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Turkey Tips for Pets: Is Turkey Safe for Your Dog or Cat?

When I was growing up, my “sister” was an apricot-colored Toy Poodle named Taffy. Taffy lived almost 17 years on a varied homemade diet lovingly prepared each day by my mom. But one food mom never gave Taffy was turkey. She always told me that dogs shouldn’t eat turkey, although she never specified a reason. As I entered adulthood, adopted my own dog and delved into the world of pet food, I was surprised to discover that turkey was a common ingredient in commercial dog foods. But many people I speak with are still confused about whether turkey is a safe food for dogs. So, with Thanksgiving around the corner and dog and cat parents across the country wondering if they can safely slip a share of the holiday bird into their pet’s bowl, I’ve decided to dish out the facts with my turkey tips for pets.

is turkey safe for pets

To Gobble or not to Gobble

Was mom right? Is turkey taboo for dogs (and cats)? Sorry, mom, but in general, turkey is safe for our animal companions. Turkey contains lots of high-quality protein, which provides the essential amino acids dogs and cats need to maintain good lean muscle mass, keep their immune system strong, transport nutrients throughout the body and perform thousands of chemical reactions vital to life. Turkey is also a good source of B-vitamins and the minerals selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.

But mom wasn’t completely wrong about turkey. Not all parts of the bird are safe for dogs and cats to eat, and some ingredients commonly prepared alongside turkey are potentially toxic for our canine and feline companions.

Turkey Tips for Pets

To ensure your pet’s Thanksgiving does not turn into a turkey tragedy, follow these tips:

  • Pass the white meat, please. White meat is the safest and healthiest type of turkey meat for pets, because it is leaner and lower in calories than dark meat, yet contains more protein per ounce. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutrient database, three ounces of roasted, skinless turkey breast provides 25.61 grams of protein, with just 1.77 grams of fat and 125 calories. Trim away any surrounding fat to ensure the meat is as lean as possible.
  • Steer clear of the skin. The high fat content of turkey skin – a whopping 33 grams per three ounce serving – can trigger an attack of acute pancreatitis, a serious and potentially life-threatening inflammatory condition of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is commonly seen by veterinarians around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when dogs and cats are often allowed to indulge in fatty morsels of the holiday feast. Turkey skin may also be coated with spices, such as onion powder, that are toxic for pets.
  • Banish the bones. Dogs and cats should never eat or gnaw on cooked bones. The bones are a choking hazard and if your pet does manage to swallow one, it can become stuck at any point along his gastrointestinal tract, a life-threatening situation requiring surgical removal. Cooked bones also become brittle and can splinter, creating sharp points that can tear or puncture your dog’s GI tract, another potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Skip the stuffing. Stuffing commonly contains one or more ingredients that are toxic for dogs and cats, including onions, scallions, shallots and, in large quantities, garlic. If you plan to give your dog or cat a taste of turkey, prepare the stuffing in a separate pan and do not allow the ingredients to come into contact with the bird. Also, do not use fat drippings.
  • Hold the gravy. Gravy, like stuffing, contains a variety of ingredients that are harmful for dogs and cats, including spices that can upset their stomach, toxic foods such as onions and fatty pan drippings that can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Start small. If your dog or cat has never before eaten turkey, begin with a small taste to ensure it agrees with his digestive system. Any new food can cause gastrointestinal distress, which will likely upset your holiday plans as well as your pet’s.

Design a Pet-friendly Thanksgiving feast

Let your best friend know how thankful you are for him or her with a “canine or feline buffet” created with pet-approved holiday foods. Mix-and-match up to four of the following ingredients, replacing one-quarter (25%) of your pet’s regular food with each ingredient. For example, a plate of turkey breast and green beans replaces a total of 50% of his normal food (25% of turkey and 25% of green beans), while a plate of turkey breast, zucchini, white potato and pumpkin replaces 100% of his normal food. Replacing more than 50% of your dog or cat’s regular food will result in a meal that is not “complete and balanced”, but there is no harm in this for one day and, after all, it is Thanksgiving!

  • Cooked, skinless white meat turkey, such as turkey breast, trimmed of excess fat.
  • Plain, unseasoned cooked vegetables, such as green beans, carrot or zucchini. Chop the veggies into small pieces or run them through a food processor until coarse for easier digestion.
  • Plain, cooked white potato or sweet potato, chopped or mashed without
  • Dollop of plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, which contains spices, such as nutmeg, that are dangerous for pets).

I hope that you enjoyed this article on turkey tips for pets and, as always, that it serves to help you and your four-legged companion enjoy many healthy, happy years together.

(Note: This article by Diana originally appeared in the October/November issue of Dogster Magazine, in Diana’s “Chow Time” column.)

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