6 Thanksgiving Pet Safety Tips

Key takeaway

The holidays are a time to celebrate, but that doesn't mean you can forget about pet parent responsibilities. Since Thanksgiving can be hectic, following a few pet safety tips is important to ensure your dog or cat enjoys the holidays as much as you do.

When sitting around the dining table discussing everything you're thankful for this Thanksgiving, we bet your pet will be number one on the list. Thanksgiving is a food-centric holiday spent with our loved ones, including our furry friends. However, pet safety on Thanksgiving is crucial. While you may want your dog or cat to join in on the fun, the holidays can be a dangerous time for them. Not only can new people and lots of foot traffic cause stress and anxiety, but several things from Thanksgiving foods to decorations can be harmful. 

Keeping your pet safe this Thanksgiving should be top priority. Luckily, we're here to help you navigate pet parenthood through turkey day and beyond.

Is Thanksgiving Dinner Safe For Dogs & Cats?

Thanksgiving safety for pets is crucial, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy a few bites of food. What's one thing all dogs love? Human food. 

During the rest of the year, you probably try to keep your food away from your pet's reach. However, during the holidays, you may have food in the kitchen, dining room, and even living room, depending on whether you have guests and where they're allowed to eat. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous for dogs. 

Most dogs will try to sneak some food wherever they can find it, so leaving turkey, bones, mashed potatoes, and other foods where your dog can get it can be harmful to their health. However, there are many foods that are generally safe for your dog, including plain cooked pumpkin, unseasoned turkey meat, and plain potatoes.

What about cats? While cats are obligate carnivores and prefer meat, they may be curious about what's on your Thanksgiving dinner plate. But what human foods can cats eat on Thanksgiving? Mostly, you can feed cats many of the same Thanksgiving foods you can feed dogs. For example, turkey is generally okay for both pets, and like for dogs, plain pumpkin is safe for cats.2 In addition, most vegetables are safe for cats as long as they're plain and free from seasonings, butter, and cheese. 

Always monitor your pet after feeding them anything new because you won't know how they'll react. While many Thanksgiving foods are considered safe for pets, overfeeding them or feeding them something that doesn't agree with their stomachs can cause GI issues. In addition, while rare, dog and cat food allergies can occur, and cats are more prone to animal protein allergies. 

List of Thanksgiving foods that are not safe for pets

Which Thanksgiving Foods Are NOT Safe For Pets?

Emergency vet clinics get busier during the holidays because pet parents and their guests make the mistake of leaving food where the dog can get it, leading to potential poisoning, blockages, and choking hazards. 

Foods your pet should never eat on Thanksgiving include: 

  • Turkey cooked with oils and/or seasoning
  • Sweets, especially pumpkin pie
  • Alliums (onions, garlic, scallions)
  • Turkey skin, bones
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Stuffing
  • Chocolate desserts
  • Seasoned sweet potatoes 
  • Raisins, grapes
  • Gravy
  • Candy, gum
  • Cranberry sauce, especially with added sugar
  • Alcoholic beverages1

It's important to note that the above is not an exhaustive list of all the foods your dog should avoid on Thanksgiving. Always use your best judgment. Dog food allergies to turkey are rare, but they can happen. In addition, seasonings on meat and in stuffing, gravy, seasoned mashed potatoes, and sweets like chocolate and artificially-sweetened candy and gum can be poisonous, causing toxicity. 

List of Thanksgiving foods that are safe for pets

Which Thanksgiving Foods Are Safe For Pets?

Celebrating the holidays with your furry friends should mean letting them enjoy some delicious food. Luckily, there are some Thanksgiving foods that are generally safe for pets:

  • Unseasoned turkey meat (no bone or skin)
  • Plain potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Plain, cooked pumpkin
  • Plain peas
  • Apples1

Again, this is not an extensive list of all the Thanksgiving foods you can share with your pet, so if you're ever unsure about what to feed your dog or cat, you can consult a vet before the holiday and give your dog their own plate of food that's free from harmful ingredients. Additionally, some pets may have allergies to certain foods so it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about new foods ahead of time.

Many plain Thanksgiving foods are completely safe for pets, but you should exercise caution and never feed your pet any meat with bones or skin. In addition, if you want to share a piece of turkey with your pet, stay away from fatty meat and never give them any cooked or raw bones from animals that could splinter or cause a choking hazard or intestinal blockage. 

Other Potential Pet Hazards & Considerations

Of course, it's typically best to keep the festive food away from your pets, so dinner plates should remain on the table where your dog or cat can't reach them. If you have curious pets that like to get into trouble, remove your plate from the dining area immediately after you're finished, and never leave food unattended. 

