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Safely Share a Thanksgiving Meal With Your Pets

Enjoying the Big-Eatin' Holiday with Your Pets

By Lauren Leonardi. October 09, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Safely Share a Thanksgiving Meal With Your Pets

Thanksgiving is a favorite time of year for plenty of people (and pets!) because of all of the great yummy things there are to eat. If you're the type that likes to share food with your pet, here are some safe ways you can share the holiday meal with your cat or dog.

Thanksgiving is synonymous with overindulgence. While many foods are safe to share with your pets on Thanksgiving, many are not! Knowing the difference could keep you out of the emergency vet clinic on this most fantastic day of feasting. If you do use people food in your pet’s Thanksgiving meal, remember to moderate their food intake -- even if you’re not able to do so for yourself!

SHOULD YOU SHARE THANKSGIVING FOODS WITH YOUR DOG OR CAT?

At Thanksgiving, chances are high that some sneaky family member or another will want to treat your pooch to a table scrap. Be clear with family about the rules, but don’t get too crazy about it. Manners and begging issues aside, Thanksgiving is a great holiday for pets. There are loads of good foods in traditional Thanksgiving meals that will be perfectly healthy for your dog or your cat.

TIPS FOR SHARING YOUR THANKSGIVING MEAL WITH YOUR PETS

Some stand by a strict no-people-food-for-pets rule in their homes. If that’s the case, it’s perfectly reasonable to uphold those rules even during the holidays. Other folks offer people food all year round, so Thanksgiving won’t be much of a departure. Here are a few tips to keep your cats and dogs feeling well:

  • If you’re going to be adding unusual foods to your pet’s diet on Thanksgiving, do so in moderation.

  • Stay away from turkey skins, as these aren't good for pets!
  • Feed your pet less of their usual food on days when they’ll be getting extra goodies. Overeating is uncomfortable for humans, but can be very serious in dogs. Gastric torsion, or twisting of the stomach, can occur when a dog overindulges. Pancreatitis can occur when they have foods that are too rich, like the turkey skins mentioned above. These conditions can be expensive for you, and uncomfortable or even deadly for them.

  • Mix table scraps in with reduced portions of the food they’re used to. This can help ease digestion.

  • Share Thanksgiving foods at the pet’s meal time, and in their food bowl, instead of handing them tiny bits throughout the day. This should help stave off unwanted behaviors like constant begging. It will also help you keep track of how much your pet is actually eating. A little here and a little there can add up to a lot -- just ask any Weight Watcher!

HIDDEN INGREDIENTS ARE THE PITFALL OF SHARING THANKSGIVING MEALS WITH PETS

Here’s where even pet parents with the best of intentions can go wrong: hidden ingredients. Family recipes often have that “secret ingredient,” -- that hidden and oh-so-delish ingredient that ends up being toxic to your pet! At the top of the dangerous hidden ingredients list are onions, garlic, and butter or excessive fat. Onions and too much garlic can be toxic, especially to dogs, while butter and other fatty foods are too rich for pets, and can cause pancreatitis.

Avoid these pitfalls by reserving unadulterated ingredients for your pet. During the cooking extravaganza, pull out some lean turkey, sans gravy. Save a portion of baked or steamed sweet potato before they’re buttered and creamed. Portion out some stuffing bread crumbs before the sauteed onions and salt are added. Collect these pet-safe bits, and mix them all together at your pet’s meal time. Be sure to serve these treats in small quantities that don't fill your pet's bowl.

If you're providing more than half of your pet's food as Thanksgiving fixin's, you're likely providing too much and setting yourself up for a trip to the vet.

THANKSGIVING FOODS THAT ARE NOT SAFE TO SHARE WITH YOUR CAT OR DOG

Avoid these ingredients, always:

  • Raw poultry
  • Turkey skin
  • Butter and oils
  • Bones, especially cooked bones, which are likely to splinter
  • Alcohol: beer, wine, or anything else
  • Nuts, especially walnuts or macadamia nuts
  • Sweets like cookies, pie, and cake
  • Onions, or anything with onion in it, even if the onions are cooked or macerated
  • Garlic
  • Some mushrooms (so to be safe, avoid all mushrooms)
  • Some herbs like sage and nutmeg

THANKSGIVING FOODS THAT ARE SAFE TO SHARE WITH YOUR PET

These foods can be safely shared with your beloved cat or dog on Thanksgiving. Remember to moderate for your pet, even if it’s hard to do for yourself.

  • Turkey, boneless
  • Whole raw eggs
  • Sweet potato or yams, as long as there’s no onions or cream involved
  • Canned pureed pumpkin
  • Raw apple (but not the seeds)
  • Raw veggies like carrots
  • Steamed veggies like green beans or broccoli
  • Any rice, brown, white, or wild

THANKSGIVING FOODS FOR CATS: A REMINDER

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they thrive on a diet primarily of meat. Meat can safely be shared with your cat on Thanksgiving. Other foods should be given in only very small amounts. Some cats just love sweet potatoes, but it's up to you to restrict their carb intake.

Remember, cats are much smaller than most dogs so your cat really shouldn't get more than a tablespoon of Thanksgiving fixings. An excess of veggies or carbs could give them an upset stomach.

More on Pet Nutrition

Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?
Gourmet Pet Foods To Choose From
Recipe To Help Dog Digestive Stress

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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