By Dr. Becker
There are few things as tantalizing as the mouth-watering aroma of Thanksgiving dinner being prepared. In fact, it can be hard to wait for the meal to be served if you've spent all day surrounded by the smells of delicious food cooking in the kitchen.
You may have also noticed that your furry companion is spending more time than usual sniffing the air and visiting the kitchen, hoping that a morsel of food might slip off the counter or out of someone's hand.
Do I Really Have to Exclude My Pet from Holiday Meals?
The usual advice for dog and cat owners during the holiday season is to avoid feeding species-inappropriate "table scraps." This is because traditional holiday dinners tend to be high-fat feasts that aren't suitable for pets.
There is also concern about ingredients in human food that can be toxic for pets. Plus, we don't want to encourage begging at the table.
But with all that said, whether or not you share your Thanksgiving meal with your pet really depends on what the meal consists of and what ingredients are used. For example, cooked turkey meat is fine for both dogs and cats. A few fresh cooked veggies such as plain (no flavorings or additives of any kind) green beans or yams are also fine.
Examples of Thanksgiving people food you'll want to avoid giving your pet include dressing (stuffing); processed or sugary foods; dishes containing raisins or grapes; dishes containing onions, leeks, or chives; bread, rolls, and butter; and all desserts.
I also recommend blending a small portion of safe people food in with your pet's regular food and offering it at her usual mealtime. It's really not a good idea to offer treats from your plate at the table, or in the kitchen during meal preparation or cleanup, because your pet will very likely remember the gesture if you do it even once.
And with that one gesture, you can turn a pet with impeccable table manners into a beggar dog or cat with a very long memory!
15 Thanksgiving Foods and Snacks Safe to Share with Your Dog or Cat
Most of these foods will be more popular with dogs than cats, but they're safe for both. They should be served plain (no sugar, salt, or spices, butter, or other additives), in moderation, and in small portions.
- Apples. Apples contain powerful antioxidants and vitamin C. Serve apple slices to your pet, but never the core or seeds.
- Blueberries. Fresh or frozen, blueberries are loaded with phytochemicals, and their deep blue hue is the result of anthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants. Blueberries are also a good source of healthy fiber, manganese, and vitamins C and E. Introduce blueberries slowly to your pet – too much, too soon can cause a digestive upset.
- Carrots. Carrots are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamins. Many dogs enjoy snacking on a fresh crunchy carrot.
- Broccoli. Broccoli supports detoxification processes in your pet's body; contains healthy fiber to aid digestion; is rich in beneficial nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein, and vitamin C; has anti-inflammatory properties; supports eye health; helps repair skin damage; and supports heart health.
As an added bonus, even conventionally grown broccoli is one of the cleanest (most pesticide-free) foods you can buy. Your pet may prefer broccoli steamed.
- Kale. This dark green cruciferous vegetable is loaded with vitamins (especially vitamins K, A, and C), iron, and antioxidants. It helps with liver detoxification and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Fermented vegetables. If you happen to be serving fermented veggies as part of your Thanksgiving feast, definitely offer some to your pet. Fermented foods are potent detoxifiers and contain much higher levels of probiotics and vitamin K2 than supplements can provide.
Beneficial gut bacteria provided by probiotics break down and eliminate heavy metals and other toxins from the body, and perform a number of other important functions.
- Raw pumpkin seeds. Pepitas, or raw pumpkin seeds, are a rich source of minerals, vitamin K, and phytosterols. They also contain L-tryptophan and are a good source of zinc, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Research suggests pumpkin seeds can prevent calcium oxalate kidney stones, reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, and support prostate health.
- Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants, and are also high in vitamins A and C. Sweet potatoes with purple flesh have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may lower the risk from heavy metals and oxygen radicals.
- Green beans. Fresh, locally grown green beans are a source of vitamins A, C, and K. They also provide calcium, copper, fiber, folic acid, iron, niacin, manganese, potassium, riboflavin, and thiamin, as well as beta-carotene.
- Spinach. This green leafy vegetable has anti-inflammatory properties and can help support heart health.
- Asparagus. Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, A, B1, B2, C, and E, along with the folate, iron, copper, fiber, manganese, and potassium.
- Pumpkin. Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants. It can help alleviate both diarrhea and constipation. Make sure to feed your pet either fresh pumpkin or 100 percent canned pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling.
- Yogurt. Plain organic yogurt is high in protein and calcium, and most pets love it.
- Cottage cheese. Like yogurt, plain organic cottage cheese is high in calcium and protein.
- Raw almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts. These nuts, served in moderation and very small portions, are safe for dogs. Many nuts are not – especially tree nuts – so stick with these three to be on the safe side.
If you're in the mood to prepare some special homemade treats for your animal companion over the holidays, be sure to request my free e-book Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets, which contains nutritious, easy-to-prepare recipes for both cats and dogs.