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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Holiday Foods and Dog Cancer

Updated: October 25th, 2021


We all want our dogs to join in the holiday fun. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind.

It’s that time of year, whether we like it or not.  Days are drawing in and all the shops already have their decorations up. In America, Halloween is almost here and Thanksgiving is around the corner. That to me always signals the start of at least two months of excess until the culmination of the new year.  (Or maybe that’s just my excuse!)

In most countries, the upcoming Christmas holidays alone are enough to make us start to think of special meals and treats.  Suddenly, we start to think of special meals, baked goods and sugary delights. When we have a loved dog in the family, we naturally want to spread the joy and include them in a little indulgence.  The problem is, some of the things that are just treats to us could spell real danger to our dogs.

A Little Won’t Hurt — Will It?

If we’ve had a dog with cancer, or know enough that we want to prevent our dogs getting cancer, we’ve probably come across the wisdom of a real food diet.  The Dog Cancer Survival Guide has a wonderful chapter on feeding our dogs healthful, enhancing foods.

Get the advice and support you need. This is the perfect support system for making decisions and talking with your veterinarian about your dog’s cancer.

But holiday time means indulgence.  Surely a little treat here and there is OK, isn’t it?  Well sometimes, but remember that a dog’s digestion is slightly different to ours.  Treats that are a little naughty to us could spell real digestive upset, or worse to our doggies.

My own vet’s office is preparing their holiday information display.  Lottie, the wonderful vet nurse has told me stories of the holiday emergencies they’ve had… the dog who got hold of an whole packet of fudge, and the Labrador who ate an entire tray of small pies straight out of the oven.  We know that certain breeds will eat till they literally drop if they can get hold of anything that tastes interesting.  So especially during the holidays, simply ensuring that quantities of unusual food are not left out and available to our dogs will go a long way toward keeping them from harm.  Years ago I had a Doberman who ate a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses, wrapped in red and green Christmas foil.  We were lucky that the quantity was small and the dog was big, but we kept finding pieces of red and green foil in the back yard for weeks!

Sharing the Love

We have a desire to share ‘goodies’ with our lovely dogs. Candies, sugary foods and chocolate abound, and the oven stays busy with baked goods.  Sugar feeds cancer, so we don’t want our cancer patients anywhere near the stuff. If our dogs don’t have cancer, a lot of sugar can increase the blood sugar levels in the body, creating an invitation to cancer, which we don’t want either.  Dr. Dressler’s article “Dog Cancer and Food…what’s the Carbo Problem?” explains the process more fully.

Here’s simple run-down of the main areas to watch over the holidays:

Category 1: 🙁

A little may not hurt, but quantity could cause problems.   Why risk it?       

  • Grapes, raisins and currants contain a toxin which in quantity can damage the kidneys.
  • Coffee, tea, and caffeine drinks can cause vomiting and diarrhea and be toxic to the heart.
  • Chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the higher the danger) can cause vomiting and diarrhea and be toxic to the heart.  If you love the tradition of chocolate or candy ornaments on the tree, you may want to hang them out of reach of your pooch.
  • Milk and dairy products: some dogs cannot digest dairy and really there is no need for them to have any. Can cause diarrhea (not very nice during celebrations).

Category 2: 🙁 🙁

Never feed. Very dangerous to dogs.

  • Alcohol, including baked goods with alcohol, can cause intoxication, coma, and death.
  • Hops (like those in beer) causes panting, increased heart rate, elevated temperature, seizures, and death.
  • Yeast Dough (raw) can expand and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach or intestines.  Symptoms may not appear for a day or more.
  • Xylitol (an artificial sweetener) can cause very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can result in vomiting, weakness and collapse. In high doses can cause liver failure.

There are good resources on the internet regarding foods and other substances that can be dangerous to our pets.  The American Veterinary Medical Association, Dogs Trust, and ASPCA are just a few.

Gifts should not keep on giving

My dogs love opening presents. Well, they love ripping the paper to shreds so I can clean it up. But they get just as excited as young children when they are given their gifts. If your doggies share in the gift tradition, make sure that there is no ribbon, string, or decoration on the gift that could be swallowed and cause choking or a problem in the gut.

And a reminder of something you’ve probably heard before. Antifreeze is very tasty to pets, and absolutely lethal.  If you get winter weather, please make sure that no antifreeze or other chemical deicer-type substances are within reach of your dog.

Poinsettia plants are often only in the house during the holidays. If you have a curious dog, keep these out of reach as well.

Prepare for a Happy Holiday

To really be prepared, it’s always best to have an emergency response plan. Because if you do odds are you won’t need it, right? Your vet will probably have limited holiday hours. So before you take that time off, find out the phone number and location of an emergency vet service, just in case.  Make sure the adults in your family know about it.

Let your family and visiting friends know the rules about feeding, or not feeding your dog treats and table scraps, just to help avoid any of the above problems.  When the festivities start and merriment is being made, things can get out of hand. We don’t want your pup suffering a food hangover the next day.

Pamper your pooch with his own healthy treat.  Avoid doggy candy and stocking stuffers if you can, because they’re just junk.  Antlers are relatively new on the pet market and provide hours of safe, happy chewing.  And the selection of non-toxic chew toys is expanding.

I hope you enjoy a happy, healthy, safe and barking-good holiday season.

Happy Tails!


Leave a Comment

  1. The Deadly Secret The Dog Food on December 30, 2017 at 1:54 am

    The most special food i’d give to my dog is a bone filled with some peanut butter and maybe some rice in her food.. it’s not very special but i don’t feed anything to my dog that would make her sick.

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