With all the focus on food, fun, and football, don't forget the fur kids on the 4th Thursday in November. This year, try to make sure their Thanksgiving is as enjoyable as yours.

By Debra Steilen
October 15, 2020
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Sara Remington Photography LLC/Stocksy / Adobe Stock

We all know that food rules this particular holiday. Chances are your pet will try to make a pit stop at the kitchen counter or dining room table where family favorites are being made or displayed. Or he’ll get into the garbage while the humans aren’t paying attention because they’re watching TV.

Unfortunately, too many pet owners like to feed people food to their furry friends. According to a Cornell University Veterinary Specialists poll, 56 percent of pet parents admitted to sharing Thanksgiving table scraps with their pets. But any food that isn’t a regular part of a pet’s diet—especially fatty foods like ham, gravy, dark turkey meat, and turkey skin—can cause issues ranging from diarrhea to pancreatitis, and some human foods can even poison your pets.

Side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes may contain garlic, onion, leeks, or chives that are toxic to dogs and cats. Desserts may include dangerous-to-pets ingredients like chocolate, raisins, currants, and Xylitol (a popular sugar substitute)—so reserve the sweet stuff for humans only. Plus, chewing and swallowing bones may cause a life-threatening obstruction that requires emergency surgery.

Your pet can also get alcohol poisoning—even if he doesn’t drink the spiked punch—just by eating unbaked yeast dough. Yeast works by releasing ethanol and carbon dioxide to make dough rise. This same action can cause severe bloating from the release of gas and possible poisoning from a pet’s inability to process the ethanol.

And keep this in mind. “Cats are a lot more persnickety about what they get into,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club (AKC), who spent 35 years as a pet emergency room veterinarian in Chicago. “Thanksgiving dishes are not as much of a problem for them as are thread and string from turkey carcasses.” 

So dispose of garbage (bones, carcasses, seeds and pits, packaging materials such as strings, bags, and butcher’s paper, and unwanted leftovers) in a tightly secured garbage bag placed outdoors in a closed trash receptacle or inside the home behind a locked door. And always make sure that trash can lid is secure!

Which Thanksgiving Foods Can I Give My Dog And Cat to Eat?

Treat your four-legged friends to a few small pieces of lean turkey and raw vegetables like baby carrots, and green beans (but not green bean casserole). Chunks of sweet potatoes or raw apples or pears (with seeds removed) are likely to be a hit. Fill Fido’s Kong toy with canned pumpkin puree—the plain stuff, NOT sweetened pumpkin pie filling.

How Do I Handle the Thanksgiving Food Issue With Guests?

While a pet licking a greasy plate may be fine, feeding him multiple bites of greasy turkey, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie is not. (A couple of bites of turkey to a small dog are like a human eating half the bird!) So ask your guests ahead of time not to feed your pets, no matter how cute they look while longingly watching you eat.

What Do I Do If My Dog Or Cat Eats Something Bad?

You call for help—literally! Prepare by programming your cell phone with numbers for your regular vet, the vet hospital, the on-call emergency vet if you have one, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435. That way, if something does go wrong, you have a team of medical pros at the ready. And watch for symptoms of distress, including vomiting, diarrhea, signs of pain, and sudden changes in behavior, including depression.

Should I Let My Dog or Cat Interact With Guests?

A constant flow of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can be upsetting to pets (even more so than it is to you). “Dogs are creatures of habit,” Klein says. “When their routines shift, some dogs get anxious.”

So realize what your dog or cat is going through. Remember, it’s his house, too. If Fido loves to socialize, let him mingle. But if he’s not comfortable with lots of noise, then seclude him in his crate or in a den, bedroom, or basement for some peace and quiet.

How Can I Help My Stressed-Out Pet Relax?

Plug in a pheromone diffuser (Adaptil for dogs, Feliway for cats) several days before the event to reduce stress and allow your pet to chill out. On Thanksgiving, put on classical music or easy-listening tunes to minimize the sounds of laughing—or squabbling—in the other room. Offer brain-teasing puzzle toys to keep your pet occupied while family members eat, drink, and be merry. Caution: If you live in a multi pet household or are having other pets come over for the occasion, the use of food puzzles may lead to issues during interactions, which could include resource guarding. If this is the case for you, keep pets in separate sanctuary rooms.

“We have to be careful not to overindulge ourselves and our pets with too many good things,” Klein says. “Keep things to a routine as much as possible. And remember that your pets don’t understand the premise of a holiday.”

A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Fall/Winter 2019.