Every Thanksgiving menu tells a story—often a story passed down through generations that features time honored traditions and secret family recipes. Unfortunately, these classic Thanksgiving menus often feature ingredients that are toxic or harmful to pets.

The Emerald Animal Hospital team wants to ensure this year’s food-filled festivities don’t leave a bad taste in your mouth—or your pet’s. Serve up a pet-safe Thanksgiving meal by keeping these harmful ingredients out of your dog or cat’s reach. 

Meat-based mayhem—trimmings, bones, and skin are harmful for pets

Whether you roast, grill, deep-fry, or barbecue your Thanksgiving turkey, you’re sure to have an attentive—and drooling—four-footed audience. But resist the temptation to feed your pet anything other than unseasoned, skinless, boneless, white meat turkey. Your pet will no doubt crave a more flavorful turkey portion, but fatty trimmings or skin can result in painful—sometimes life-threatening—pancreatitis, and chewing on cooked bones can lacerate gums, fracture teeth, and cause pets to choke—or become a dangerous intestinal blockage. 

Side dish dilemmas—common casserole ingredients can make pets sick

Onions, chives, garlic, and leeks are common ingredients in Thanksgiving side dishes. However, these Allium family plants cause oxidative damage to red blood cells, making them more likely to rupture (i.e., break open) and cause anemia, weakness, and respiratory problems in pets. 

Raisins and currants, which may be included in some stuffing or dressing recipes, as well as desserts, and grapes, which may be found on charcuterie boards, can cause acute kidney failure in dogs, cats, and ferrets. In sensitive pets, only a small amount of these ingredients can lead to severe, irreversible organ damage.

Finally, rich dishes that include large quantities of butter, salt, or sugar can cause pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition in which the pancreas releases excessive digestive enzymes that attack nearby organs. Pancreatitis is a serious, painful, and potentially life-threatening condition that requires hospitalized treatment to prevent permanent injury. 

Drink dangers—alcohol poisoning and pets

The sweet aroma of some alcoholic drinks—or the floating fruit accents—can attract curious pets, who may drink straight from the glass. Pet alcohol toxicity signs are similar to human inebriation signs and include incoordination, lethargy, vomiting, slowed breathing, and collapse. Pets may also experience a significant drop in blood sugar (i.e., hypoglycemia), blood pressure, and temperature.

Your pet needs fast veterinary attention if they consume alcohol or show any alcohol toxicity signs, as severe toxicity can lead to seizures or respiratory failure.

Dessert table troubles—chocolate, xylitol, and nuts are no treat for pets

Sweet deceit is on the dessert menu for pets at typical Thanksgiving gatherings. Watch out for toxic ingredients amid the cakes, pies, pastries, and breads, including:

  • Chocolate — Chocolate contains stimulant-like ingredients known as methylxanthines—specifically theobromine and caffeine. Dogs are exceptionally sensitive to these compounds and respond with cardiac and gastrointestinal issues. Although all chocolates are dangerous and can lead to pancreatitis, dark and bitter chocolates (e.g., baking chocolate, cocoa powder) are especially dangerous, because they contain the highest methylxanthine concentration.
  • Xylitol — This natural sweetener is a low calorie, low glycemic index substitute for sugar in sugar-free and keto-friendly desserts. In dogs, xylitol causes severe hypoglycemia and, in some cases, liver failure. Because xylitol is found in sugar-free gum and mints, pet-toxicity is especially common during the holidays when visiting guests may leave their luggage or laundry accessible to household pets.
  • Nuts All nuts are high in fat and can cause pancreatitis or gastroenteritis. However, macadamia nuts are especially dangerous to dogs and ingestion can cause unexplained neuromuscular signs, including weakness, muscle tremors, or temporary hind limb mobility loss.

Prep area problemskeep pets away from the kitchen

Pet hazards aren’t limited to the dining table. Many pets encounter other food-related dangers in the kitchen or pantry, which may include:

  • Yeast dough — Resting or unbaked dough can ferment and rise inside a pet’s digestive tract, distending the stomach or creating an intestinal blockage. Also, the ethanol in yeast can lead to alcohol poisoning. Large dogs who ingest bread dough may be at risk for gastric dilation volvulus (i.e., GDV or bloat), which is an emergency condition requiring life-saving surgery.
  • Food wrappers and twine — Pets don’t know the difference between gourmet and garbage! Because most wrappers and cooking accessories take on the food’s smells and flavors, hungry dogs and cats may intentionally or accidentally consume foil, plastic, or cooking twine, which can form a dangerous obstruction in the upper or lower gastrointestinal tract. 

For the greatest peace of mind, keep pets out of the kitchen during the holidays, ensure food items are pushed back from the counter’s edge, and store all trash in closed containers behind a barrier such as a door or pet gate.

Pet-safe plates—healthy Thanksgiving options for pets

Fortunately, protecting your pet doesn’t mean they have to miss out on all the fun. Your pet can enjoy many safe alternative foods this Thanksgiving, but remember—as with all new foods, moderation is key. Also, check with your veterinarian on the suitability of the following foods if your pet is on a restricted diet.

Some pet-friendly favorites include:

  • Skinless and boneless white meat turkey
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pure pumpkin puree—not pumpkin pie filling
  • Unseasoned green beans
  • Apple slices
  • Baby carrots

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, accidents happen. Pets have a mind—and palate—of their own. For those times, contact Emerald Animal Hospital or, for after-hours toxin ingestion, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline or the nearest veterinary emergency facility.