Thanksgiving is a time to relax and reflect, to be with family, and to tell the Dog god how grateful we are for Her wonderful gift. (Dogs.)
It makes sense, then, that we might want to share some of our Thanksgiving spoils with our dogs, even if we do not normally allow them “people” food. (Though I personally allow my dog certain “people” foods fairly regularly, unless you think that is bad, in which case I abstain from taking a stance on the subject.)
But is our whole Thanksgiving plate up for grabs — the turkey, the stuffing, the thing your family makes as part of a cherished but ultimately disgusting tradition — or are there certain foods we should avoid giving them? I reached out to Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club, to see if he could offer us some Thanksgiving guidelines.
Moderation Is Key
“Whatever it is, we have to realize that we have to do it in moderation,” Klein said. Even if you feel like he or she might deserve it, spoiling a dog with food is never a particularly kind thing for a human caretaker to do. “Whenever there’s a change in diet for a dog, they can have a problem with things like vomiting and diarrhea.” Even though some dogs might seem like they can eat anything including literal trash, you can never really predict how a dog is going to react. “So we want to make sure, when we talk about dangers, not to overdo it on even the safe-to-eat foods.”
Look Out for Insidious Raisins and Grapes
“Under all conditions, and in any amount, we know that raisins and grapes can cause kidney issues in dogs, and this will warrant a trip to the emergency room.” But it’s not just the obvious boxes of raisins (or slightly more pleasant boxes of Raisinettes) that we need to look out for.
“Raisins and grapes can be insidious over the holidays,” Klein said, “popping up in places we might not remember.” That is, various kinds of cookies, trail-mix bars, certain dressings, stuffing, cranberry sauce. Raisins are sneaky little demons, and we have to be on the lookout and vigilant at all times.
No Leeks, Onion, or Garlic
Although they’re not as dangerous as raisins and grapes, onions and garlic can cause hemolytic anemia in dogs — particularly raw onions and garlic. “So we have to be very careful about not allowing our dogs to have anything with onions or garlic, because they can cause problems — as tasty as they are,” Klein said. And it’s true — they are tasty.
“We want to stay away from any cooked poultry bones, turkey or chicken, because they become very brittle after they’re cooked.” Bones, when eaten, can lead to choking and severe internal damage. Klein says to make sure you keep an eye on where you’re disposing your cooked poultry bones, make sure your trash can is covered, and “make sure everyone’s paying attention. Don’t forget about our friendly little Fido the crook.”
Watch Out for Fatty or Spicy Foods
“When we talk about stomach issues, we talk about two things: the obvious gastroenteritis, which is when a dog eats something that doesn’t agree with him and the next thing you know there’s vomit and diarrhea all over the house, and pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the organ called the pancreas.” Some dogs are sensitive to very fatty (or spicy) foods, and this danger tends to pop up in things like ham and gravy around the holidays.
“What you’ll see in certain dogs that have a tendency to have pancreatitis is that they won’t immediately show signs — sometimes for a couple of days — and then they’ll get quite, quite ill and need to be hospitalized.” Pancreatitis can be triggered by a number of factors, Klein said, but if you know your dog has a predisposition for it, you shouldn’t alter their diet too much, and you certainly don’t want to give them anything fatty or spicy.
Keep Your Medication Out of Reach
Dr. Klein also shared a danger that might not immediately come to mind, from his days as an emergency-room veterinarian. “On Thanksgiving and Christmas, friends and family come to visit and they bring suitcases, and purses, and within them they bring Zip-Lock bags of anti-anxiety medications, or sleeping pills, or marijuana. And they don’t always leave them closed.”
He said he’s seen many a sick animal after they ingested an unknown amount of pills that were kept, for travel, in an unsealed and unlabeled Zip-Lock bag. “And they come into the emergency room and we don’t know how many, what, or when.” He recommends keeping all medication out of reach of children and animals, and always labeling your travel Zip-Locks. Even if it’s marijuana? you’re wondering. Yes!
The Safe Options, Finally
Oh my God, can we give our sweet friends anything on Thanksgiving?! Yes! “Turkey itself is quite safe,” Klein said, “especially the white meat, and especially in moderation.” Not the skin, though, which can be full of things like butter, salt, and sometimes garlic powder — don’t give that — “but the white meat is perfectly fine to give.”
Cranberries are safe, too, but we need to be careful when they’re used in a (typically sugar-heavy) sauce or dressing. A little can go a long way, in that case, and again we have to look out for those insidious raisins which can sometimes find themselves in cranberry-sauce incarnations.
Steamed vegetables are fine, too (string beans, asparagus, sweet potatoes), but not vegetables cooked in any sort of cream or butter sauce, or cooked with a lot of sugar and fat. Perhaps steam some vegetables for your dog friend and put them aside? He doesn’t have to know what he isn’t getting.
And While We’re Here
Dr. Klein says he assumes you know dogs can’t eat chocolate, but he’s seen many holiday mishaps occur when chocolate is left out on a dining-room table; so watch out. (Ditto cocktails.) And make sure your dog isn’t too stressed about the party atmosphere. “It’s asking a lot of a dog to understand the workings of a large family gathering. Most of them are fine with it, but we can’t assume that every dog will be.” True. Or every person!