It's almost time for Thanksgiving, which means it's time to whip out your favorite recipes, grab an oversized sweater, and snuggle up on the couch with the fam to watch the National Dog Show.
But as you prep your dishes and set the table, don't forget about one family member you're especially thankful for: your doggo! Your furry companion will keep you company as you cook, particularly as enticing aromas start to engage their heightened senses. While it may be tempting to give your floof a nibble (or three), it's essential to be mindful of their sensitive tummies and palettes. Our dogs don't have the same digestion system as we humans do, and some foods can be toxic for them.
We spoke with two veterinarians about the Thanksgiving foods that are dog-safe and which ones should be avoided so your pet can have a safe holiday, too.
Thanksgiving Foods Dogs Can Eat Safely
First things first: it's important to note that while some Thanksgiving ingredients won't hurt your dog, it's still best to best to proceed with caution. As with any treat, they should be fed in moderation and just on special occasions, because giving too much of a food that your dog isn't used to may cause illness and may not be healthy for them in large amounts, says Michelle Lugones, DVM, a veterinarian at the Best Friends Animal Society of New York. "The safest bet is to stick to feeding your dog their regular diet and to consult with your family veterinarian before introducing anything new since they know your dog's health status best," she adds.
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Generally speaking, the star of Thanksgiving dinner is safe for your pup to eat. However, Lugones says you should only give your dog turkey if it's cooked and unseasoned. "If the turkey is seasoned, has added oils, or pieces of skin or fat, you increase the chance of causing pancreatitis, vomiting, and diarrhea," she continues. "Some seasonings can be toxic to dogs, as well. If turkey is not a regular component of your dog's diet, feeding them a couple of small, bite-sized bits of plain turkey on Thanksgiving can be safe."
When it comes to cranberries, you're either Team Yum or Team Yuck. And the same is true for your dog's tastebuds as some pups may not enjoy the tart flavors, while others may not mind according to Laura Robinson, DVM, the lead veterinary advisor to Pawp. Generally speaking, you should keep the cranberry treat small. "They contain vitamin C, manganese, vitamin E, and vitamin K1. In addition, they are full of fiber and can help lower urine pH," she says. "However, do not feed your dog cranberry sauce as there is a lot of added sugar."
Fun fact: the health benefits of sweet potatoes are about the same for dogs as they are with people. As Robinson raves, they are high in fiber which helps the GI system function better when digesting food, and they are also rich in vitamins A, B6, C, calcium, potassium, and iron. That being said, your pup shouldn't have your aunt's signature sweet potato casserole with marshmallows melted on top. Instead, Robinson recommends a small portion per day (around one-sixth of a sweet potato).
The traditional Thanksgiving table doesn't have much in terms of green goodies. However, one exception is green beans, which are either served on their own with some spices or inside of a casserole. You can feed your dog green beans safely as a snack or treat, and they can be served raw, steamed, canned or frozen, Robinson says. Just avoid giving your pup a serving of casserole, and instead keep the beans simple.
Let's be real: the dinner portion of Thanksgiving is tasty and lovely as you all go around and share your gratitude. However, we all look forward to the grand finale of desserts, particularly pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream. Your dog would probably adore a slice, but they should get their sweet treat of this dog-safe food before it's put into pie form. (Never feed your pup sugar-filled pumpkin pie filling from a can either!)
As Lugones says, plain pumpkin can be given to dogs, and sometimes veterinarians will recommend using it to help address mild diarrhea or constipation. Once it's within a sweet treat, though, it becomes tricky since other ingredients can disrupt their digestion. "Depending on the size of the dog, it's best to limit the amount of pumpkin to a couple of tablespoons. Overzealous use of pumpkin could lead to intestinal upset," she adds.
In small servings, corn makes a snack rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants and is often used as a filler in many types of dog food. To prepare corn for your dog safely, make sure it is cooked and removed from the cob (to avoid a choking hazard) and unseasoned without butter. Or you can give your dog a little unsalted canned corn. (Just don't give your pup any of the corn casserole from the table, please!)
Apples take the stage in many Thanksgiving favorite dishes and desserts, from the classic apple pie to an ingredient in a salad or stuffing. While they're not safe for dogs in those recipes, a little cut up apple on its own is an excellent source of fiber. If you must give your dog a nibble while you're cooking up the meal, a peeled slice of apple probably won't do any harm. Just be sure to avoid the stem, core, and seeds as those can be a choking hazard and the seeds contain cyanide.
What Dogs Shouldn't Eat on Thanksgiving
Think twice before giving any of these Thanksgiving foods to your doggo. While some are more dangerous than others, it's important to remain vigilant with your pup's diet. After all, once you're exhausted from cooking and stuffed from the meal, the last thing you want to do is make an emergency visit to the vet.
