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When I was growing up, my “sister” was an apricot-colored Toy Poodle named Taffy. She 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 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 safe for dogs. So, with Thanksgiving around the corner and dog parents across the country wondering if they can safely slip a share of the holiday bird into their dog’s bowl, I’ve decided to dish out the facts on turkey and our canine companions.
To gobble or not to gobble
Was Mom right? Is turkey taboo for our canine friends? Sorry, Mom: In general, turkey is safe for dogs. It contains lots of high-quality protein, which provides the essential amino acids dogs need to maintain good lean muscle mass, keep the 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 to eat, and some ingredients commonly prepared alongside turkey are potentially toxic for our canine companions. To ensure your dog’s Thanksgiving treat 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 dogs, because it’s leaner and lower in calories than dark meat, yet contains more protein per ounce. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database, 3 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, so the meat is as lean as possible.
Steer clear of the skin. The high fat content of turkey skin — a whopping 33 grams per 3-ounce serving — can trigger an attack of acute pancreatitis in dogs, a serious and potentially life-threatening inflammatory condition of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is commonly seen by veterinarians around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when dogs are often allowed to indulge in fatty morsels of the holiday feast. Turkey skin may also be coated with spices, such as onion or garlic powder, that can cause digestive upset or potentially trigger a toxic reaction.
Banish the bones. Dogs should never eat or gnaw on cooked bones. Bones are a choking hazard, and if your dog 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 to dogs, including onions, scallions, shallots, and, in large quantities, garlic. If you plan to give your dog a taste of turkey, prepare the stuffing in a separate pan, and do not allow the ingredients to come into contact with the bird.
Hold the gravy. Gravy, like stuffing, contains a variety of ingredients that are harmful for dogs, including spices that can upset their stomachs and toxic foods like onions and fatty pan drippings that can lead to pancreatitis.
Start small. If your dog has never eaten turkey, begin with a small taste to make sure it agrees with
his digestive system. Any new food can cause gastrointestinal distress, which will likely upset your holiday plans as well as your dog’s.
Design a dog-friendly Thanksgiving feast
Let your best friend know how thankful you are for him with a “canine buffet” created with dog-approved holiday foods. Mix and match up to four of the following ingredients, replacing one quarter (25 percent) of your dog’s regular food with each ingredient.
For example, a plate of turkey breast and green beans replaces a total of 50 percent of his normal food (25 percent of turkey and 25 percent of green beans), while a plate of turkey breast, zucchini, white potato, and pumpkin replaces 100 percent of his normal food. Replacing more than 50 percent of your dog’s regular food will result in a meal that is not complete and balanced, but, if your dog is healthy, there is no harm in this for one day. After all, it is Thanksgiving!
Give these yummy foods a try:
- Cooked, skinless, white meat turkey, such as turkey breast, trimmed of excess fat.
- Plain, unseasoned, cooked vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, 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. No butter!
- A dollop of plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, which contains spices, such as nutmeg, that are toxic to dogs).
Recipe for giblet gravy
From Feed Your Best Friend Better by Rick Woodford; 2012, Andrews McMeel Publishing
Yield: 6 cups
- 2 medium russet potatoes
- Giblets from 1 turkey, including the neck, liver, heart, and gizzard
- 4 cups water
- 1⁄4 cup fresh parsley (optional)
- Combine the potatoes, giblets, water, and parsley (if using) in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and then decrease the heat to low. Simmer with the lid slightly askew for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
- Remove from heat and strain the stock. Discard the neck. Allow the stock to cool to room temperature.
- Pulse the stock, the remaining giblets, potatoes, and parsley in a blender until smooth.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for up to two months.
Read more on feeding your dog:
- 5 Foods That Keep My Dog Looking and Acting Half His Age
- Dog Food & Treats
- Let’s Talk: Do You Insist on Feeding Your Dog “Premium” Dog Food
About the author: Diana R. Laverdure, the Pet Food Diva, is an award-winning dog health writer, pet nutrition consultant, and healthy pet food advocate. She is the author (with W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M.) of the new book Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health and is currently writing her dissertation toward her master’s degree in animal science. Her weekly blog posts at petfooddiva.com discuss creating optimum health in our companion animals based on the principles of nutrigenomics, the science of how diet affects gene expression, and cellular health. Connect with her on thePet Food Diva Facebook page and on Twitter at @PetFoodDiva.