Thanksgiving Tips For Pets

By W. Jean Dodds, DVM

With the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle just a few days away, I wish you a healthy and happy time with friends and family. The last thing you need is to stress over your pet and the bounty of food around, so I thought providing a few general tips and reminders would be useful.

Friends & Family

Please discourage well-meaning friends and family from feeding your pet from the table or anywhere else. I understand that you may do it now and again when they are not around. However, in this situation, you have no control over the amount or what is being fed to your pet.

Kids can be particularly “sneaky” in feeding pets foods, so I would reward them by promising that they can give your companion dog a small piece of skinless turkey, duck, goose or other food after dinner. The caveat with this, though, is only if your pet doesn’t have a food intolerance or other bowel condition like pancreatitis or diabetes that may result.

The reason I started off with this tip is because acute pancreatitis is one of the leading causes of veterinary emergency hospital visits during the holidays. This life-threatening condition usually occurs from overfeeding companion pets particularly high fat foods.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Mild to severe abdominal pain (may become more severe after eating)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Loss of appetite

  • If it falls on the floor…

    I acknowledge that food scraps may fall on the floor or be thrown from a baby high chair and any opportunistic dog (or cat) will gleefully devour them. Again, I don’t want you to stress about it, but I want you to be aware if you should or should not scramble for the scrap and take it away.

    Foods to Scramble for

  • Onions
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Bones
  • Chocolate
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Corn cobs
  • Mushrooms
  • Strawberries

  • Medical Conditions to Scramble for

  • Food Intolerance – Popular Thanksgiving Day foods that dogs and cats have intolerances to include turkey, ham, sweet potato, corn, peanut, wheat or potato.
  • Chronic Pancreatitis – Most people know the amount of food their dogs can tolerate before the symptoms kick in. Be watchful in this situation.
  • Epilepsy or Seizure-Prone – Anything cooked with rosemary, oregano, fennel or sage because they are neurotoxins. Personally, I would not cook with any of these spices if my dog were epileptic or prone to seizures.
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Leftovers

    Many of the nutritious foods provided during a Thanksgiving feast can safely be added wisely to the pet’s diet or used as treats. With Thanksgiving dishes, it is not the primary ingredient that is the problem, but often the way we cook them. Meaning: lots of butter, sugar and gravy.

    If you have raw ingredients leftover and you know you and your family will not finish them, you can make healthy treats or food toppers for your dog. Of course, bearing in mind the points discussed above.

    Dehydrated cranberries are wonderful and long-lasting treats for your family and companion dogs. Please note, I am not referring to the prepackaged already dehydrated cranberries, which are full of unnecessary sugar. I am talking about making your own without the additional sweeteners.

    1. Wash the cranberries.
    2. Bring about 1-2 quart per 12 oz. bag to a boil.
    3. Pour cranberries in pot for about 2-3 minutes. Once they start to pop, you know they are ready.
    4. Follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions for fruit. In general, it will take between 10-16 hours. You will just have to check them. Plus, your home will smell amazing!
    5. If you do not have a dehydrator, still follow steps 1-3, but place the drained berries on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then turn it off. Put your cranberries in the oven and allow them to dry overnight or until dry.
    6. Refrigerate or put into freezer until you are ready to give them.

    Canned Pumpkin
    Plain, canned pumpkin can be a great topper on dog food for its Vitamin A and carotenoids. Please ensure that it is literally plain with no added spices, sugars or other fillers. I would start off with ½ to 1 tablespoon per day.

    Butternut Squash
    Just like pumpkin, butternut squash is packed full of Vitamin A and carotenoids.

    It always amazes me the bounty of food you can get from one butternut squash. Personally, I would cut it up and then freeze it. When needed, gently steam the pieces (plain) for 4-5 minutes, or bake them.

    Apples & Pears
    You can give raw, small pieces as treats. If you have too many, you can dehydrate them and then store in a cool, dry place.

    Green Beans & Carrots
    Your dog can have chopped green beans and carrots as raw treats in small amounts. To increase the bioavailability (digestibility), steam them for a few minutes.

    If stored properly, potatoes can last a long time. Personally, I would avoid giving these to your companion pet due to their high glycemic index ranking.

    Sweet Potatoes
    Plain, steamed or baked sweet potatoes are nutritious in small amounts for your dog. However, sweet potatoes have approximately twice as many calories as pumpkin and butternut squash per serving. If your dog needs to shed a few pounds, I would avoid them.

    Turkey, Duck or Goose
    Honestly, I am fine with leftover small pieces of turkey, duck or goose so long as you do not include the fat, skin or gravy. [You’ll note that I’ve not suggested feeding ham as many are sugar-cured, have cloves imbedded, and are salty.

    Most importantly, never ever give your companion dog turkey or any other type of bone. Leave those to the experts.

    And with that, I wish you a joyous and bountiful holiday! Jean

    CREDIT: W. Jean Dodds, DVM | Hemopet / NutriScan | 11561 Salinaz Avenue | Garden Grove, CA 92843