The Thanksgiving Foods That Are Safe for Your Pets, According to Experts
By Jake Rossen
In pet-friendly households, shooing a dog away from the table is as much a tradition on Thanksgiving as cranberry sauce. If you do relent and offer up some scraps, you’re probably curious which holiday menu items are safe for the little beggars to consume.
We were, too, so we solicited the advice of Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian and pet nutrition specialist with Wellness Pet Food, and Sarah Wooten, DVM and Pumpkin Pet Insurance Veterinary Expert. Take a look at the dog-friendly menu you can share with them this holiday season. (And no, we haven't forgotten about cats. Keep scrolling.)
As you probably anticipated, turkey is perfectly fine for pets to consume: It’s already a common ingredient in many commercial dog foods. “It’s generally safe and healthy for dogs to eat plain, skinless turkey breast,” Bernal tells Mental Floss. “Plus, it’s a great source of protein. It’s not only a tasty treat but will support your dog’s muscle health and lean body condition, which is why it’s a common ingredient in many dog foods and dog treats.”
Just keep it free of any skin, stuffing, or seasoning. “The concern with giving your dog Thanksgiving turkey is that it’s probably seasoned from the inside out with delicious ingredients that add flavor—like garlic and onions—but that can be harmful to dogs,” Bernal says. “The holiday turkey may also be covered with a fatty ingredient like butter or oil which isn’t healthy for dogs and can cause a gastric upset or pancreatitis.”
Be sure to keep bones away from your pet, too. According to Bernal, they can cause intestinal obstructions or other emergencies.
Raw Carrots and Apples
Before you add them to stuffing, consider setting some raw carrots aside. The same goes for apples before preparing applesauce or pies. “Other common Thanksgiving foods that are safe for dogs are raw carrots and apples,” Bernal says. “Carrots are great, low-calorie snacks high in beta carotene, which protects against cataracts and heart disease. Apples are a sweet treat that provide an excellent source of pectin, which supports a healthy digestive system.” (Do not feed raw carrots to cats, only cooked; raw portions can be a choking hazard.)
Plain, cooked sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins and fiber, but watch out for anything with butter or seasoning added. “[Sweet potatoes] can be an excellent source of fiber and help your dog’s digestion, plus they’re rich in vitamins A, B6, C and calcium,” Bernal says. Avoid mashed potatoes and gravy, which are loaded with fat.
Small amounts of cranberries and plain pumpkin are also fine, but too much of either can cause an upset stomach. In moderation, though, they can actually be of benefit. “Cranberries typically help support urinary health and can aid in the prevention of infections or bacterial growth,” Bernal says.
Foods to Avoid
In general, anything added for human flavor isn’t going to be good for dogs. “Common additions like garlic and onions are toxic to dogs, potentially causing issues like fainting and an elevated heart rate,” Bernal says. “Extremely fatty foods can cause gastrointestinal upsets, and even pancreatitis. Additional ingredients like chocolate are toxic to dogs, which in severe cases can cause seizures or even comas.”
Other ingredients that can be dangerously toxic include nutmeg—often found in pumpkin spice—and the artificial sweetener Xylitol, which can be found in baked goods.
What About Cats?
According to Sarah Wooten, DVM and Pumpkin Pet Insurance Veterinary Expert, cats can enjoy a similar variety of table treats as dogs. Cooked turkey without seasoning or skin is fine; so are plain boiled or sweet potatoes. If you feed them vegetables like carrots or green beans, make sure they're cooked. “If your cat is sick in any way or has a sensitive stomach, consult your veterinarian before offering Thanksgiving treats,” Wooten says. “No potato, sweet potato, carrots, or pumpkin for diabetic cats.”
How Much Thanksgiving Food to Feed Your Pet
Just because you may over indulge during the festivities doesn’t mean your pet should. “Aim to feed no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of your pup’s overall daily nutrition from these homecooked additions to maintain their overall health and keep these extras as a special treat versus an entire meal,” Bernal says. “Overfeeding can cause weight gain, which can lead to joint problems and other health concerns. It’s important to consult your own veterinarian, who has a more detailed understanding of your dog or cats’ weight, activity level and unique health concerns, to determine how much he or she should be eating and drinking.”