Thanksgiving is all about gathering with loved ones, expressing gratitude and, of course, eating a deliciously indulgent meal. For pet owners, however, Turkey Day poses a few extra challenges.
“While many foods at Thanksgiving are the highlight of our holidays, it is important to know that they can be dangerous for our pets,” said Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian with the pet care company Wellness Pet Food.
That’s why it’s important to educate yourself and your guests about the dishes that can pose a risk to cats and dogs. Make sure to keep the food out of reach of your animals, keep trash cans securely shut, and ask your visitors not to share scraps or leave plates unattended.
In the interest of keeping pets safe around the holidays, we asked Bernal and other experts to break down the edible (and non-edible) items that may pose a risk to dogs and cats on Thanksgiving. They also explained which dishes are safe for for our furry friends on this festive occasion.
Reist the urge to throw those leftover turkey bones to your dog.
“It is important to make sure your dog doesn’t eat cooked bones as they are far more likely to shatter and splinter when chewed, making for increased risk of a pet suffering an intestinal puncture, resulting in an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital,” Bernal said.
In addition to potentially piercing the digestive system, the turkey bones could cause choking, tooth fractures or blockages in the GI tract.
“Bones, corncobs, twine from trussing the turkey and other food prep items can get stuck and cause blockages,” said Dr. Kizzy English, area medical director for urgent care with VCA Animal Hospitals in Fort Collins, Colorado. “In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove the blockage.”
Don’t overlook the ingredients we use to make dishes more flavorful.
“Onions and garlic can cause severe GI distress in dogs and red blood cell damage and anemia in cats,” said Dr. Wendy Hauser, the founder of Peak Veterinary Consulting and a special adviser to ASPCA Pet Health Insurance.
These common ingredients belong to the category known as allium vegetables, along with chives and leeks.
“Often these appear in classic dishes like stuffing, casseroles, on the meat, and as part of vegetable dishes,” noted Erin Askeland, an animal health and behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow.
Grapes and raisins
“Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in dogs,” said Dr. Nicole Savageau, a veterinarian with the national mobile pet care service The Vets. “It can happen quickly and they can even die from this, especially if they don’t get treatment. So even if your dog has had grapes and raisins in the past and has never had a problem, it does not mean that they won’t have a problem in the future.”
She also noted that the effects are not dose-dependent.
“Even one to two grapes can make a dog sick of any size, and there’s no way to predict when or if it will happen,” Savageau explained. “So in general, we recommend avoiding grapes, raisins or anything else in that family, as well as any foods, desserts or bread that might contain them.”
Seasoned roast turkey
The bones aren’t the only turkey-related hazard to pets.
“When dogs, and sometimes cats, eat highly fatty foods such as the turkey skin or the pan drippings, they often develop vomiting and diarrhea,” Hauser said.
In addition to intestinal upset, these fatty, oil-rich parts of the meal can cause pancreatitis.
“This disease causes inflammation of the pancreas, the organ responsible for making insulin and digestive enzymes,” Hauser explained. “Pancreatitis is a painful condition that often requires hospitalization and supportive care. Due to damage to the pancreas, some animals will become diabetic. On rare occasions, the inflammation is so severe that it is fatal to the pet.”
Refrain from letting your pet indulge in any meat drippings, skin, dark meat, butter or other fatty Thanksgiving foods and ingredients. If you want to give them a taste of Turkey Day, stay away from the seasonings and marinades, and instead offer your pet a small amount of plain, unseasoned, skinless, cooked lean meat.
Be careful if you’re baking your own dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, and keep that unbaked bread dough away from your animals.
“Yeast dough can be double trouble,” English said. “It can expand in the stomach, and the alcohol from fermenting yeast can be rapidly absorbed into your pet’s bloodstream, resulting in alcohol poisoning.”
“Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating,” Savageau explained.
Dairy plays a starring role on many Thanksgiving tables in the traditional mashed potatoes, creamy casseroles and gravies. Just make sure your dogs and cats don’t sample these offerings.
“Dairy products can cause diarrhea and other digestive problems,” Savageau explained. “It can also trigger food allergies.”
Some families also start serving eggnog on Thanksgiving, which offers a dangerous double whammy of dairy and raw eggs.
“Raw eggs may also cause poisoning from bacteria like salmonella or E. coli,” Savageau said.
While you’re at it, keep your pets away from any coffee, as “caffeine can raise blood pressure and can cause cardiac arrhythmia, which can be fatal,” Savageau said.
Chocolate desserts and other sweets
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you likely look forward to delicious pies and other Thanksgiving desserts. These can also pose a risk to pets.
“Chocolate is toxic, and foods high in sugar, or even substitute sugars like xylitol, are not healthy for pets to consume,” Askeland said.
The sweetener xylitol in particular causes liver failure in dogs.
Be on the alert for desserts with nuts as well. Savageau noted that “nuts can cause water retention or toxicity.”
Beware of non-edible dangers, too
“Keep in mind things they might eat that aren’t food at all!” English noted. “Floral arrangements can have toxic flowers, candles can cause burns, and holiday decorations can cause digestive blockages.”
Be careful as you adorn your holiday table. Opt for battery-operated candles and pet-friendly diffusers if you want an aromatic, flame-free alternative. Avoid harmful florals or tempting decor that could damage your animal’s teeth, gums or GI systems if chewed or consumed. At the very least, keep them out of reach.
“For cats especially, you want to avoid plants and flowers like lilies, autumn crocus and cyclamens,” Bernal said. “Plastic décor and ribbon or tinsel garland can also attract a cat’s attention, causing them to chew on it and become potentially dangerous to your pet.”
Do your best to keep your pets safely at home on Thanksgiving, and confirm that their collars and microchips have up-to-date information before you host.
“With all the coming and going and guests in our homes, another major risk during the holidays is pets getting out,” English said. “Once they are out, they face risks ranging from cars to wild animals.”
Ensure your pets have a safe, comforting place where they can retreat from the chaos of visitors.
“Pets can become stressed during this busy season with so many new things out in the home, around the neighborhood and with the high probability of guests coming over,” Askeland said. “Make sure you educate yourself on signs of stress and watch your pets closely. Minimizing stress, keeping your normal routine as much as possible, and making sure pets still get enough exercise and mental stimulation around the busy season can help.”
So what is safe for pets?
As noted, a little bit of plain cooked turkey without skin, bones or seasoning can be a nice low-fat treat for pets.
“Plain, cooked vegetables such as peas, carrots, green beans or sweet potatoes can also be a safe treat for many dogs,” Askeland said.
Again, the key is to keep these things unseasoned and in moderation. That means no sweet potato casseroles or pies.
“Plain pumpkin ― not pumpkin pie mix ― is another option that has digestive benefits,” Askeland said, citing the fiber in canned or cooked pumpkin.
Fresh cranberries and cranberry sauce free of sugary additives are also a safe bet. And many experts OK’ed apple slices and plain raw or cooked carrots.
“If at all unsure of what works best for your pet, it’s important to consult your own veterinarian, who has a more detailed understanding of your dog or cat’s weight, activity level and unique health concerns,” Bernal said.
Talk to your vet about what your dog or cat can eat, and how much of it. And if you notice signs of serious health issues on Thanksgiving, seek medical attention as soon as possible.