and nutmeg—all of which are poorly tolerated or toxic to cats.
What Can I Give My Cat?
Our cats are family, so it is no surprise that we would want to include them in our festive holiday meals. However, cats have sensitive digestive systems that cannot tolerate a lot of human food ingredients.
If you want to share the holiday cheer with your cat, skip the table scraps and get them some healthy, holiday-themed cat treats or a fun catnip toy as a special treat.