Metro Weekly

Thanksgiving Danger

Pets love to join in with the feast, but there are several items on the table to be cautious of

Dog with Turkey

Photo by Jiri Vaclavek

We’re a gullible species. A cute smile or a doe-eyed look and we’re yours — and there’s nowhere this is more apparent than when it comes to our pets. We all know the look — the one your cat or dog gives you, the “But I’m so adorable, why can’t I enjoy whatever it is that you’re eating?” look that melts your heart and removes common sense from the equation. It’s that power our pets hold over us that leads us to spoil them, share with them and grant their every adorable wish. However, in the run-up to Thanksgiving Day, it’s time we all took control of our emotions and shut down the part of us which willingly gives in to our pets — for their sake, and ours.

Thanksgiving Day is characterized by one thing above all else (and we’re not talking about Black Friday sales). Food dominates, with turkey, potatoes, squash, yams, stuffing, cranberries, pies, casseroles, beans, nuts, breads, and even more pies covering dinner tables around the country. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American can consume over 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day, so it’s not just the turkey that’s stuffed. None of the food on your table, however, should be making its way into your pet’s bowls — even seemingly innocent items that appear in pet foods, like the turkey itself.

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Turkey skin in particular is a no-go for your pets. Turkey skin is fatty, and while it may contain more monounsaturated fats (the good kind) than saturated fats (the kind that make you want to hit the treadmill), it’s still going to be an increase in calories for your pet compared to a normal meal. If you’ve added spice or marinade to the skin, it makes it tough for pets to digest, particularly dogs, and fatty foods can lead to pancreatitis in your beloved canine, especially if your pet is already overweight. The turkey itself is absolutely fine to include in your animal’s diet if you fancy giving them a treat, but moderation is key here. Don’t feed them more than you normally would, and mix it in with their normal food to ensure it doesn’t upset their diet. Also, refrain from adding gravy to their bowl — it may taste great, but it’s another item that can be difficult to digest, depending on what’s been used to create the gravy.

Similarly, refrain from feeding your pet turkey that’s raw or undercooked. Human stomachs can’t handle bacteria-laden food, and neither can your pet’s. Salmonella is particularly dangerous, so thoroughly cook the turkey before anyone consumes it, be it furry humans or furry pets. Also, take care with the turkey carcass. Don’t leave dogs or cats unattended with the carcass, as bacteria will multiply when it’s left to sit in on your kitchen counter. If you’ve ever found your cat licking over the bones or your dog looking rather guilty as the remains of the turkey lie on the kitchen floor, the damage may be greater than just creating a mess. Ingesting bacteria-laden carcass can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, neither of which will be fun to clean up when you’re full of your Thanksgiving Day feast. Freeze the carcass or throw it out secured in a plastic bag to prevent any animals from accessing it in your garbage can.

One last note about the turkey itself: do not, under any circumstances, give your pet the cooked bones from the bird. Cooked bones in particular are much more likely to splinter and break, and risk getting stuck in your pet’s throat or piercing their organs while being digested. Either of these situations are life-threatening, and will cause immeasurable distress for your pet. If your pooch is looking for something to chew on, buy him a treat which he can enjoy while you’re devouring the meal.

Of course, the usual food provisos still apply for Thanksgiving Day. Refrain from feeding your pets scraps from the table — and remember to advise any guests not to do so either, as they could easily succumb to puppy dog eyes and throw some scraps your pet’s way. Nuts — Macadamias especially — can be hazardous, causing toxicity in dogs and cats. Onions and garlic, standard inclusions in many recipes for Thanksgiving, contain sulfides, which are toxic to dogs and cats, destroying red blood cells and potentially causing anemia. Spices and herbs like sage and nutmeg should be avoided, as well as anything they’ve been used in. Sage contains oils and resins that can upset your pet’s stomach and even affect their central nervous system, while nutmeg has mild hallucinogenic properties and contains the chemical myristicin, which can also affect your pet’s central nervous system and can lead to convulsions and pain. Grapes and raisins should be avoided, as even in small quantities they can lead to liver failure.

A few obvious items should also be kept safely away from pets. Unbaked dough has something of an urban myth status, as it’s maintained that it rises inside the warm, moist environment of the stomach. Unfortunately, it’s not a myth — it’s fact. Eating raw dough can cause bloating which can lead to a twisted stomach. Signs to watch out for include vomiting, elevated heart rate and a distended stomach, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. Batter shouldn’t be ingested for the same reason human’s shouldn’t lick out the bowl — regardless of how utterly delicious it is. The raw eggs used contain salmonella which, just like with the turkey, can severely upset your pet’s stomach. Alcohol should, naturally, not be given to your pets, and if you aren’t already aware that chocolate is toxic to animals, then you likely shouldn’t own a pet.

Really, when it comes to Thanksgiving Day and your pets, common sense prevails. Don’t leave food unattended, don’t overfeed your pet and don’t be tempted to give them scraps or leftovers from the table. Keep their diet the same as any other day, make sure they get exercise and, if you want to treat them, buy them a toy or animal-specific treats to keep them occupied while you’re gather round the table enjoying your feast. After all, having your cat or dog be healthy and happy is something for which we can all give thanks.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at

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