Thanksgiving is almost here — which means that if you’re hosting this year, your guests are almost here, too. There’s nothing better than a home full of loved ones for the holidays, but having more people over for dinner can also cause some anxiety, especially for pet owners. Whether your cat or dogs likes to stay underfoot and looking for dropped food while you’re cooking, or some of your dinner guests get butter-fingers and accidentally drop parts of their meal on the floor, keeping human food away from your pet this time of year can prove difficult. Therefore, it’s important to know what Thanksgiving foods are okay for your cat or dog — and which ones could cause harm. We spoke to veterinarian Grant Little about how to keep your pets safe on Thanksgiving… unless your pet is a turkey. We can’t help you there.
Grant Little DVM is a professional veterinarian at the Arlington Pet Hospital in Arlington, NE, and Vet Expert on JustAnswer, the leading “ask an expert” site where you can get personalized help from pet professionals around the clock. He broke down some of the most common Thanksgiving foods and how they’ll affect your pet’s health if they manage to snag a bite.
The main event of Thanksgiving dinner can be enjoyed by your furry friends as well — in moderation. In small amounts, turkey itself is easy on the stomach and shouldn’t cause any health problems for your cat or dog, says Dr. Little. But hold off on the gravy for your dog, since the high fat content in the grease and butter can be bad for Fido. “Dogs can be susceptible to pancreatitis, a painful condition of the pancreas flaring up with inflammation. This can lead to vomiting, inappetence, and in severe circumstances, the need for hospitalization,” says Dr. Little. Breeds like yorkies and schnauzers are particularly susceptible to having issues with high fat in their bloodstreams. While cats can develop pancreatitis, Dr. Little mentions that they aren’t at as high of a risk.
Plain, cooked potatoes without butter or gravy should be fine for your cat or dog. Dr. Little notes that potatoes are part of the nightshade family (along with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants), and nightshades contain a chemical called solanine, which can make your pet sick when consumed in high amounts. Cooking nightshades lowers the amount of solanine, but it’s higher in the leaves and stems of fruits and veggies in this category — so just make sure you’re keeping uncooked potatoes, as well as any nightshade veggie/veggie scraps, out of reach of your pets.
We all understand the allure of a fresh-baked pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but you probably don’t want your kitty to jump on the counter and take a bite uninvited. The good news is that the stolen treat won’t hurt her, according to Dr. Little. “Pumpkin and its spices are relatively non-toxic in the amounts that we use for any of our cooking recipes. The bigger concern is any mixtures that are used with it (like artificial sweeteners or chocolate).” So if your cat and dog teamed up to snag a little bit of classic pumpkin pie when you aren’t looking, the most they’ll likely suffer is a scolding.
You may already know that chocolate is a big no-no for dogs — but it’s dangerous for cats, too. The danger increases with the amount of cocoa. “A small, fun-sized Milky Way bar is unlikely to cause an issue, but a piece of Grandma’s fudge is severely more toxic if ingested because of that higher cocoa content,” says Dr. Little. Symptoms of chocolate toxicity include diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and severe heart arrhythmia. Dr. Little says that if your pet has eaten chocolate, you should contact your vet immediately to determine whether or not the amount and type consumed warrants medical intervention.
Grapes are perfect with some cheese and crackers while you wait for dinner, but dropping even one on the floor within your pet’s reach could have some pretty scary consequences. “While the toxic principle is still not known, we have seen that anywhere from one grape to dozens can cause severe kidney disease in dogs, and there’s a few anecdotal reports of this occurring in cats as well,” says Dr. Little. Symptoms of grape toxicity include: not eating, urination problems (too much or too little), vomiting, and diarrhea. He says that, like chocolate, if you see your pet consume any amount of grapes, call your vet right away to determine next steps, since kidney failure could be imminent.
Other Ways to Keep Your Pet Safe This Thanksgiving
While the rate of potentially-dropped food increases around the holidays, there are plenty more things that can cause some stress for routine-oriented pets. With guests milling about in the living room (too close to Kitty’s favorite nap spot for her liking) and the newly-put-up Christmas tree rendering Spot’s toy corner inaccessible, changes may make your animal uncomfortable. Here are some tips from Dr. Little on how to keep this time of constant, dynamic activity as stress-free as possible for your pet.
Take it slow.
Instead of doing all your decorating, rearranging, and hosting back-to-back, space it all out over the course of a week if possible. “It can be beneficial for some animals to have new additions incrementally added for them to get used to, instead of having everything appear within one to two days… cats especially seem sensitive to the changes in the house with the addition of house guests,” says Dr. Little.
Give them space.
When I’m starting to panic, having a quiet, isolated space to escape and take a breather is a godsend. Your pets feel the same. “Cats and dogs should have the ability to go somewhere quiet, have litter boxes in easy-to-reach spaces that are quiet, or have the ability to get outside quickly when needed,” says Dr. Little. Also, remember that you are your pet’s number-one advocate: If they seem apprehensive about meeting new people, communicate with your guests and don’t allow them to crowd your pet or invade personal space. Dr. Little recommends encouraging your pet to ease into interactions and approach guests on their own if they feel like it, rewarding positive interactions with treats, and being careful not to reinforce any bad behavior.
Keep decorations out of reach.
It’s natural for your pet to be curious about the new tree with shiny globes or the beautifully glowing menorah in the window, but as they say, curiosity can make the pet very sick. (I know that’s not the original saying, but the real one is too morbid. It’s the holidays, after all.) “In my practice, I’ve seen pets that have eaten Christmas ornaments, string that is holding up decorations, candles on the tables, and other oddities. Whenever you add decorations, keep an eye out … watch for symptoms like vomiting and lack of appetite, since these objects could get stuck in your pet’s stomach,” says Dr. Little. If you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, contact your vet to see if medical intervention is necessary.
Understand your pet’s personality and seek help if needed.
If your pet is cool as a cucumber when it’s just the two of you, but they exhibit severe anxiety (like hiding, acting out, getting sick, or going potty outside the litter box) when guests come over, medical intervention from your vet could offer relief. “Anti-anxiety medications can help calm the nerves and relax them more so that they are more willing to interact and don’t have secondary medical issues that arise from the stress,” says Dr. Little. Ask your vet about anti-anxiety meds, and they may be able to write your pet a prescription.
Ultimately, you are undoubtedly thankful for all your pet does — they keep you company, make you laugh, and are just so dang cute. So, return the love by keeping them away from too many human Thanksgiving treats this year… even though they might not see that as a loving gesture!