Inviting Your Pets to Your Holiday Table
Thanksgiving usually means mouth-watering aromas wafting through the house, with pets eagerly awaiting bits of food to drop to the floor. Instead of depriving your cat or dog of the holiday festivities, why not prepare some dishes with them in mind? Here are 15 ideas to get you started.
- If you’re a pet parent who would like to share Thanksgiving dinner with your furry family member, it may surprise you to know that it can be done in a safe and healthy manner if you prepare your holiday feast with your dog or cat in mind
- There are many traditional human holiday foods that can be safely fed to pets in moderation, including plain cooked turkey and certain vegetables, fruits, and nuts
- Dogs and cats should only be offered pet-safe people foods in their purest, simplest form — no butter, spices, sugar, or other additives
- Foods to avoid include dressing; dishes containing raisins, grapes, onions, leeks, or chives; bread, rolls, or butter; processed or sugary foods; and desserts
In the spirit of "better safe than sorry," most of the advice for pet parents regarding the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays involves warnings about "people foods" that are problematic for dogs and cats. It’s unfortunate that so many of the indulgences humans enjoy this time of year must be kept far away from furry family members.
This is especially true on Thanksgiving, with all the mouth-watering aromas wafting through the house. Chances are your pet will spend most of today sniffing the air and wandering in and out of the kitchen, ever hopeful a morsel of food might drop to the floor, or that no one will notice a bit of furtive counter surfing!
How to Include Pets in Your Holiday Feast
The conventional wisdom offered to pet guardians during the holiday season is to avoid feeding "table scraps". This is because traditional holiday dinners tend to be high-fat feasts that simply aren’t suitable for pets. There’s also concern about ingredients in human food that can be toxic for pets. Plus, we don’t want to encourage begging behavior.
However, whether you share your Thanksgiving spread with your pet really depends on what the meal consists of and what ingredients are used. If you want to include four-legged family members in the festivities, all you need to do is prepare pet-safe dishes. For example, cooked turkey meat is fine for both dogs and cats.
A few bites of fresh cooked veggies such as plain (no flavorings or additives of any kind) green beans, carrots or yams are also fine — just be sure to set some aside for your pet before you start dressing them up for the humans at your table.
Examples of Thanksgiving people food you definitely do not want to give your pet include dishes containing raisins or grapes; dishes containing onions, leeks or chives (most dressings and stuffing); bread, rolls; processed or sugary foods; and all desserts.
I also recommend blending a small portion of safe people food with your pet’s regular food and offering it at her usual mealtime rather than feeding bites from your plate at the table or in the kitchen during meal preparation or cleanup. Animals have very long memories when it comes to human gestures involving food, and just one tasty snack delivered from your hand to her mouth can turn a pet who never begged into a pet who makes begging a full-time occupation.
15 Thanksgiving Foods and Snacks Safe for Dogs and Cats
Most of these foods will be a bigger hit 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. Apples also contain pectin, which is great for the gut.
- Asparagus — Asparagus is an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin K, B1, B2, C and E, along with the folate, iron, copper, fiber, manganese, and potassium. It’s also loaded with gut-loving prebiotic fiber.
- 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.
- 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 a bonus, even conventionally grown broccoli is one of the cleanest (most pesticide-free) foods you can buy. Your pet may prefer broccoli steamed.
- Carrots — Carrots are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamins. Many dogs enjoy snacking on a fresh crunchy carrot (or serve them steamed). Carrots are very beneficial in helping the body eliminate mycotoxins.
- Cottage cheese — Like plain yogurt, plain organic cottage cheese provides calcium and protein. Even better, fresh white cheese (queso blanco) can improve your dog’s microbiome.
- Cranberries — Raw, minced cranberries are nutritious and healthy to share with pets. Not all animals will eat them because of their tartness, but if your pup shows an interest, cranberries are an excellent way to offer a hefty dose of phenols, quercetin, and vitamin C.
- 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 several other important functions.
- 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.
- Kale — This dark green cruciferous vegetable is loaded with vitamins (especially beta carotene and vitamins K and C), iron, and antioxidants. Because it boosts glutathione levels it helps with liver detoxification and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Nuts (raw) — Unsalted, raw nuts, served in moderation and very small portions (chopped), are safe for dogs. Nuts are a good source of vitamin E and trace minerals, including selenium. Never offer pets macadamia nuts, they are the only nuts that are not safe for ingestion because of their fat content.
- Pumpkin — Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, vitamin A and antioxidants. It can help alleviate both diarrhea and constipation. Make sure to offer your pet either fresh pumpkin or 100% canned pumpkin — not pumpkin pie filling.
- Pumpkin seeds (raw) — 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.
- Spinach — This green leafy vegetable helps has anti-inflammatory properties and can help support heart health (it also contains thylakoids that can suppress hunger and cravings for junk food surprisingly well!).
- Sweet potatoes — Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants and are also high in beta carotene 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.
If you’d like 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.