Thanksgiving is almost here and that means an abundance of delicious food. However, many popular human dishes aren’t healthy for pets to consume. It’s important to remember which Thanksgiving foods are bad for dogs and cats. Can dogs eat stuffing? Can cats eat pumpkin? During holiday meals, when dogs and cats beg for table scraps, you’ll be tempted to fall for those cute faces. Keep in mind what they can and can’t eat, and their little tummies will thank you later.
Which Thanksgiving foods are toxic to dogs and cats?
Below are 12 Thanksgiving foods that will cause more harm than good for cats and dogs. Make sure to keep these away from your pets to ensure they remain healthy this Thanksgiving. Also, don’t forget to inform your family and dinner guests about these potentially dangerous or toxic foods for pets so they do not feed them to your four-legged family members.
1. Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and chives
Can dogs have stuffing? Can cats eat dressing? Garlic, onions and chives are often used as a spice or garnish for Thanksgiving dishes, especially Thanksgiving dressing and stuffing.
These ingredients are all in the Allium spp genus and are toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion of any amount of an Allium spp genus member can cause blood cell damage in dogs and cats. Illness only occurs when the loss blood cell function exceeds the body’s ability to compensate and regenerate those cells. Eventually high doses can cause life-threatening anemia (destruction of the red blood cells). 1
It’s best to avoid feeding any amount of onions, garlic, shallots or leeks to pets.
2. Ham and turkey skin
On Thanksgiving, pet parents should avoid feeding fatty foods, like ham, bacon or poultry skin products to dogs and cats. Because ham and bacon are high in fat, these ingredients can cause pancreatitis, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. In one study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, ingestion of unusual or human foods increased the odds of developing pancreatitis.2
Pork is also high in fat, which can lead to obesity in pets. Even a small amount of ham can contribute a very large amount of calories to a small dog or cat’s diet, leading to harmful weight gain.
3. Turkey bones
Another food that dogs should avoid on Thanksgiving is turkey bones, or cooked bones of any kind. Bone shards can be very sharp and can cause severe indigestion in dogs and cats.
Ingestion of bones can cause vomiting and even obstruction of the bowel. Sharp bone shards can also cause damage to the delicate mucosal walls of the stomach and intestines, and even perforate the lining of these organs, causing a painful and life-threatening abdominal infection.
Mashed potatoes are a staple on Thanksgiving, however, while plain, cooked potatoes are safe for pets to eat, mashed potatoes usually contain butter and milk. Many adult dogs and cats lack the enzyme lactase, which helps break down the lactose in dairy products.
This includes avoiding ice cream, too.3 The lactose, high sugar and high fat are a bad combination for most pets!
From fruit salad to Waldorf salad to ambrosia, there are many salads served at Thanksgiving that include grapes or raisins as an ingredient. Grapes, raisins, sultanas, and Zante currants are all members of the species of plants called Vitis Vinifera.
It is thought that the Tartaric acid in the skin of the grape may be responsible for the toxic effects grapes and raisins have on the kidneys of dogs that ingest it. The damage done to the kidneys can be life threatening and potentially irreversible.4
Dogs are the only species in which grape and raisin toxicosis has been reported in the literature, although anecdotal reports exist of toxicosis in cats and ferrets as well.4 Be sure to keep all dishes that include grapes and raisins away from pets.
6. Desserts with artificial sweeteners
Avoid sugar-free desserts too. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free foods, but just five pieces of gum containing Xylitol is enough to potentially kill a 65-pound dog. It can cause a drop in blood sugar that leads to seizures and weakness. It’s just as toxic to cats, and a small amount can potentially lead to liver failure in both cats and dogs.4
7. Chocolate desserts
While pumpkin pie is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, many people like to make a variety of chocolate desserts as well. It’s often considered common knowledge that chocolate is toxic to dogs (and cats too!), but it’s worth the reminder on the holiday that revolves around food!
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine in levels that are toxic to cats and dogs. The darker and less sweetened the chocolate, the more concentrated these toxic ingredients are. In high doses chocolate can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, high heart rate, seizures, and even death.4
Keep all chocolate desserts out of the reach of pets to prevent an emergency trip to the veterinarian.
