Thanksgiving goes to the dogs (but is that OK?)
November 19th, 2013
10:45 AM ET
Share this on: editor James Oliver Cury tackles controversial food-and-drink-themed etiquette issues.

If you’re like 99% of Americans, you’ve already started planning your Thanksgiving Day - regardless of whether you intend to cook or just stuff your face. And if your home resembles 47% of other households in this country, according to the Humane Society of the United States, you also own at least one dog.

You know what that means: Nearly half the country must decide if it will give - or not give - Fido a little something extra in his bowl on the country's most food-focused national holiday.

In my home, our six-year-old pug Chloe does not get table scraps. Ever. The end. We believe this keeps her fit and reduces the likelihood of begging (but if she smells bacon, she’s going to look at us longingly no matter what we do, not that I blame her).

When my mother-in-law stays with us, however, the rules go out the window: She can’t deny dogs the pleasure of a treat. “One piece of pork won’t kill her!” she says. But of course one piece leads to three. This practice has led to heated debates about what pet owners should and shouldn’t feed their canine companions.

Should Thanksgiving be an exception? If you’re liberal about sharing food with Bowzer, then it’s a non-issue; the dog’s already got it made. If you’re culinarily conservative like me, it helps to differentiate the absolute no-no’s from the well-maybe-on-Turkey-day exceptions.

Think of the overview below as a menu that bridges the gap between man’s best friend and man’s best attempt at group gluttony.

The No-Brainer Foods to Avoid
Some foods are downright dangerous for dogs, regardless of breed or portion size. This includes avocado, bread dough, chocolate, grapes, raisins, hops, macadamia nuts, onions and garlic, ethanol/alcohol, and xylitol. You can read more each ingredient at the ASPCA site.

Main Course: Turkey
Sure, the meat is a fine protein for dogs, but the skin may be seasoned in a way that’s, well, too volatile for your dog’s stomach (Okay, I’ll say it: dog farts can ruin a nice meal). Remove the skin just to be sure. Equally important, make sure you don’t leave in any bones. Even big bones can splinter, especially once cooked. The same rules apply to chicken, quail, pigeon, or pheasant.

Sides: Stuffing & Potatoes
Appetizers and sides could easily have scallions or garlic. This is not just a potential gastrointestinal issue: dogs can get toxic anemia if they eat foods from the allium family.

What to serve poochie instead? Plain mashed potatoes are fine (skip the gravy), as are steamed veggies like broccoli and green beans. The easiest alternative is raw baby carrots. Somehow, I’ve convinced Chloe that these are treats. (Now I just have to convince my step-mom that the dog isn’t doing me a favor by eating them.)

Cranberry Sauce
“Aw, come on!” you say, “don’t tell me I can’t share a little bit of the sauce with my pup.” Sorry. Aside from the questionable practice of feeding sugar-filled snacks to dogs, cranberry sauce may well have raisins. Not to get too dramatic, but that can lead to acute renal failure. If you know there are no raisins in the dish: Go ahead, offer up a small serving.

You’ve got one lucky dog if he’s getting sweets, too. Pumpkin is no doubt the flavor du jour, but let’s set the rules straight: Pumpkin pie is not a good idea because there may be a ton of sugar and, more alarmingly (geez is this getting morbid?), nutmeg has been known to cause seizures, tremors, and worse.

Mashed pumpkin is okay. Apple slices are terrific. A small bowl of milk is superb. Leave the marshmallows on the table. He won’t know what he’s missing.

A few final words: I am not a veterinarian. I’m just a loving and neurotic dog owner. If you have any questions, consult a professional. As for Chloe: She’ll probably get some turkey because I’m a softie, but only after she’s impressed my entire family with her new tricks (“Get out of the damn bathroom!” is a new favorite). If the chemical properties of tryptophan deliver their usual soporific state, my whole family will be playing dead by the end of the day anyway.

More from Details:
Game Changers: Quail, Pigeon, Pheasant, and Other Reasons to Think Beyond the Bird
Beer/wine Thanksgiving Pairings
Health Myth: Is Fresh Food Really Healthier Than Frozen?
5 Foods That'll Make You Look Younger
The 14 Healthiest Snack Foods

Wine for cats and other four-legged friends
Dog-gone spoiled pups
Thanksgiving Central on Eatocracy

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. RC

    So the wife came home the other day from the grocery store. Phone was ringing. She dropped some of the groceries on the floor and promptly forgot about them in her rush to get a walk in before it got dark. Sooo....the Basset Hound (who I'm sure was the instigator) and the Bulldog helped themselves to almost 2lbs of raw hamburger and 1lb of raw bacon. The Basset must have a cast iron stomach, because she had no issues. The Bulldog yakked a couple times and then begged for a treat. I guess I'm not going to worry about a few table scraps now and then.

