Dog begging for food
We’re in the final stretch of that terrible trifecta of weight gain: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The 39 days in between these holidays offer a multitude of meals for your family to gorge upon. The trouble is that we also share these food celebrations with our pets, resulting in the accumulation of unwanted pounds for all of us.

By the time the last bit of confetti has fallen, many of us are in desperate need of a fresh start — and a diet. So what’s an animal lover to do? How can we share the holidays with our pets in a more healthful manner?

The good news is that, with a little planning, we can party with our pets without feeding them unhealthy and fattening foods. Here are some cardinal tips for keeping your pets in fighting shape this holiday season.

1. Obey People Food Rules

Let’s get one thing clear: I know the majority of you are going to feed your pets from the table. Guess what? Me, too. Perhaps the biggest myth hoisted upon pet owners is that “people food” is bad for pets.

With very few exceptions — grapes, raisins, some nuts and chocolate come to mind — if you’re eating healthy fare, chances are that you can share some of it with your pet. My no-no’s: anything fried, breaded, glazed or enhanced with extra fat and goodness, as well as bread, fatty meats and decadent sweets that tend to populate party plates.

Just bear in mind that any sudden change in a pet’s diet can cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Fatty and rich foods can also lead to pancreatitis.

2. Don’t Supersize Your Pet’s Portion

You don’t need to beat yourself up if you slip Scooter a sliver of salmon. In fact, for the most part, I encourage it. But notice that I said "sliver." This is my second bit of advice: portion control.

Our pets are often one-third to one-tenth our size, so treat accordingly. A one-ounce piece of meat for a 20-pound dog is the same as your entire 10-ounce steak. Sure, that tiny terrier could devour everything on your table, but you’d end up spending your holiday in the animal emergency room. Your choice.

3. Indulge Pets With Select Fare

Rule No. 3 is to choose foods carefully. Skip the butters and sauces. I’d prefer if you indulged your mutt with a mélange of crunchy vegetables, like broccoli, celery, carrots, asparagus and cauliflower.

When it comes to meat, salmon is preferred by most cats and dogs; tuna comes in a close second. Or select lean cuts of ideally free-range or organic beef, turkey and poultry.

And remember to keep the portions small. I often tell clients that, for every 20 pounds of dog, offer thumb-size bites of fish and meat. For cats, a few flakes of fish or half a thumb of meat is plenty. The bottom line: It’s not the amount of holiday goodies you give that counts; our pets just want to be part of the fun.

A word about leftovers, especially turkey bones. Don’t do it! The three days following a major holiday are replete with emergency dog surgeries to remove all varieties of bony fragments. Buy a chew toy instead.

Those almost-empty cocktail glasses that can wait until the morning to be put in the dishwasher are another holiday hazard. As you slumber, your kitties are canvassing the celebratory carnage — and they seem to be especially fond of sampling alcohol, which can be deadly to cats and dogs.

Be sure to also secure second helpings from counter-surfers. How many times must we be awakened by the sound of crashing crystal because our curious canines were scouring the premises for scraps? Candles, ribbons, table runners and other decorations can also be irresistible to pets — and almost impossible to pass without surgical intervention. Some dogs take clean-up duty way too seriously.

4. Cut Back on Kibble — and Amp Up the Exercise

Rule No. 4 for avoiding pet holiday weight gain is to reduce their regular food. You don’t need to necessarily count calories, but you do need to cut back.

My final tip for trimming excess holiday pounds from your pets is exercise. I know you’ll be crazy-busy with guests and preparations, but nothing beats holiday stress like a brisk, half-hour walk. Make it your goal this holiday to walk your dog each day, regardless of the weather or other worries.

I know this sounds terribly common-sensical and unscientific. That’s because it is. We don’t need reams of research to understand that healthy holiday habits are something we should strive for, especially when it comes to our pets.

If you try these approaches, you’ll see that your pet will be healthier, happier and perhaps a bit lighter when the New Year begins. Besides, it will make your own resolutions that much easier.

More on

Dr. Ernie Ward’s Holiday Feast for Dogs

For a gourmet holiday meal that’s both healthy and chop-licking delicious, consider whipping up this special, 200-calorie canine menu.


½ cup chopped spinach, 4 baby carrots and 6 apple cubes (½-inch each) — approximately 25 calories

Main Course

½ can Sockeye salmon (1.5 ounces) — approximately 65 calories
¼ cooked sweet potato — approximately 40 calories
½ cup green beans — approximately 8 calories


¼ cup canned pumpkin — approximately 20 calories
½ sheet plain graham crackers (2 cookies) — approximately 30 calories
½ teaspoon honey — approximately 12 calories
Pinch of cinnamon 

This meal is for a 20- to 40-pound dog. Reduce or increase portion size accordingly.

Note: Keep in mind that if you feed your pet anything that strays from his regular diet — especially in large quantities — it may cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet has a pre-existing medical condition or if he’s on a hypoallergenic diet, you should not feed him any treats or new foods until you have discussed it with your veterinarian.