A list of what is safe and what is not
I wish I had the ability to turn into a dog to have a first-hand holiday dinner experience from a dog’s perspective. How does it feel to have to wait patiently under the table, hoping that my humans will share?
I imagine that some canines end up disappointed, getting nothing more than a bowl of kibble for the holidays. It is not that people do not want to share turkey dinner with their dogs, but they’ve been told repeatedly by pet food companies and some veterinarians that people food is a big no-no for dogs.
For decades they have been repeating that salt, spices and human food are not good for our dogs. I do not know of one single physician who says that processed food is better than a wholesome diet, yet the processed pet food industry is claiming exactly that: "No real food for dogs"!
I am not necessarily suggesting your dog should get what you eat all the time. Generally, I recommend a raw or cooked diet for dogs. But when it comes to holidays, it would feel wrong to ignore your dog’s pleading eyes. Who can resist?!
We all love seeing dogs jumping in excitement watching their turkey plate coming! The purpose of this article is to share a simple list of turkey dinner items that your dog can and cannot eat.
What you need to know about turkey dinner for your dog?
I have been a raw and cooked diet advocate for dogs for more than 20 years but today we focus only on the “cooked people food items” that may be part of your holiday table. To make this chart easier to navigate, I have labelled each item with one of the following colour codes:
- GREEN: Ok to give to your dog
- YELLOW: Ok in small amounts
- RED: Non-toxic but not safe for dogs
- PURPLE: Caution - toxic!
1. Turkey Meat
If you are a meat eater, your dog is lucky! The skin, white and dark meat plus the giblets are all good to go on your dog's plate.
2. Cooked Turkey Bones
The general rule of thumb is that dogs should never get cooked bones. The cooking process makes bones indigestible which can result in intestinal obstruction. From time to time, I hear about dogs getting into cooked bones. If this happens to you, I suggest that you feed your dog a 1/4 to 1 cup of cooked squash and add 1/2 to 2 tsp of steeped flaxseed (which is made by pouring hot water over flaxseed to make it slippery). Here is more info on bone feeding for dogs.
There are several reasons why not to give your dog turkey stuffing.
- Bread is not ideal for dogs as grains are not part of a species appropriate diet for canines.
- Onions and Chives are toxic to dog’s as they can reduce the viability of red blood cells and can cause oxidative damage leading to sickle cell anemia.
- Celery: Celery stalks are often used in turkey stuffing and while they are safe, it is unlikely that anyone would cook them apart from stuffing.
- Raisins carry a high risk of causing renal failure in dogs and I have seen raisin poisoning in my practice. My patient was fortunate to recover from acute renal failure but not all dogs are so lucky. Raisin toxicity must be taken very seriously. For more info click here.
- Almonds are not toxic to dogs; However, I do not suggest giving them to your dog as a snack or a treat.
- Salt: Despite popular belief, a moderate amount of salt in a turkey dinner is fine for dogs. It is very possible, that the “no salt recommendation” for dogs was invented by kibble makers to sell more of their product and discourage dog lovers from feeding people food. Many farm animals get salt licks, and table salt (NaCl) is also found in blood and meat. If you like your meals saltier, just reduce the amount to consider your dog and use natural sea salt.
- Pepper: Pepper has been used in turmeric golden paste for dogs for years and it appears to be safe in moderate amounts.
- Sage: This spice is commonly used in stuffing and is non-toxic to dogs.
- Rosemary is a non-toxic spice in small amounts. It may affect uterus and its contractility, hence it is generally not recommended for pregnant females.
- Garlic is popular in most kitchens and dog lovers often wonder if it's ok for dogs. My general experience is that a small amount of garlic in meals is ok as I have never seen dogs having sickle cell anemia from garlic. However, we must be cautious about larger amounts of garlic as all the plants from the onion family can be toxic to dog's red blood cells.
- Potatoes belong to the Nightshade plant family and while only the roots and leaves are toxic, many people agree that potatoes are not species appropriate food for dogs.
- Yams and Sweet Potatoes are a good, healthy addition to your dog's turkey dinner.
- Brussels Sprouts belong to the so-called Cruciferae family that is considered goitrogenic, reducing levels of thyroid hormone by blocking the uptake of iodine. However, cooking eliminates the goitrogenic effect and this is why it is ok to put brussels sprouts in your dog's festive meal.
- Green Beans are a definite ‘yes’ in a raw or cooked form. If you like beans as a side for turkey dinner, your dog can enjoy them too.
- Winter Squash: While I do not know many dogs that would be excited by chewing on raw winter squash, cooking will make it a great addition to you and your dog’s turkey dinner.
- Gravy: Most of us love gravy. It is what makes a good turkey dinner great! However, traditional gravy contains flour and a lot of salt which makes it less than ideal for dogs. Here is my suggestion, try to use a gluten-free gravy recipe and use sparingly! No matter if you use gravy or not, I can guarantee your dog will love the festive dinner anyway!
- Cranberry Sauce is one item that I was on the fence about. Cranberries themselves are good for dogs and can be used for preventing urinary tract infections, however, the addition of sugar in cranberry sauce makes them fit in the yellow zone. It is ok in small amounts but I am also sure your dog will be fine without it.
- Marshmallows are commonly used in sweet potato casseroles and they're full of sugar and starch. This makes them a red zone food.
- Pumpkin Pie Filling: While pumpkin is great for treating diarrhea in dogs, pumpkin pie filling also contains milk and sugar which are not good for dogs.
- Mincemeat is usually used as pie filling and it is a big no for dogs because it contains raisins. A common recipe includes the following ingredients: currants, raisins, sugar, apples, candied citrus peel, spices, and suet, typically baked in a pie.
- Pumpkin Pie Crust contains a large amount of flour and fat which can aggravate your dog’s digestive tract. Dogs have evolved to digest protein, but are not very well equipped to digest sugars, starches and complex carbohydrates. While most people often focus on fat and its connection to pancreatitis, another big cause of pancreatitis is a diet rich in complex carbohydrates. The canine pancreas is not designed to digest them which leads to pancreatic strain and inflammation.
- Fruit Pie Filling: Generally, dogs do better if they are not given fruit at least one hour before or three hours after a meal containing protein. In fact, the same rule should apply to the human diet but most of us are have a hard time following such a suggestion especially when it comes to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The good news is that no dog would go for a pie instead of turkey!
- Pecans and Pecan Pie: Nuts are generally not good for dogs and cause vomiting and diarrhea. The good news is that most dogs are not crazy about nuts anyway!
- Ice Cream and Whip Cream: Perhaps you are expecting me to sway you away from giving your dog ice cream but even I am a flawed dog lover. Dairy is not great for dogs, but it is also not the end of the world if you give your dog a half a scoop of ice cream or whip cream as dessert. The purist may say, I am being irresponsible here but striving for absolute perfection is no fun! Who does not love to see our dogs excitement from getting a little bit of ice-cream or whip cream? Some foods are just universally irresistible for dogs, cats and people!
Wishing you a happy holiday season!
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM