Those puppy dog eyes say yes, please. Your vet may have a different take.

By A.C. Shilton
December 21, 2020
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Vets in the U.S. have a saying, says Don Woodman, DVM, the co-founder of the Independent Veterinary Practitioner’s Association and a Safety Harbor, Florida-based vet: The months of November and December may be the holiday season, but the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas are the pancreatitis season.

It’s not so much the ham, specifically, that is the problem, says Lon Lewis, DVM, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist based in Topeka, Kansas. Unfortunately, people tend to grab the scraps and toss them to their pet. Those tidbits are almost universally the fatty morsels that humans don’t want. For a dog, a single high-fat meal can trigger pancreatitis—or inflammation of the pancreas. If not caught quickly and treated, pancreatitis can be fatal, says Dr. Woodman.

Even trimmed of fat, though, some veterinarians have hesitations about pork products, says Dr. Woodman. Traditionally, they’ve been seen as being slightly riskier for triggering pancreatitis, though he adds that that is likely more based on anecdotal evidence than anything else.

There are other problems with ham, too. Sodium, which causes human nutritionists to put ham on the naughty list, isn’t a massive problem for healthy canines. However, too much salt can be dangerous for a dog with cardiac problems, says Katie Smithson, a Chattanooga-based veterinarian. “And really, there are so many other things they could have as treats that aren’t super salty,” she adds. 

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As for the leftover ham bone, that’s far too delicious in a pot of bean soup to sacrifice to your pooch. It’s not good for them, either. Dr. Woodman says bones can end in broken teeth and esophageal blockages—when part of the bone lodges in the esophagus. Signs your dog has an esophageal blockage include coughing, gagging, drooling, and throwing up. This, like pancreatitis, is a veterinary emergency. Dr. Smithson adds that because cooked bones don’t break down easily in the GI tract, ham bones can cause major internal damage. Really, you shouldn’t feed your dog any type of cooked bone at all, she advises.  

If you’re dead-set on giving your dog a holiday treat, you’d be better served by a slice of turkey, some cooked green beans, or even some sweet potatoes (before you load them up with butter and cream). If you’ve read this far and still want to give them ham, keep the sliver tiny and trim it of all excess fat.

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Finally, if your pooch grabs the Christmas ham off the counter when no one is looking, you should immediately call your nearest emergency vet. The severity of the consequences will depend on your dog's size and how much they polished off before you heard those snarfing sounds coming from your kitchen. Either way, a vet needs to be involved. Because passing an entire holiday ham is no holiday.