8. Coffee and tea
Sure, you might be sipping on a coffee or drinking tea after your Thanksgiving meal. But don’t share any with your pet. Animals tend to be much more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, which contains methylxanthines, and can cause vomiting, seizures, irregular heartbeats and fatal diarrhea, similar to chocolate toxicity. The danger exists for both dogs and cats, so don’t let your pet get into coffee grounds or tea bags either.5
9. Macadamia nuts and walnuts
The exact mechanism that causes Macadamia nuts to be a danger to dogs is a mystery. Interestingly, this isn’t seen in any other animal besides dogs! But they’re known to cause painful symptoms like tremors, overheating, vomiting and weakness. The minimum toxic dosage is about 1 nut per 2 pounds of body weight, so for a small dog, just a few macadamias could cause clinical signs. Luckily this is rarely fatal and most patients return to normal in 24 to 48 hours.9
Walnuts in general are not toxic to dogs, but they are prone to growing a toxic mold that can produce a mycotoxin that can cause serious illness, tremors and even death.8 Black walnuts contain the toxin Juglone which may cause lethargy and vomiting in dogs.
English walnuts are more commonly used for baking and while they’re not toxic, their high-fat content still makes them an unwelcome choice. You’re better off avoiding nuts entirely.
While you may enjoy a glass of wine or a libation of your choosing with dinner, you shouldn’t even give a sip of alcohol to your pet. Small amounts of alcohol are dangerous for cats and dogs and can lead to heart arrhythmia or low blood pressure. Because of their small size, they can easily get alcohol poisoning. Symptoms include breathing problems, vomiting, coma and sometimes death. Ingesting alcohol can equal a trip to the emergency vet, so be sure to keep alcohol away from pets.
What’s Thanksgiving without nutmeg to season the pumpkin pie? While this spice is a staple for the holidays, it’s potentially toxic to your cats and dogs.10
Myristicin, found in nutmeg, can cause hallucinations, high blood pressure and possible seizures in high amounts. In people it takes one or more tablespoons of ground nutmeg to cause signs of toxicity, although deaths are rare. So a small amount of nutmeg in baked goods is probably not going to be a problem but eating a large quantity of baked goods or eating straight nutmeg could be a problem.10
12. Dinner rolls
Dinner rolls are a mainstay with Thanksgiving, often served right alongside the turkey. But they’re not healthy for your pet. A little bit of fully cooked bread is okay (but watch the fat and sugar content.)
However, raw dough is dangerous for cats and dogs.11 When bread dough is ingested, the animal’s body heat causes the dough to rise in the stomach due to yeast contained in the dough. Alcohol and CO2 is produced during the rising process and the dough expands.
This can lead to abdominal pain, bloat, vomiting, ataxia (wobbliness), and depression. The raw yeast can continue fermenting in your pet’s stomach, leading to dangerous stomach bloat, disorientation or even alcohol poisoning.6
If your dog ingests raw dough, it is wise to call your veterinarian and consider having them induce vomiting.
Average Treatment Costs
|Gastroenteritis (stomach/intestinal inflammation)||$474||$499|
*Pets Best 2021 Claim Data
Which Thanksgiving foods are safe for dogs and cats?
As you can see, many Thanksgiving foods are dangerous for your furry friend. So can dogs eat Thanksgiving food at all? Is any Thanksgiving food safe for cats? The answer is a resounding “yes” to both questions. Despite so many foods that are unsafe, there are still quite a few treats that your dog or cat can enjoy on turkey day (in moderation, of course.) Here are seven examples:
1. Turkey meat
While turkey skin and turkey bones should be avoided, plain turkey meat is fine.13 So go ahead and give your cat or dog a plain piece without fat or seasoning.
2. Pumpkin (but not in a pie)
While pumpkin pie might not be healthy for your dog or cat, plain, canned pumpkin is fine. Just make sure it’s pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling. Pumpkin has healthy fiber and is packed with vitamins, plus it’s low in calories. In fact, a little spoonful of pumpkin can make a delicious treat for your dog or cat while you’re eating dessert.
3. Sage and rosemary
Sage and rosemary are often used in Thanksgiving cooking, so you’ll be happy to hear that these herbs are safe for dogs and cats.14 If your pet gets into a little rosemary or sage, there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re worried because they got into a lot, then give your veterinarian a call.
4. Plain sweet potatoes or plain potatoes
Plain, fully cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes are perfectly fine to give to your cat or dog in small amounts on Thanksgiving. But keep these caveats in mind.
Raw potato and sweet potatoes are absolutely off-limits to dogs and cats. Raw potatoes contain solanine, which is toxic.15 However, plain, fully cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes are safe in small amounts.
