The most prized holiday guests are those that eat with gusto, express their appreciation and lick their plates clean.
So what if some of them eat off the floor, get a little sloppy and never help with the dishes?
At Nancy Guberti’s house, Flower, a 6-year-old black-and-white shih tzu, will eat the same organic turkey and spinach as Guberti’s own sons.
“She’s part of the family and she’s such a good dog,” Guberti said. “We treat her with the utmost respect, like you’d want to be treated.”
Guberti, a nutritionist in New York City, makes a special dinner for the whole family to share five times a year — Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Thanksgiving and Flower’s June 10 birthday.
Plenty of people cook for their dogs year-round, but the holidays might be the easiest time because human menus can be so easily adapted to their needs, said Sarah Zorn, a New York pet columnist for the magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray. She also creates and tests most of the pet recipes the magazine runs.
“Do unto your dog as you are doing to yourself,” she said. Ingredients that are good for humans are very often good for dogs too, she said.
Dogs have millions of taste buds, said Dr. Katy Nelson. But the veterinarian said those taste buds are not really well defined — and neither is the dog’s sense of smell.
“My dog thinks the garbage can smells good, so it’s all subjective,” Zorn said.
Nelson, who hosts a pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station, had guests who made turkey cakes she plans to make for Papi, her 70-pound Labradoodle, on Christmas morning.
They look like crab cakes, with brown rice, vegetables and shredded turkey. You mix that with an egg, make patties and sear them in a pan,” she said.
How would you fix a traditional holiday dinner of appetizers, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, biscuits and dessert to serve dogs and humans? No matter how spicy the human food is, the dog’s has to be bland and low-fat.
“Before dinner, they can graze like everybody else, have a couple of carrot sticks and cheese cubes,” Zorn said.
When it comes to preparing the turkey, go saltless, she said. Eliminate onions and garlic, white flour, refined sugars and processed foods.
That doesn’t mean you can’t put anything in the dog’s meal. “There are actually a lot of herbs that are good for dogs. Parsley is good for them — it’s a natural breath freshener. Ginger is good for digestion and turmeric is good.
It’s hard to make biscuits without flour, Zorn said. “But try to use whole wheat, barley, rice, flax or amaranth because they should really have a low-gluten diet.”
For side dishes, make the green beans with chicken stock or sautéed mushroom soup. Before you candy the sweet potatoes, take one out for the dog and steam it with a little cinnamon and ginger. White potatoes are OK, too, although not as healthy as sweet potatoes. A little cranberry sauce is good for a dog. Instead of gravy, use turkey juice or stock, Zorn said.
For dessert, Zorn recommends gingerbread biscuits. Dogs also love peanut butter cookies with yogurt frosting, she said.
Zorn tries out many of her creations on her own dog Rowdy, a hound mix. “He is the first rung of the testing process. He’s my child to be sure — obsessed with food. If this dog doesn’t eat it, the recipe needs to be scrapped,” she said.
All of the dog’s food can go in one bowl, Zorn said. Every other day of the year, Rowdy gets 1 1/2 cups of food twice a day, so he’ll get the same on Christmas Day. “We are talking about making this special, but he’s not going to gain 10 pounds.”
Finally, Zorn said Santa’s reindeer would probably turn up their noses at Santa’s cookies and milk.
But they would welcome a bowl of berries, acorns, a carrot, a little hay or alfalfa pellets, along with a bowl of water.