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 sons. Guberti, a certified nutritionist in New York City, makes a special dinner for the whole family to share five times per year - Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving and Flower's June 10 birthday.
"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."
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 says. Ingredients that are good for humans very often are 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 "The Pet Show" on Saturdays on News Channel 8 in Washington, D.C., had guests who made turkey cakes she plans to make on Christmas morning for Papi, her
"They look like crabcakes, with brown rice, vegetables and shredded turkey. You mix that with an egg, make patties and sear them in a pan," she said.
How do you fix a traditional holiday dinner of appetizers, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, biscuits and dessert fit for 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.
But 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 sauteed 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 per 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."
Zorn drew up a nice-naughty dog food list.
Bad: Chocolate, coffee, alcohol, raisins and grapes, onions and garlic, milk, avocado, macadamia nuts and yeast. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can cause gas but are OK in small doses. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers aren't dangerous but add nothing positive to a dog's diet.
Good: Lean meats, fish, tuna, olive oil, eggs, egg shells, yogurt, carrots, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
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.
Gingerbread Biscuits for Dogs
Here is a simple recipe for gingerbread biscuits that should make you a hit with your dogs during the holidays. Every pet is different, so please check with your vet to see if this recipe is suitable for your dog.
•3 cups whole-wheat flour
•1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
•1 teaspoon cinnamon
•1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
•1/2 cup molasses
•1/2 cup water
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or oil.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, ginger and cinnamon. Mix in the oil, molasses and water, then let rest for 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until 1/4 inch thick. Using holiday-themed or bone-shaped cookie cutters, cut out cookies, rerolling the dough scraps and cutting out more as you go.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, then bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet, then store in an airtight container.
Yield: 24 biscuits