It’s probably best to avoid candied sweet potatoes or potatoes with added dairy, spices and toppings. Avoid these in their raw form too. But a little plain, fully cooked potato or sweet potato can be a great Thanksgiving treat.
We often enjoy corn at Thanksgiving, and your cat and dog can too.16 For your pet, make sure it’s plain, not on the cob and avoid adding any butter or seasonings.
6. Green beans
Green beans are also great treats for your pets.16 Just don’t give your dog or cat that fatty, seasoned green bean casserole that usually has onions on it! Set aside a small amount of cooked, plain green beans before you add it to a casserole or add any seasonings. Plain green beans are healthy snacks.
What to do if your pet eats something they shouldn’t
If your pets ingest a potentially toxic food this Thanksgiving, contact your veterinarian immediately. Signs that your dog or cat may have eaten something toxic can include a change in behavior, vomiting, diarrhea, a bloated stomach or acting in distress.
Calling your veterinarian or a poison control hotline immediately can help determine what the treatment is. Some toxins require the induction of vomiting, others may be able to be managed at home. Sometimes the outcome really depends on how fast you act, so don’t delay.
There’s no doubt that one of the things you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving is your sweet pet. By knowing which foods are toxic and which are safe, you can know what treats you can give your cat or dog as part of your holiday celebration.
If for any reason you find yourself in an emergency situation this holiday, Pets Best insurance can also help you afford the best course of treatment. Policyholders also have access to a 24/7 emergency vet helpline in case the unexpected happens and you need advice right away. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
1Cope RB: Allium species Poisoning in Dogs and Cats. Vet Med., 15 Refs ed. 2005 Vol 100 (8) pp. 256-66
2Schleis S E, Rizzo S A, J C Phillips, et al: Asparaginase-associated pancreatitis in a dog. Can Vet J 2011 Vol 52 (9) pp. 1009-12
3AKC Staff. “(2020, April 24.) People Foods Dogs Can and Can’t Eat. American Kennel Club. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/human-foods-dogs-can-and-cant-eat/.
4Sutton NM, Bates N, Campbell A: Factors influencing outcome of Vitis vinifera (grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas) intoxication in d. Vet Rec 2009 Vol 164 (14) pp. 430-1
5Dr. Jeff. (2016, March 14.) Xylitol Toxicity in Cats & Dogs.” Sunnyview Vet. Retrieved from https://sunnyview-vet.com/2016/03/14/xylitol-toxicity-in-cats-dogs/.
6Volmer PA, Rosendale ME: Management of chocolate intoxication . Standards of Care: Emergency and Critical Care Medicine 200 Vol 4. (6) pp. 1-5.
7Caffeine. Pet Poison Helpline. Retrieved from https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/caffeine/.
8Turner, Beth. (2021, July 14.) Safe and Unsafe Nuts and Seeds for Dogs & Cats. Preventive Vet. Retrieved from https://www.preventivevet.com/pets/safe-and-unsafe-nuts-and-seeds-for-pets.
9Gwaltney-Brant S: Macadamia Nuts. In: Peterson ME, Talcott PA (eds): Small Animal Toxicology, 2 ed. Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis 2013 pp. 625-27
10Nutmeg and Cinnamon Toxicity. Pet Poison Helpline. Retrieved from https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-safety-tips/nutmeg-cinnamon-toxicity.
11Bread Ingestion in Pets on the Rise. ASPCA Pro. Retrieved from https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/bread-ingestion-pets.
12Means C. Bread dough toxicosis in dogs. J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2003 Vol 13 (1) pp. 39-41.
13(2022, October 9.) Thanksgiving Food Your Pets Can Eat, Too! Animal Humane Society. Retrieved from https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/news/thanksgiving-food-your-pets-can-eat-too.
14Alvarez, Daniela L. (2021, February 9.) 11 Pet-Friendly Houseplants That Can Coexist Safely With Your Cats and Dogs. Insider. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/guides/home/pet-safe-houseplants.
15Ripley, Katherine. (2022, July 29.) Can Dogs Eat Potatoes? American Kennel Club. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/can-dogs-eat-potatoes/.
16St. Martin, Stephanie. (2021, October 7.) What Thanksgiving Food Can Dogs and Cats Eat? Care.com. Retrieved from https://www.care.com/c/thanksgiving-pet-safety-can-our-pets-eat-our/.