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How to Safely Include Your Pet in Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Not literally IN your dinner, that would be unconscionable

Whether you regularly feed your pets from the dinner table (no judgment) or keep them strictly on a kibble diet, it’s hard to resist letting your dog or cat enjoy the spoils of your Thanksgiving labor. Who else are you really even grateful for this year? Your pet has been by your side all year, and they deserve a treat! 

While you can pretty safely just offer them up a hunk of turkey meat, you can do better than that when it comes to dogs. There are lots of little extras that you and your pet can both enjoy on Thanksgiving, but there are a few key things to be careful of before you let them join in with the entire feast. 

According to Christine Filardi, certified holistic chef for animals, founder of BowMeowRaw and author of Home Cooking for Your Dog, animal protein should make up the majority of your dog or cat’s diet. For dogs, their diet should be 50 to 75 percent animal protein. For cats, it should be 90 to 100 percent animal protein — “make your cat a nice plate of turkey,” says Filardi, and skip the fixings.

When serving either your dog or cat meat, though, it’s important to avoid the bones. “Heat changes the chemical composition of bones, making them brittle and therefore a real choking hazard for dogs,” she says. Similarly, the skin of the turkey can cause diarrhea in dogs due to its high fat and grease content. Some fat is fine in a dog’s diet, but turkey skin will probably cause problems you don’t want to have to deal with. Beyond that, though, both dark and white meat are fine. 

As for the sides, the main ingredient to keep away from dogs is onions. “Onions affect the ability of a dog’s blood to carry oxygen. Never feed onions or anything cooked with onions as they can cause rapid breathing, lethargy, vomiting and heart murmurs,” says Filardi. This likely means you shouldn’t feed them stuffing, either. 

Dogs can, however, safely eat green beans, potatoes and cranberry sauce. Each of these is full of healthy vitamins for pups, so just skip the added butter and limit the cranberry sauce for sugar reasons. 

Like a human, dogs can get pretty freaking excited over the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking, especially if guests are coming over, too. If you’re worried about your dog acting too rambunctious, Filardi has some advice. “A tired dog is a quiet dog,” she says. “Before company arrives, I recommend to my clients to take their dog out to the dog park or for a good walk or run.”

Whether you’re feeding your dog some of your dinner or not, “feed your pet before you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal.” On top of that, you can help keep your dog entertained while you eat. “Give them a Kong filled with peanut butter or banana to chew on while you’re eating to keep Fido busy. I recommend throwing it in the freezer for a few hours so that it takes longer to clean out,” she says. 

If you really want to go all out on Thanksgiving for your dog, Filardi even has a specific recipe just for them. The recipe, which makes four servings for a 50-pound dog, requires the following: 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/3 cup uncooked barley
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chopped spinach  
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) minced beef heart
  • 4 teaspoons canned pure pumpkin 
  • 4 teaspoons salmon oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low heat. Add the turkey and cook until browned. Drain any excess fat and set the turkey aside to cool. Prepare the barley as directed on the package. Set it aside to cool. You should have about 1 cup.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly browned, about three minutes. Add the spinach and sauté until it’s wilted, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. Once cooled, puree the spinach and garlic mixture in a food processor and set it aside. You should have about 1/4 cup of puree.

In a medium bowl, combine the turkey, barley, spinach, beef heart, pumpkin, salmon oil and parsley. Mix well to combine. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days.

Of course, as Filardi has said, you can safely feed your dog or cat from the Thanksgiving food you’ve already prepared for yourself with relative ease. And whether you cook them their own feast or just give them scraps of turkey, I’m sure they’ll be grateful.