Dog eyeing a plate of holiday leftovers.

Pets and Holiday Leftovers: Dos and Don’ts

Dinner is just the beginning when it comes to Thanksgiving and holiday season feasting. Everybody knows that days and days of enjoying leftovers is often better than the main event. It’s not just two-legged family members making their way over to the fridge for another helping. For dogs and cats, the holidays provide for some of the year’s best begging.

Just about all of us feed our pets “human food” now and then, but are holiday leftovers safe?

Do: Cook, Skin, and Debone Turkey

It wouldn’t be the holidays without turkey and, fortunately, cats and dogs can both partake. Lean, all-natural turkey is a great source of protein and a safe occasional snack for most pets — so long as you take a few precautions.

If you’ve ever dieted, you’re probably aware that skin (while tasty) isn’t the healthiest part of a turkey. It’s not good for pets on a diet either. The extra fat and calories found in turkey skin can leave pets carrying extra holiday pounds while exposing them to potential allergens, irritants, or toxic ingredients.

Dogs love bones, but turkey bones are both too small and too brittle to make for safe chewing. Bones or small fragments may present a choking hazard or cause injury to your pet’s mouth, esophagus, stomach, or intestines. Stick to packaged bones that are designed to withstand serious wear and tear without risk to your pooch.

While raw pet food diets continue to gain popularity, veterinary experts recommend against serving raw or undercooked meat and poultry. An uncooked portion of turkey could expose your pet to dangerous foodborne pathogens like salmonella. It may even get you sick through cross contamination during the cooking or serving processes.

Don’t: Feed Pets Salty, Fatty, or Seasoned Foods

Just a touch of the wrong ingredient can turn a light, nutritious snack into an unhealthy or dangerous bite. Added fats and sugars could mean intestinal distress in the short term and a host of serious health concerns like diabetes and pancreatitis in the long term.

Pay special attention to anything that’s been seasoned, marinated, or otherwise prepared with ingredients from the allium family. Kitchen staples like onions and garlic are a must-have in most kitchens, but they’re potentially deadly to pets in all their forms.

If you want to add a little flavor to your cat or dog’s meals, look for gravy-flavored sauces that were made with pets in mind. This will ensure they can safely indulge throughout the holiday season.

Do: Serve Safe Fruits and Vegetables

A number of popular autumn and winter fruits and vegetables can make a vitamin-rich treat for pets. These include favorites like pumpkin, squash, green beans, and broccoli. Apples are safe too, under certain circumstances. Make sure to carefully remove the seeds, core, and stem. These contain a cyanide-like substance that can poison pets in large quantities.

Keep in mind that the rule about salt, seasonings, and added fats even applies to the healthiest foods. Rather than serving pets your leftover veggies from the table, opt for plain, uncooked portions. The same goes for fruits. Serve pets small pieces of cored, seeded, and peeled fruit rather than slices of pie or canned cranberry sauce.

While some seasonal produce is safe for pets, others pose serious safety risks. In addition to plants from the allium family, veterinarians recommend steering clear of raisins, grapes, and raw potatoes of any kind.

Don’t: Let Pets Overindulge

Just because your pet can eat something doesn’t mean it should become a fixture of their diet or even a regular snack. It may be tempting to offer cats and dogs a snack each time you reach for leftovers, but remember that human foods are treats. They should never account for more than a fraction of your pet’s daily calories.

In the Event of an Emergency

If your pet has taken a bite of something dangerous, stay calm while closely watching for red flags. It should be immediately obvious if your dog or cat is choking, but look out for these other symptoms of illness or poisoning that may take minutes or hours to arise:

Be ready to contact an emergency veterinarian if your pet exhibits warning signs. Quick action often makes the difference in addressing pet health emergencies.