Following our general holiday safety post, this week we’re going to dive a little deeper into issues surrounding food, looking at popular Thanksgiving dishes that can that pose a risk to your pet, and suggesting delicious alternatives so that you can prepare a fantastic feast for animals and humans alike! After all, food is a HUGE part of Thanksgiving tradition, with the whole holiday centered around a single meal. Given that most of us are extremely grateful to have our furry (or scaled, or feathered) friends in our lives, it would be criminal to exclude them from the festivities. Thankfully, there are plenty of easy-to-prepare, pet-friendly dishes to choose from. With a little mindfulness, we can avoid dangerous holiday staples, providing our pets with a feast they’ll never forget (well, at least not for a few hours).
First, let’s start with some dishes to avoid over the thanksgiving Holiday. The last thing we want is a sick pet; or worse, an expected trip to the vet or animal emergency room!
Stay Safe by Avoiding These Foods:
Bones and Bits: Perilous Poultry
A huge roasted turkey usually makes up the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table—the bigger the better, with enough leftovers to feed a small army. Unfortunately, poultry bones can pose a significant threat to pets. Small or splintered pieces are a choking hazard and can cause gastrointestinal blockages or perforations in the digestive tract. If you plan on including turkey in your animal’s Thanksgiving meal, make sure you’ve thoroughly combed it for bones, watching for small fragments that might not be easily visible to the human eye. This article outlines the signs of choking in pets, and describes what you can do to administer first aid.
Rich and Fatty Foods Are No Good for Pets
Many Thanksgiving staples are a true treat (and cheat) for humans. We give ourselves a temporary pass to indulge our more decadent impulses, at least for the weekend. Rich, fatty foods like gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, and casseroles might be a treat for us, but they can wreak havoc on our pet's digestive system. They might even lead to pancreatitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening condition that requires extensive (and expensive) treatment. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Opt for pet-friendly treats or plain cooked vegetables as a safe alternative for your furry companions.
Onions and Garlic: Bad for Your Breath Worse for Your Pets
Onions and garlic, often used as seasonings in various Thanksgiving dishes, are highly toxic to pets. They can cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, ingestion of these ingredients can cause damage to your pet's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Ensure that your pets are kept away from dishes containing these ingredients, and securely store them to prevent accidental ingestion.
Pro Tip: Chances are, not all your guests will be pet owners. What’s common knowledge to you isn’t necessarily obvious to those who don’t live with any animals. If a cat, dog, or other pet ends up near the dinner table, it can be hard to resist tossing them the occasional table scrap, and with the best intentions, a visitor might feed them something harmful. Make sure you ask all visitors to refrain from feeding the animals, and be especially proactive in briefing anyone involved with preparing the main meal, asking them to be mindful of where they leave food. To help you out, PAWS/LA has prepared a printable safety checklist, detailing foods that should be kept away from pets. Pin it in the kitchen and any common areas where people will gather!
Grapes and Raisins: Small but Dangerous
Grapes and raisins are well-known for their toxic effects on pets, even in small quantities. These seemingly harmless fruits can lead to kidney failure in dogs and cats, causing symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and decreased appetite. To be safe, avoid sharing any desserts or dishes containing grapes or raisins with your pets. Bear in mind that small items such as these can easily fall on the floor or carpet.
Chocolate: Tempting but Troublesome
Chocolate is a classic indulgence during the holiday season, but a definite no-no for pets. It contains substances called theobromine and caffeine, which can be toxic to dogs and cats. Ingesting these can lead to symptoms ranging from restlessness and increased heart rate to seizures and, in severe cases, death. Keep all chocolate products, including baked goods, out of your pet's reach and promptly clean up any spills.
Alcohol: Sober Pets Rock!
Many people use alcohol to amplify their holiday cheer. If imbibed in moderate amounts, beer, wine, and cocktails can help us relax and ease into the festivities. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to animals. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause them to become intoxicated, leading to vomiting, loss of coordination, tremors, and, in severe cases, respiratory failure. Keep alcoholic beverages away from curious pets and be cautious about where you place your drinks to prevent accidental spills.