    November 22, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
    • RC

      BTW. Bulldog farts are the WORST!

      November 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  2. eviewg

    The author is TRULY neurotic… I've had my dog steal and eat an entire pan of brownies… or scarf down a loaf of raison bread with no issues but really bad gas. It's a dog, they adjust, if they accidentally eat a little bit of chocolate or a little piece of raisin it's not the end of the world.

    November 22, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  3. Justme

    My cat rarely gets people food, with the exception of chicken, or pork chops. But chicken is is absolute favorite, probably because when he first showed up on my porch, kitten starving and flea infested 3 month old kitten, all I had was chicken breast (broiled, not friend, and in butter, not oil) to feed him. Even then he could eat almost half a chicken breast at one sitting (he looked pregnant). Seriouly, I can't even say the c-h-i-c-k-e-n word without him trotting to the kitchen and plopping down directly in front of the oven. You know, the food god. Me, I'm just the servant. Ahem. Yes, he will get some turkey. Minus the seasoning, becasue I won't put any on HIS half.. :P

    November 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • RC


      November 22, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  4. Noxy

    I grew up mostly with Boxers. And I had a 150 lb 1/2 black lab, 1/2 Newfoundland growing up who was my absolute best friend...

    Every year on Thanksgiving, my parents would boil the innards that come with a whole turkey specifically for the dogs, and that was their dinner. Our boxers -loved- beer – especially Ellie, our last one who passed away last year. We wouldn't give her much, but if I was visiting, I'd give her a saucer or 2 of it. Or more, depending on my own level of intoxication.

    Sassy, the boxer before, ate an entire batch of my mom's homemade fudge – before she adapted it to be sugar & marshmallow cream-free .. 5 lbs. It phased her not at all. No diarrhea, no vomiting, nothing. They didn't just give it to her, she somehow got to it before my mom could give it to the guards on one of the bases.. I guess while they were getting checked in. What's more dangerous for dogs is -bakers'- chocolate. That's the type that makes them sick and is dangerous. I'm sure other forms of chocolate are bad as well, but my dad feeds his dog all kinds of different things and the dog is pushing 14.

    And Bozo.. Our Newfie mix.. His favorite thing ever was peanut butter.

    November 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  5. Ann

    I have a 90-lb. German shepherd and an 80-lb. black Lab. They have their own diet (a mix of kibble and homemade) but I'll occasionally give them a scrap or two as a treat. It might be a small piece of fat that I've cut off my meat, or a bit of chicken skin. Yes, too much fat is bad ... I wouldn't give them that if they were 10-lb. Yorkies, but a big dog can handle a small treat just as well as I can handle the occasional cookie.

    I confess, I also let them lick my plate sometimes after I'm finished. So, they might be getting some spaghetti sauce or whatever. I call it the "prewash cycle."

    November 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • RC

      My bulldog has a fit waiting for the macaroni and cheese bowl. By the time she's done, you could put it straight in the cupboard-it's that clean.

      November 22, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
      • Jerv

        LM AO! We all love mac and cheeezze.

        November 23, 2013 at 6:02 am |
  6. Thinking things through

    My cats get treats. Since I really don't like breast meat, I slip a lot of that to the cats. They seem happy.

    November 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Ann

      When one of my cats was a kitten, I caught him up on the counter trying to drag off a whole chicken leg that was almost as big as he was! It was hilarious. He'll still get a pinch of chicken or fish if he looks interested. My other cat won't eat human food even if it's available.

      November 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • Thinking things through

        Love it!! Some of them really like human food, and others... well no. ;)

        November 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  7. msp

    Last I check, dogs survived thousands of years on our scraps since the first one approached the cave man's den.

    November 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Science Diet

      True, but the pet food industry doesn't want you to figure that out.

      November 21, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  8. msp

    If it is good enough for me it is good enough for my dogs. If they should not eat it, I should not either.

    November 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  9. KS in NY

    I categorize the treats my dogs get differently than just calling them scraps – they love people food. I rarely feed them food from my meal/plate. (They know who sneaks pieces of food to them though.) BUT, I do feed them pieces or all sorts of raw fruits and vegetables while I am cooking and I share apples, oranges, bananas etc when snacking. These items are good for them as well as me. They also eat apple peels, broccoli stems and other pieces I might throw out otherwise.

