- Thanksgiving tends to coincide with an uptick in vet visits, due to dogs being fed unsafe human foods.
- Turkey meat, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin are all safe, healthy foods to share with your dog.
- Bones, sweets, alcohol, and fatty foods are all things that should be avoided by dogs.
While many of us already know we’re going to overeat on Thanksgiving, we still need to apply some restraint when it comes to sharing Thanksgiving foods with our dogs. It’s not just the obvious cautions—like splintering roasted turkey bones or toxic onion-filled stuffing—that are unsafe choices for your dogs. There are fatty dishes, salty dishes, or anything made with raisins, grapes, or other known dog toxins to keep off your best friend’s dish. That said, the Thanksgiving table can have some healthy options for you to share with your dog, if you choose to. Plenty of fall favorites can be tasty (and safe) options in small portions during holiday festivities.
Safe Thanksgiving Foods to Feed Dogs
Every Thanksgiving Day table is a little bit different, but there are some foods that make an appearance on just about every table, and many of those tables might have a hopeful dog snoozing underneath, waiting for a stray bite of people food.
The experts consulted were: Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide: Breakthrough Nutrition and Integrative Care for Dogs and Cats; Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas; and Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, emergency and critical care veterinarian, and a valued member of the Chicago veterinary community for over 35 years.
- “Sweet potatoes are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and beta-carotene,” says Dr. Richter. “Sweet potato treats can be as simple as a dehydrated sweet potato chew.” Plain mashed sweet potatoes are an option you might find at the table. Just remember not to give your pet sweet potatoes loaded up with added ingredients like brown sugar, marshmallows, or maple syrup.
- Potatoes. You may already know your dog loves the occasional french fry. For the holiday meal, opt to share boiled or baked potatoes with your dog. Save the mashed potatoes whipped with butter and cream (and sometimes onions or garlic) for your own plate.
- “Apples are full of vitamins A and C and contain lots of great fiber, making them a healthy Thanksgiving treat for your pet,” says Dr. Richter. “However, if you’re sharing an apple with your pooch, be sure to cut around the core, as large amounts of apple seeds can be toxic.” Sliced fresh apples are on your dog’s menu, or an apple-cinnamon dog cookie, but please keep the slab of apple pie on human plates only.
- Turkey meat (no bones, no skin). If you’re wondering if dogs can eat turkey at Thanksgiving, the answer is yes, but with some caveats. Turkey meat is okay to offer up “as long as it has not been prepared with any seasoning,” says Dr. Ochoa. (That probably rules out your perfectly roasted holiday bird.) Dr. Klein advises owners to skip out on not just feeding turkey bones, but to also skip feeding dogs the turkey’s skin. Skin itself can be fatty, and the outer layer of the turkey’s skin was likely slathered in butter or oil before cooking, all of which can add up to triggering a bout of painful and dangerous pancreatitis or other digestive issues for your dog. If you’d like to share turkey with your dog without worrying about preparing a separate, dog-safe portion, you can look for Thanksgiving-themed canned dog food that did the work for you.
- Green beans. “With ample amounts of plant fiber, manganese, and vitamins C and K, plain green beans are great for dogs,” says Dr. Richter. The key here, as with turkey, sweet potatoes, and other foods in this list, is that the green beans should be prepared and served plain, without added ingredients like butter or salt. Set aside a special portion of plain green beans for your dog if you know they love these filling and wholesome veggies.
- Plain peas are a fine addition to a dog’s diet in moderation, but creamed peas are a no-go, just like creamy mashed potatoes. Any fatty food or casserole risks triggering pancreatitis or other digestive upsets.
- “Pumpkin itself is a very healthy snack,” explains Dr. Richter. “Pumpkin helps with digestive health and it’s great for a dog’s skin and coat. Also, if feeding canned pumpkin, make sure it’s just pure pumpkin puree and not the pre-spiced or sugary pie mix.” And, same rule as above: keep the slab of pumpkin pie on your plate.
- Dessert is an option, but since we’ve already poo-pooed the apple and pumpkin pie, whatever sweet you share with your dog on Thanksgiving will probably need to be just for the pups. You might offer your dog some frozen plain yogurt (read the label and look for xylitol, which can be fatal to dogs) blended with pumpkin puree. Calcium, protein, and probiotics in plain yogurt will give your dog a tasty dose of nutrients and help head off any tummy troubles. You can also find pumpkin dog cookies to share a sweet treat.
Avoid These Thanksgiving Foods for Dogs
You may notice this list is longer than the one above filled with healthy options, and with good reason. Thanksgiving coincides with an uptick in emergency vet visits across the U.S., says Dr. Klein, because of the extra, often unsafe “human” food that dogs end up consuming at this time of year. Don’t spend Thanksgiving in the vet ER with your dog. Be prepared for a dog-safe Thanksgiving by taking some precautions to help you avoid something potentially unhealthy, or worse, toxic. (And be sure your guests and any small children understand that they should ask you before sharing any food with your pets.)
These foods are ones that Dr. Richter, Dr. Ochoa, Dr. Klein, and the AVMA caution should not be shared with dogs at Thanksgiving due to the potential for unsafe or unhealthy ingredients:
- Turkey bones, skin, and gravy
- Mashed potatoes
- Creamed peas
- Chocolate, cookies, pies, and sweets (as well as anything “sugar-free” or containing xylitol, which can be fatal for dogs)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Raisins and grapes
- Onions, scallions, and garlic
- Yeast dough
- Fatty foods
- Foods containing spices
Once the meal is over, and you’ve successfully avoided sharing any unsafe foods with your dog, it’s critical to be sure your day’s trash is properly secured so your dog can’t get into it, and undo all of your diligent planning.
If your dog gets into something that they shouldn’t eat, seek help right away. In the event of an emergency, contact the Pet Poison Helpline or call your local emergency vet that offers weekend and after-hours services.