Nutmeg: Not a Nice Spice for pets
Nutmeg, commonly used in various Thanksgiving dishes, contains a compound called myristicin, which can be toxic to pets in large quantities. Ingesting nutmeg can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, disorientation, increased heart rate, and seizures. It's best to avoid sharing dishes seasoned with nutmeg with your pets and store the spice securely in a high cabinet. Again, be mindful of accidental spills and clean up any mess promptly.
Xylitol: Sweet, Sweet Poison
Keep artificial sweeteners like xylitol far away from your pets, bearing in mind that these chemicals are common additives in hundreds of food products—even ones you might not expect. Xylitol is extremely toxic for animals. (Honestly, it’s not great for humans either). You might want to do everyone in the household a favor and avoid artificial sweeteners in general. Many of them have been linked with cancer and can even contribute to depression as they interfere with the brain’s dopamine production.
Pro-Tip: No matter how cautious you are when choosing what to feed your pet over the holidays, all that safety can be undone if dangerous foods spill or make a mess that your pet can easily access. Small items such as grapes or raisins are easily scattered over the floor and can roll into nooks and crannies, which are hard for humans to reach, but easily picked up by small animals. Even the cleanest among us can find their kitchen a mess when preparing a large meal for many people. Keep your pets away from any area where food is being prepared. You might even consider barring them from the dining area until the meal is cleared and the space cleaned. In general, make sure your home is equipped with a pet-focused emergency and first-aid kit.
Treat Your Pets with These Dishes
Now that we’ve dealt with the culinary don’ts, let’s switch to a positive track and look at some tasty and nutritious dishes for your pets to enjoy. After all, your animals are beloved family members, and you want them to share the cheer. While all these dishes are Thanksgiving staples, found at most traditional tables, they need to be served plain to remain pet-friendly—no casseroles, pies, or buttery, sugary mashes. This might require you to think ahead, putting some ingredients aside as you prepare dishes for the main table. Consider, setting up a small side area for “pet prep”, and portioning out some plain servings as you go along.
Fruits Make a Delicious Desert
With the exception of grapes and raisins, most fruits make a delicious desert for your furry friends. Blueberries, strawberries, and apples are a great source of A and C vitamins, and some pets even enjoy cranberry sauce (although cats don’t have the tastebuds for it). Just make sure that any fruits you give your pet are served plain without extras such as cream or sugar. Don’t give your furry friends any fruit pies, which contain too many unhealthy ingredients to do your animal any good. If you’re including fruits in your human deserts, put some aside during preparation so that you can present them to your pet unsullied.
A legendary thanksgiving staple, there’s absolutely no reason your pets shouldn’t share some plain pumpkin goodness—especially mashed up so that it’s easier to eat. You can even turn this into a desert by pureeing it and mixing in some unsweetened frozen yoghurt. The calcium and probiotics will be great for your animal’s stomach and the pumpkin is packed with fiber, Vitamins A, C, E, and potassium! If you’re feeling especially ambitious, here’s a great recipe for pumpkin pie dog treats from Rover.com.
Sweet Potato Party
Like pumpkin, sweet potatoes are loaded with dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also add B6 and beta-carotene to the mix. They can be served mashed, or in the form of a dehydrated chew. Again, don’t include any rich, gooey extras such as butter, brown sugar, or marshmallows.
Green Bean Dream
While it might be a major part of many a Thanksgiving meal, green bean casserole is a no-go for pets. Instead, consider serving these delicious greens as dehydrated crispy treats.
Conclusion: Time to feast
Thanksgiving should be a period of joy and gratitude for people and pets alike. While it’s crucial to remain pet-safe amid the festivities, your holiday preparations don’t have to be exclusively prohibitive. Consider ways to treat your pet while keeping them protected. Be mindful of the foods listed above and set healthy alternatives aside to serve your animals while the humans are chowing down. Special treats and toys can distract them during mealtime, ensuring that they don’t linger at the table begging for scraps. Above all, be good to each other, take care of the animals and have a great holiday!
Our blog is managed by Ryan Hilary with additional contributions from the PAWS/LA team. Are you a member of our community and have a great idea for a post (or maybe want to write one yourself?). Reach out to Rhilary@pawsla.org.