Turkey is a common main course for American families on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And while the bird is touted as a low fat protein for people, the answer is not so simple for our furry friends.

By Leah Lopez Cardenas
November 18, 2020
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This holiday season, turkey takes a prime spot at the table amid the family fun. And we all want to make sure our fur family members are involved in our holiday celebrations. But if you're looking to share this tasty meat with your canine companion, it's best to do your research first to make sure a turkey snack won't make your dog sick—or worse.

Can Dogs Eat Turkey Meat Safely?

Short answer: yes and no, depending on how it’s prepared. While turkey is not toxic for dogs to eat, and it is an ingredient that can be found in your typical bag of dog food, it’s not always a good idea to add extra turkey to your dog’s regular, balanced diet.

“If you decide to feed your pet a small bite of turkey, make sure it’s boneless and well-cooked,” says Tina Wismer, DVM, Senior Director, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. “However, don't allow your pets to overindulge, as they could wind up with a case of stomach upset, diarrhea, or even worse—an inflammatory condition of the pancreas known as pancreatitis.”

Credit: Saddako / Jamie Garbutt / Getty / Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

When Turkey Can Be Dangerous for Dogs

Raw

It's the worst-case scenario for your holiday meal: you go outside to throw your majestic fowl on the smoker, just about to lay it over the hot coals, when suddenly—disaster strikes. The bird slips out of your hands, and the whole thing drops to the ground, covering your turkey in mud and debris.

If you're wondering if you can chuck some of that ruined raw turkey to your pet as you start working on your backup bird (or ordering the takeout). But raw turkey can be harmful for your dog. Wismer recommends dog parents don’t offer their canine companions raw or undercooked turkey, because it may contain salmonella bacteria, which can make them sick.

Seasoned & Marinaded

While bites of plain, cooked turkey are generally safe for your dog to consume in moderation, it’s no longer safe to eat when it has been covered with seasonings, marinades, and spices that are harmful for dogs, according to Wismer.

Onion and garlic are common ingredients in seasonings that are tasty for humans, but toxic for dogs. “Small amounts could cause stomach upset, while large amounts could cause anemia (damage to the red blood cells),” Wismer explains.

Other spices that can cause issues for your dog include:

  • Too much salt
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Sage
  • Excessive sugar
  • Nutmeg
  • Cocoa powder

Leftovers

While some pet parents are used to tossing leftover bones to their furry friends after a meal, Wismer recommends rethinking that idea when a turkey is involved, especially if bones are included.

“Do not give your pet the leftover carcass—the bones can be problematic for the digestive tract,” Wismer explains. Smaller turkey bones can also potentially become a choking hazard, especially for small dogs.

What to Do If Your Dog Swipes Some Turkey

If your dog gets a bite of turkey dropped by someone at your holiday meal, you probably don’t need to rush to the vet.

That said, while a small bit of turkey is probably fine, the bones can be a choking hazard. As for licking the plate, keep in mind that there are a lot of other Thanksgiving and holiday foods that are definitely bad for your pet to consume, including desserts that contain the sugar substitute xylitol, anything with onions, or salads topped with grapes or raisins.

Emergency preparation and prevention is key to ensuring your pet’s safety. So it’s probably a good idea before any food-centric gathering to save the ASPCA Poison Control Center hotline (888) 426-4425 in your phone just in case.

Other Foods Dogs Can and Can’t Eat During the Holidays

While turkey might be the main entree on Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are many other human foods that commonly get gobbled up by dogs. But which ones are OK and which ones should be cause for concern?

Pet-Safe Holiday Foods

While these foods are generally safe for dogs with a few important caveats, always avoid the casserole version of anything when it comes to sharing with your pet.

Before giving your dog a taste of any human foods, be sure to consult your veterinarian about your individual dog, as every pet is different! Pet parents of dogs who are on a restricted diet or dogs who have diabetes will want to be extra careful not to let their pup over-indulge in foods high in fat or sugar content. Also, make sure you’re aware of any allergies your dog may have and avoid foods that cause reactions.

Holiday Foods That Are Toxic for Dogs

These are the dishes to keep an especially watchful eye on, so your dog doesn’t accidentally consume any harmful substances.

  • Raw yeast bread dough: While bread may be a tasty treat that won’t harm your dog, if you feed it to him as raw dough, the yeast can cause some serious problems. “Yeast continues to convert the sugars in the dough to carbon dioxide gas and alcohol,” says Wismer. “This can result in bloated, drunken pets, which could become a life-threatening emergency, requiring hospitalization.”
  • Desserts containing artificial sweeteners: Xylitol is a common artificial sweetener that is very toxic for dogs, leading to liver damage. This substance sometimes also appears in some foods you may not expect, including peanut butter, so make sure you have a solid understanding of the ingredients in your food before sharing it with your dog. (Better yet, just don’t feed your dog desserts—period. While you may love the sweet stuff, it’s not worth the risk for your pet!)
  • Desserts containing chocolate: Chocolate is poisonous for dogs, especially in large quantities. While a small morsel of the sweet stuff can cause vomiting and diarrhea, too much chocolate can potentially cause death.
  • Stuffing: This could include dangerous amounts of onion, garlic, or sage. “While sage can be a delicious addition to your Thanksgiving stuffing, it (and many other herbs) contain essential oils and resins that can cause gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system depression in pets,” says Wismer.
  • Mashed potatoes: Raw potatoes aren’t toxic, but prepared mashed potatoes are really not good for your dog. The butter is bad for his digestive system and pancreas, and the garlic, onion, leeks, or similar ingredients contain compounds that can cause anemia, pulmonary edema, and worse.
  • Alcohol: It goes without saying that our animal friends should never be given alcohol under any circumstance. If your pup gets into the punch bowl, call your vet ASAP.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is another big no-no for your pet. Not only will it make your pup restless and hyperactive, it also raises blood pressure and causes irregular heartbeats, and may even cause your pet to lose muscle control or have a seizure.
  • Grapes and raisins should also be avoided, as these little fruits can cause kidney failure if your pooch has even a few.