    November 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  10. Heidi

    My dog eats cat poop... am I going to worry about a few bites of left overs?

    November 20, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • RC

      Almost lost my coffee out my nose.......

      November 21, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Justme

      Don't forget the breath mints...

      November 21, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  11. Thinking things through

    The cats (no dogs until I retire, since they require time on a regular schedule) get treats. I give them the dry parts of the white meat of chicken or turkey. I prefer the dark, since I prefer food with flavor. I have also dehydrated poultry for them, making poultry jerky. Theirs gets no seaonings; mine does.

    November 19, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  12. Joe - Vancouver, Canada


    If you NEVER give your human kids a taste of McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, candy, Halloween junk, candy corn, or any "treat" like that then you can have that opinion about "treats" and some human food for pets. My baby LuLu died at the age of 20 (blue point Himalayan cat) and she loved lots of food treats, but within moderation, and along with a healthy food regimen.

    I've had many, many pets over the last 45 years, ALL have lived longer than expected, and all had treats. Lulu LOVED pieces of ripe avocado and a few other items you mention as bad, even a few licks of a finger full of red wine about 3 times per week.

    There is one thing that I want to stress to anyone and everyone reading this. . . keep your pets away from the Vet's office. THAT is your killer, and money drainer. Vaccines are the worst act of "love" you can do for your pet. Google it.

    One example: My neighbour takes her cats yearly for rabies vaccine shots. Afterwards the animals are lethargic, listless, sometimes vomiting, etc. Around that time, I received a tetanus shot after receiving 3 bites from a raccoon attacking my dog. I thought it may have rabies, as many people told me.

    I received my tetanus shot, but I asked the doctor about rabies. He said rabies is NON-EXISTENT in BC (Canada) for many, many years . . . not even in bats. So ask your vet for statistics when it comes to giving your pet the “poison” you lovingly purchase for them with any and all vaccines.

    My apologies for babbling, but it's more important to know that more animals, many, many more animals are sick and/or die as a result of going to the Vet. Remember that's where the animals are going to be, those with fleas, ticks, kennel cough, etc., etc. Don't put your animal in harm’s way by going to the vet. If your pet has a broken bone, accident, etc., then YES, by all means seek out a qualified Vet.

    Hugs to all you critter loving friends.

    Joe – Vancouver, Canada

    November 19, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • VladT

      ....and how many pets will now pass away because people heed your advice and don't go to the vet?

      Great advice....let's all give Thanks that Joe is up in Canada, and most likely won't be offering any more of his "advice" at our family dinner

      November 20, 2013 at 3:50 am |
      • RC

        Yeah, I don't think I agree with a lot of what he said. That kind of "advice" is going to cause more harm than good.

        November 20, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Justme

      In my area almost 100% of the bats are rabies carriers. And my apartment has been known to get a bat once in a while. I don't WANT my cat to get a vacine for ANYTHING–I have heard some are associated with sarcomas, though I don't think the rabies vaccine is among them–but face it, if your animal bites a stranger and there's no proof of rabies? That's a pretty sad way for an animal to have to go. sure the shots will make him listless, but these diseases do a whole lot worse than make a cat lsitless for a day or two.

      November 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  13. Interesting

    Pieces of skinless chicken, and sometimes tuna, are my go-to treat anyway. They're healthy for them, and they love it, and it's way less expensive than store bought treats with added fillers that are not so healthy.

    November 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • Justme

      So very true! And when my cat gets his chicken, he just perks up...his fur comes out softer, his eyes get shinier, and his overall appetite gets better. And that's maybe once a month treat for him. I swear if I could make his food, I would, but I just don't have the dispipline for that.

      November 21, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  14. Thomas

    "When my mother-in-law stays with us, however, the rules go out the window"

    How about just telling your mother-in-law that when she visits your house, she needs to respect your rules?

    You don't have to be rude about it, just firm.

    November 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  15. RC

    Try ignoring a 65lb Bulldog.

    November 19, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Or a 135 lb Irish Wolfhound! I used to spend a lot of time throwing elbows.

      November 19, 2013 at 11:17 am |
      • RC

        Yeah, at least the Bulldog can't SEE what's on the table.

        November 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  16. Truth™

    Great pic!

    November 19, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That dog is part of the Eatocracy family!

      November 19, 2013 at 11:16 am |
      • Truth™@Kat

        I would rather spend a day with Conmeo (aka, the young'un), then with many people I know...

        November 19, 2013 at 11:28 am |
      • Jdizzle McCrappedMyPants ♫♫

        Is that dog wearing a bib?

        November 20, 2013 at 10:29 am |
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