Turkey Skin, Bones, and Drippings
Truth be told, your dog would think you're the best-parent-ever for giving them skin, bones, and drippings from the turkey. However, it's not a smart idea since the bones can be a choking hazard (especially brittle cooked bones) and all of these have a high-fat content, leading to stomach upset, diarrhea, or pancreatitis in your dog, warns Amber Karwacki, DVM, the partner doctor at Heart Paw. "Make sure after you are done carving the turkey that everything is put away so that your dog can't sneak his own meal," she suggests. And if your sneaky pup does eat some of these, watch for vomiting, a painful abdomen, and diarrhea, and consult your veterinarian if any of these symptoms occur.
Full of herbs, spices, and butter, stuffing is a superstar of the Thanksgiving meal. While it's delicious for humans, it can be problematic to dogs since all of the ingredients that make stuffing yummy can cause trouble in your dog's digestive system, including the garlic, onion, butter, and herbs. That's why Robinson says it's best to avoid this as a snack for your pup.
When you think of your grandmother's mashed potatoes, your mouth starts watering from the delicious mix of butter, milk, and salt. However, while you love your potatoes prepped this way, doggos need something a little less flavorful. That's why it's best to give your dog a quick nibble of potato when they're cooked and free of seasoning, oils, or butter, Robinson says. " They contain some vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium but should be fed in tiny amounts as they are not very nutritious overall," she adds. Also, as an important note, your dog can't consume raw potato since it has solanine, which is toxic to pups.
"They are full of vitamins and minerals such as protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins B6, A, C, and K. They are also full of fiber," she continues. "They are great low-calorie treat options for overweight dogs."
While technically speaking, sage isn't a known toxin to dogs; it's generally recommended to avoid herbs in your pet's diet, Lugones says. This is because some pups can tolerate them and others can't, so unless you know how your floof will respond, it's best to steer clear.
Garlic and Onion
Remember how we advised against giving your pup any nibbles to Thanksgiving-safe foods once they are seasoned? There's a reason for that! Garlic and onion—as well as leeks and chives—are all part of the 'Allium' species of vegetables, and they're all considered toxic to dogs. "They can cause hemolytic anemia, a breakdown of the red blood cells, as well as liver damage," Lugones says. "If there's contact with the skin, these vegetables can cause dermal irritation."
Sadly, the amount it takes to poison a dog isn't well documented, so if a dog has ingested one of these vegetables, you may see vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and discolored urine. If this happens, Lugones says to get in touch with your vet ASAP.
The holidays are prime nutmeg season since it's a common spice added to hot apple cider, pies and other traditional fall and winter foods. Though you may enjoy the taste, it's not safe for your pup. "Little is known about why nutmeg is toxic to dogs or how much of it is needed to poison a dog, but it's hallucinogenic and can cause seizures, tremors, vomiting, and even death," Lugones warns.
While Karwacki says most store-bought mushrooms are non-toxic to dogs, some are highly toxic. "The toxin in those mushrooms can cause kidney and liver failure, neurologic signs, and sometimes death," she continues. "It is best just to avoid mushrooms in general as they don't add anything additional that a balanced diet would not have already."
To make all of our Thanksgiving foods mouthwatering, butter is used for cooking and fattening up dishes. And yes, butter seems to make everything taste better. Though Lugones warns its high-fat content makes it a dangerous choice to give to your dog. "High-fat foods can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as pancreatitis, which is a painful, potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas," she adds. If, by chance, your dog takes a lick of butter, they'll probably be fine. But if large amounts are ingested, you should contact your vet.
It's unlikely you would pour your doggo a glass of wine or a pint of beer and sit them down at the Thanksgiving table. However, you may not realize how much alcohol is present in other items too, like hand sanitizer, perfumes, medications, and raw bread dough, Lugones warns. Alcohol in any form is toxic to your dog and should be avoided. "The warmth of the stomach acts like an oven, which produces ethanol, resulting in alcohol toxicity," she continues. "Raw bread dough can expand in the stomach, resulting in a foreign body in the stomach. A dog with alcohol poisoning may have seizures, incoordination, a bloated or painful stomach, be hypothermic or unconscious."
Not sure what xylitol is? Lugones explains it's a sugar substitute that's used in lots of candies, chewing gums, mints, and even some liquid medications for people. But in dogs, xylitol can cause a dramatic drop in their blood sugar and cause acute liver failure. "Once ingested, clinical signs can be seen in as quick as in 15 minutes. Dogs can have seizures, be unable to stand, or go into a coma," she says. "Even small amounts of xylitol can cause toxicity in dogs."
Safer Thanksgiving Dog Treats to Make Instead
If you don't allow your dog to have 'human food' normally, don't make Thanksgiving the exception when you first introduce these nibbles into their diets. Instead, you can choose dog recipes and treats that are made with Thanksgiving-inspired ingredients. We recommend these cranberry oatmeal dog cookies that featuring cranberry and oats, both are which are a-okay in small doses for your floof. Or, if you have the time, whip up these pumpkin carrot dog cupcakes so they can enjoy the dessert wind-down after Thanksgiving dinner, too.
If you're not much of a baker, don't worry. You can also buy Thanksgiving-inspired dog treats like American Journey Turkey Recipe Grain-Free Soft-Baked Dog Treats or Greenies Pumpkin Spice Flavor Dental Treats to let them in on the foodie fun.