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What Thanksgiving food can dogs and cats eat?

Can dogs eat stuffing? Can cats eat Thanksgiving turkey? What about a taste of pumpkin pie? Learn which holiday foods are safe, and not so safe, for pets to eat.

This Thanksgiving, with a cornucopia of guests — including little kids — descending on your house, there could be lots of extra people trying to pass a taste of stuffing or pumpkin pie to your cat or dog. They may have the best of intentions, but “people food” isn’t always the best for your four-legged friend.

Going to someone’s house? Well, even if your pet is great with table scraps, it doesn’t mean that your relative’s cat can tolerate the same amount. Always check with the owner before you offer a pet any kind of additional food.

In general, any newly introduced food can induce vomiting, and even diarrhea. When we switch an animal from one diet to another, we generally do it gradually over one to two weeks. So keep new foods minimal, especially if Fido and Kitty haven’t added them to their palette before.

So what can dogs eat on Thanksgiving? And what about cats? To keep things safe, read this advice about which Thanksgiving food favorites are safe for pets to eat and which ones may leave you cleaning up a mess. For pets with health problems, owners should always check with their veterinarians prior to changing their diets.

Turkey

Verdict: A small amount without bones is OK

Most pets can gobble up small amounts of lean, light meat without a problem. Turkey skin and dark meat have more fat and may be too greasy for pets. A small amount of dark meat and skin is OK, but light meat is the preferred snack.

“I think most animals enjoy the ritual of receiving food, so small pieces given as treats is sufficient or small amounts mixed into their regular kibble or canned food is fine as well,” says Dr. Brian Collins, senior lecturer in Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Make sure anything you serve your pet is bone-free. “Avoid giving your dog or cat wings or drumsticks. The bones can get stuck between teeth, in the esophagus, and cause vomiting or get lodged in any part of the GI track,” warns Collins.

To keep things safe, carefully remove the meat from the bones. Even if you have a cat (who typically eat more carefully than dogs who usually “inhale” their food), you can still get into trouble with bones.

1. Turkey gravy

Verdict: No

Recipes for turkey gravy often include turkey stock, pepper and seasonings; yummy for you, but too fatty for your pet. In other words, avoid sharing the gravy.

2. Mashed potatoes

Verdict: Depends on how it’s prepared

If the potatoes are plain and bland, with minimal fat and salt, mashed potatoes can be slipped under the table. But if you go all out like most families in the U.S. and add butter and heavy cream galore, it makes the potatoes less ideal for your pet. “Fatty foods can cause GI upset and pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening,” warns Collins.

And if you added onions, garlic, scallions, chives or leeks to the dish, you definitely can’t share them. All of these are toxic — maybe even fatal — to cats and dogs. So despite mom and dad saying to always try a little, when it comes to these foods, even a little bit is toxic to your pets.

3. Stuffing

Verdict: No

That “Who makes the best stuffing?” argument can finally be put to rest. Like mashed potatoes, if stuffing is bland and has very little fat, it could get a paw print stamp of approval. But who wants bland stuffing?

If the stuffing has more fat, butter and ingredients, it becomes less ideal for your pet. And don’t forget about those add-ins! Many stuffing recipes call for onions, garlic, scallions, chives and leeks, too. Even the basic out of the box Stove Top Stuffing has onions in it. The best bet is to make a rule: No stuffing for pets. 

4. Cranberry sauce

Verdict: No

These days, a lot of cranberry sauces aren’t just the popular stuff we see come right out of the can. Nuts, raisins, sugar and even pineapple is added to many recipes. And as a result, this staple of Thanksgiving can’t be shared.

“Macadamia nuts are the only nuts that are toxic to dogs,” warns Collins, and nuts add fat to the meal. Grapes and raisins should definitely be avoided because they can cause kidney failure in dogs (and possibly in cats).

Most animals won’t eat cranberries that aren’t coated in extra sugar, so save your pet from getting that lovely cranberry color all over their face. “Sugar isn’t good for pets, and most cranberry sauces have sugar,” says Collins. “It’s best to avoid giving this treat.”

5. Green bean casserole

Verdict: Beans only

Green beans are excellent snacks for dogs. But if you add the mushroom soup and the crunchy onions on top, you are asking for trouble. If you want to give your pet a treat, make sure the bad-for-pets fried onions have been removed from the top layer. Better yet, rinse off the beans or set some aside before you add other ingredients, so your pets can safely enjoy.

6. Candied sweet potatoes or yams

Verdict: No

Candied? Buttery? With brown sugar and marshmallows? Again, it’s best if your pet doesn’t indulge their sweet tooth.

7. Corn

Verdict: Loose corn is fine, but avoid corn on the cob

Has your 5-year-old been slipping their veggies to the dog? Don’t worry. As long as the corn is removed from the cob, that pile of veggies can quickly disappear under the table.

If it’s still on the cob though, let your little one (and any guests) know it’s not OK to share. “Dogs especially should not be given corn cobs because if swallowed, pieces can cause an obstruction,” says Collins. So rather than play fetch with the corn cob during dinner, wait until after the meal’s over and find their favorite toy.

8. Homemade rolls

Verdict: Small amounts are OK

Rolls fall to the ground during the annual food fight and are nibbled up by your kitty? Never fear. As long as they don’t have a lot of butter on them, they are safe for your pets to enjoy.

9. Pecan pie

Verdict: Not ideal

It’s not the end of the world if your little niece happens to “drop” her pecan pie under the table and the pets inhale it. But, it still has lots of sugar in it — which isn’t great for animals.

10. Apple pie

Verdict: Not ideal

The favorite American dessert can be prepared a variety of different ways, but almost all of them include lots of sugar. It’s better for your cat and dog if they don’t enjoy apple pie.

11. Pumpkin pie

Verdict: Not ideal

Like pecan and apple pie, a very small piece won’t hurt your pet, but it’s not a good idea to offer pets anything with sugar.

The rule to follow: Humans get human desserts, and pets get pet dessert. (Have the kids at your table repeat this.) A nice dog treat can be dessert for your pets. And if you really want Fido and Kitty to be included in the holiday eats, make some special, homemade dog treats — try the pumpkin peanut butter dog treats! — and homemade cat treats.

If you are still afraid you won’t be able to resist your pet giving you “that look” (puppy eyes and all), hire a pet sitter for the day, or ask an animal-loving tween or teen in the family to be on pet duty. They can play with the dog or cat after the meal. It keeps your pet safe and entertained.

And remember, just because the Thanksgiving meal is over, it doesn’t mean your pet has called it quits. Pets will take food off the counter, out of the trash and even grab food that’s been set outside for later cleanup. “I have heard countless stories of the turkey carcass being taken out of the trash, or the turkey being taken off the counter,” says Collins. Make sure any oh-so-tempting leftovers are out of reach.

This holiday, remember to be thankful for not only your family, but also the pets in your life. And of course, for avoiding a trip to the veterinarian!