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The top Thanksgiving foods…are they safe for pets?

Posted by Stephanie St. Martin  November 19, 2012 11:02 AM

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Thanksgiving is a time for football, family and, of course, food. With a cornucopia of guests -- and their kids -- descending on your house, there will be lots of extra people trying to pass a tasty treat to your cat or dog. They may have the best of intentions, but "people food" isn't always the best for your four-legged friend.

To keep things safe, read this list about which Turkey Day food favorites are safe for pets to eat and which ones may leave you cleaning up a mess -- and I don't mean the dishes.

Going to someone's house? Even if your pet is great with table scraps, it doesn't mean that your relative's cat can tolerate the same amount. Always check with the owner before you offer a pet any additional food.

In general, any newly introduced food can induce vomiting, and even diarrhea. When we switch an animal from one diet to another, we generally do it gradually over one to two weeks. So keep new foods minimal, especially if Fido and Kitty haven't added them to their palette before.

For pets with health problems, their owners should always check with their veterinarians prior to changing their diets.


Turkey

Verdict: A small amount is okay.

Most pets can gobble up small amounts of lean, light meat without a problem. Turkey skin and dark meat have more fat and may be too greasy for pets. A small amount of dark meat and skin is okay, but light meat is the preferred snack.

"I think most animals enjoy the ritual of receiving food, so small pieces given as treats is sufficient or small amounts mixed into their regular kibble or canned food is fine as well," says Dr. Brian Collins, Lecturer, Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Make sure anything you serve your pet is bone-free. "Avoid giving your dog or cat wings or drumsticks. The bones can get stuck between teeth, in the esophagus, and cause vomiting or get lodged in any part of the GI track," warns Dr. Collins.

To keep things safe, carefully remove the meat from the bones. Even if you have a cat (who typically eat more carefully than dogs who usually "inhale" their food), you can still get into trouble with bones.

Turkey Gravy

Verdict: No

Recipes for turkey gravy often include turkey stock, pepper and seasonings; yummy for you, but too fatty for your pet.

Mashed Potatoes

Verdict: Depends how it's prepared.

If the potatoes are plain and bland, with minimal fat and salt, mashed potatoes can be slipped under the table. But if you go all out like most people and add butter and heavy cream galore, it makes the potatoes less ideal for your pet -- and your waistline. "Fatty foods can cause GI upset and pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening," warns Dr. Collins.

And if you added onions, garlic, scallions, chives or leeks to the dish, you definitely can't share them. All of these are toxic -- maybe even fatal -- to cats and dogs. So despite Mom and Dad saying to always try a little, when it comes to these foods, even a little bit is toxic to your pets.

Stuffing

Verdict: No

That "Who makes the best stuffing?" argument can finally be put to rest. Like mashed potatoes, if stuffing is bland and has very little fat, it could get a paw print stamp of approval. But who wants bland stuffing?

If the stuffing has more fat, butter and ingredients, it becomes less ideal for your pet. And don't forget about those add-ins! Many stuffing recipes call for onions, garlic, scallions, chives and leeks too. Even the basic out of the box Stove Top Stuffing has onions in it. The best bet is to make a rule: No stuffing for pets.

Cranberry Sauce

Verdict: No

These days, a lot of cranberry sauces aren't just the popular stuff we see come right out of the can. Nuts, raisins, sugar and even pineapple is added to many recipes. And as a result, this staple of Thanksgiving can't be shared. "Macadamia nuts are the only nuts that are toxic to dogs," warns Dr. Collins. And nuts add fat to the meal. Grapes and raisins are definitely to be avoided because they can cause kidney failure in dogs (and possibly in cats).

Most animals won't eat cranberries that aren't coated in extra sugar, so your pet can be saved from that lovely Ocean Spray color he'd have all over his face. "Sugar isn't good for pets, and most cranberry sauces have sugar. It's best to avoid giving this treat." says Dr. Collins.

Homemade Rolls

Verdict: Small amounts are okay.

Rolls fall to the ground during the annual food fight and are nibbled up by your kitty? Never fear. As long as they don't have a lot of butter on them, they are safe for your pets to enjoy.

Green Bean Casserole

Verdict: Beans only.

Green beans are excellent snacks for dogs. But if you add the mushroom soup and the onions on top, you are asking for trouble. If you want to give your pet a treat, make sure the bad-for-pets fried onions have been removed from the top layer. Rinse off the beans or set some aside before you add other ingredients, and your pets can enjoy.

Corn

Verdict: Loose corn is fine, but avoid corn on the cob.

Has your five-year-old been slipping his veggies to the dog? Don't worry. As long as the corn is removed from the cob, that pile of veggies can quickly disappear under the table.

If it's still on the cob though, let your little one (and any guests) know it's not okay. "Dogs especially should not be given corn cobs because if swallowed, pieces can cause an obstruction," says Dr. Collins. So rather than play fetch with the corn cob, wait until after dinner and find his favorite toy.

Candied Sweet Potatoes/Yams

Verdict: No

Candied? Buttery? With brown sugar and marshmallows? Again, it's best if your pet doesn't indulge his sweet tooth.

Pecan Pie

Verdict: Not ideal.

It's not the end of the world if your little niece happens to "drop" her pie under the table and the pets inhale it. But, it still has sugar in it -- which isn't great for animals.

Apple Pie

Verdict: Not ideal.

The American dessert can be prepared a variety of different ways, but almost all of them include lots of sugar. It's better for your cat and dog if they don't enjoy apple pie.

Pumpkin Pie

Verdict: Not ideal.

Like pecan and apple pie, a very small piece won't hurt your pet, but it's never a good idea to offer pets anything with sugar.

The rule to follow: Humans get human desserts and pets get pet dessert. (Have the kids at your table repeat this.) A nice dog treat can be dessert for your pets. And if you really want Fido and Kitty to be included, you can find cookbooks on making homemade treats for dogs and cats.

If you are still afraid you won't be able to resist your pet giving you "that look" (puppy eyes and all), hire a "pet sitter" for the day - ask your animal-loving niece to be on guard duty. See if she will enjoy playing with the dog or cat after she's done with her meal. It keeps your pet safe and her entertained.

And even though you may have finished your meal, it doesn't mean your pet has called it quits. Pets will take food off the counter, out of the trash and even grab a piece of food that may have been tossed outside. "I have heard countless stories of the turkey carcass being taken out of the trash, or the turkey being taken off the counter," says Dr. Collins. Make sure any leftovers are out of reach.

This holiday, remember to be thankful for not only your family, but also the pets in your life. And of course, for avoiding a trip to the veterinarian!

To find more Thanksgiving safety tips, read these articles from the Animal Behavior College and ASPCA.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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