SUMMARY: Here in the United States, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated by preparing a lavish feast that is shared with our friends and family members. Your dog is also an important member of your family, but does that mean he should indulge in the same festive foods? Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby shares nine classic Thanksgiving foods that are dangerous to dogs.
I’ll never forget the year that my brother-in-law visited with his two dogs for Thanksgiving. One of the reasons it sticks in my mind is because he was adamant about going shopping on Thanksgiving Eve for an emulsion blender to perfect his mashed potatoes. That’s commitment! The other reason was because he lovingly made both of his dogs a heaping plate from our Thanksgiving table so they could share in our bounty. I cringed, but he was determined.
Why did I balk? Because many Thanksgiving foods are dangerous for dogs. Granted, while there may be a few items on your Thanksgiving menu that are safe to give in small portions, but others are toxic and potentially even life-threatening.
Before you pass the buttery mashed potatoes to your dog this Thanksgiving, learn the very real—potentially life-threatening—hazards for dogs that may be on your Thanksgiving menu.
9 classic Thanksgiving foods that are dangerous for dogs
1. Bread dough
Biscuits, rolls, and other breads go well with so many holiday meals. Your dog will probably be fine if he steals a small piece of baked bread, but raw bread dough can be dangerous due to the active yeast ingredient which causes bread dough to rise.
If your dog eats raw bread dough, the dough will rise very quickly inside the gastrointestinal tract. This is because your dog’s stomach is a warm, dark place which acts like an incubator for yeast growth. Not only does the dough’s expansion cause physical pressure, but the gas released by the fermentation process can cause your dog’s stomach to become painfully distended, resulting in a medical emergency. If you suspect your dog has ingested bread dough, contact your veterinarian right away.
2. Grapes and raisins
Salads can be healthy food options on Thanksgiving, but if grapes and raisins are part of your salad, then make sure to keep your dog far from the temptation. Although the reason why is unclear, dogs can develop kidney failure after eating raisins and grapes (even in very small quantities), and signs like vomiting and diarrhea may be apparent within six to twelve hours of ingestion. If you ever think that your dog might have ingested raisins or grapes, it’s wise to contact your veterinarian immediately to help prevent kidney injury.
Moving on to the main course
3. Turkey and ham
Turkey is an ingredient that you might find on the food label for your dog’s regular diet. Indeed it is safe for pets to eat turkey in small portions. However, many Thanksgiving turkeys are prepared with seasonings that are toxic to pets. Furthermore, turkey skin and even pork-based products, like ham, are salty, fatty foods that can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, and a potentially life-threatening condition called pancreatitis.
Many stuffing recipes call for ingredients like garlic, onions, and chives. Eaten in sufficient quantities, these are toxic vegetables that can cause anemia by making it easier for red blood cells to burst. Signs of garlic, onion, and chive toxicity can take several days to become noticeable. Lethargy, pale gums, vomiting, and abdominal pain are just some of the possible clinical signs. You should relay these symptoms to your veterinarian promptly if they arise.
5. Side dishes
Plain potatoes and sweet potatoes are safe for dogs in small portions, and many of the commercially available diets for dogs contain these ingredients. In fact, I often encourage my clients to feed their dogs dehydrated sweet potato treats. However, the “let’s-make-these-creamy-and-rich” ingredients that go into our potato recipes can be problematic. The milk products and abundant butter used for mashed potatoes and sweet potato dishes have a high fat content, which can increase your dog’s risk of developing pancreatitis.
Many pet owners think that bones are an ideal treat for dogs because they are “natural”, flavored, and can keep a dog occupied for a long period of time. However, bones can splinter into sharp pieces that can injure your dog’s mouth. If these sharp pieces are swallowed, they can perforate your dog’s stomach or small intestines, causing severe abdominal pain followed by life-threatening infection. Make sure to contact your veterinarian if your dog is showing any signs of abdominal pain and gastrointestinal upset. For a list of things your dog can safely chew, please read my article: Safe Chew Toys for Dogs.
Is there room for dessert?
You might already know that chocolate is toxic for dogs. The toxic compound, called theobromine, is present in differing amounts depending on the type of chocolate. Darker, more bitter chocolates have higher amounts of theobromine while white chocolate has very little.
If your dog consumes white chocolate, then he could develop mild gastrointestinal upset, but severe toxicity from darker chocolates can result in tremors, seizures, and even heart failure. The severity of your dog’s clinical signs will depend on his body weight and the amount of theobromine that was consumed. For more about chocolate toxicity, please read my article: Can Dogs Eat Chocolate? Banjo’s Story.
8. Artificial sweeteners
The active ingredient in most artificial sweeteners is xylitol, or sugar alcohol. The xylitol in our human foods does not cause our pancreas’ to release insulin, so xylitol is relatively safe for human consumption. However, when dogs ingest xylitol, it causes the rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. When this happens, your dog’s blood sugar may become so low that he may even have seizures. Xylitol toxicity can also cause liver failure and even death.
Artificial sweeteners like xylitol can be found in many products, including baking goods, sugar-free chewing gum, peanut butter, jams, jellies, and toothpaste. Xylitol and dogs don’t mix. Know the poisons in your pantry and be proactive about protecting your dog.
Nuts can be found on many of our Thanksgiving tables, specifically in many of our Thanksgiving desserts. Please keep in mind that whole nuts may be a choking hazard, especially for small breed dogs.
One particular nut that is toxic to dogs is the macadamia nut. The mechanism of action is still unknown, but if your dog eats macadamia nuts, then he may experience lethargy, fever, vomiting, and may stumble when he walks. Make sure to call your vet right away if your dog has some of these symptoms.
Keep veterinary phone numbers handy
Thanksgiving (and all holidays) are a time of year where pet owners need to be vigilant about what their dog or cat might get into. You can help your pets by keeping these food items out of reach and asking your guests to do the same. However, if accidents happen – as they often do – then be sure to keep important phone numbers handy.
If your regular veterinarian will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, then make sure to save the number on your phone for the nearest emergency veterinarian.
There are also poison control helplines available 24/7. They can talk you through the next steps if your pet eats something that he shouldn’t. The ASPCA poison control hotline is run by brilliant, board-certified veterinarian toxicologists. (Be advised that there may be a fee for the service.) I think every pet owner should keep their phone number handy.
Being prepared is the best way to make sure that you and your beloved dog have a safe and happy holiday!
Do you have tips for avoiding Thanksgiving foods that are dangerous to dogs?
We can all learn from each other. Please comment below.
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