Other than food, there are many other potential hazards you should be aware of, including: 

  • Fire/cooking hazards: Not everyone is a master chef, and things can go wrong in the kitchen all the time. Whether you drop a plate of hot food or your oven lights the turkey on fire, you don't want your pet around any potential danger. Use a baby gate to keep pets out of the kitchen when cooking. 
  • Traveling: If you're going to travel with your pet on Thanksgiving, plan accordingly. Consider your plans and your dog's temperament. For example, your dog or cat may get anxious on car rides and need short-term anxiety medication or a sanctuary space in another person's home where they can escape all the noise and foot traffic. Whatever the case, you know your pet best, and you know what they need to make their Thanksgiving as enjoyable as yours. 
  • Meeting new people and pets: If your pet is meeting new people for the first time, they can become anxious. If your pet gets too anxious around others, consider keeping them behind a baby gate or in a bedroom where they can be away from all the action. 
  • Microchipping: With so many people coming and going from your home, it can be easy for pets to escape, which puts them in potential danger, especially as temperatures drop. Always ensure your pets are microchipped and have updated IDs, which can help them be found if they get lost away from home. 

Closeup of dog looking up at camera in a pumpkin patch

6 Pet Safety Tips For Thanksgiving

Now that you understand the potential dangers of holidays for pets, let's discuss some Thanksgiving pet safety tips to ensure your dog and/or cat can have a happy, healthy holiday. 

1. Keep the feast out of reach

Keep any Thanksgiving food and treats out of reach and away from your pet. If your pet can get on the table, store your food on countertops until you're ready to eat. Keeping the food out of reach will prevent the potential for poisonings, blockages, and choking hazards. If you plan to share food with your pet, you can make them their own plate away from all the seasoned, buttered, and oiled foods. 

2. Take precautions when cooking & cleaning

Always be careful when cooking and cleaning. Never leave the oven on and unattended. Additionally, be extra careful if you’re frying turkey in oil – always fry turkeys outdoors and follow proper defrosting techniques. In most cases, try to keep your pet out of the kitchen by using a baby gate or letting your guests distract them while you cook. It could become dangerous for both of you if your pet is underfoot trying to get crumbs, potentially leading you to trip over them with hot food in your hands. 

In addition to cooking, you should consider the safety of your cleanup. When cooking for family or other guests, you may end up with tons of trash, especially if you're using disposable tableware. In addition, some guests might not finish all the food on their plates and want to throw it out. Always keep your trash inaccessible to pets. Consider taking the turkey carcass to the trash bin outside your home so your pet cannot get to it. In addition, you should remove any bones or anything else that could be dangerous to your pet's health from your home as soon as possible. 

3. Don't leave pets (and ovens) home alone

You leave your pet home alone all the time, so you may figure it'll be okay during Thanksgiving. However, you should never leave your pet home alone when the stove or oven is on. If you must leave pets home alone to run errands or visit family and friends, always turn the stove and other appliances off to prevent fire hazards. 

List of Thanksgiving pet safety tips

4. Prepare for travel in advance

When you travel for Thanksgiving, you have two options: take your pet or leave them at home. If you take your pet, you'll need to plan for how to keep them occupied when you make it to your destination and how to keep them calm during the car ride. If you're traveling across state lines, your pet will need a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian for some states, so you should ensure you have the proper documentation.3

If you choose not to travel with your pet, you can board them or get a pet sitter. However, if you plan to board your dog, they'll need to be up to date on their vaccinations. In addition, you should only ever hire someone you trust to watch your pet while you're away. 

5. Make sure decorations are safe for your pets 

Thanksgiving is a holiday for festive decorations. However, these decorations can be dangerous to your pets. For example, candles with open flames should be kept away from pets.3 In addition, you should be mindful of any flowers or houseplants you may use to decorate during Thanksgiving. For example, around Thanksgiving, you might start planning for Christmas and have mistletoe lying around. However, mistletoe is toxic to pets. 

6. Create comfort & coziness for your animals 

When hosting Thanksgiving at your home, consider giving your pet their own sanctuary space where they can get away from all the people and noise. Remember, crowded spaces, new people, and loud noises can all trigger anxiety in pets. 

If your pet has severe anxiety, especially around people or other pets, consider talking to a vet who can help you manage and treat your cat or dog's anxiety before Thanksgiving. Of course, anxiety treatment for cats and dogs may require extensive behavioral therapy. Still, your vet may be able to prescribe short-lasting anxiety medication to ease their stress during busy holidays. 

FAQs

What can be a hazard to your pet during the holidays?

Common pet hazards during the holidays include:

  • Human foods, including meats, seasonings, fatty foods, and sweet treats
  • Human treats like alcohol, hot cocoa, and desserts
  • Raw or cooked bones and animal carcasses
  • Decorations, plants, and candles
  • Guests coming and going that could cause your dog to run out the door

What are the do's and don'ts for pets on Thanksgiving?

You know your pet best, and every one is different, so how your pets act on Thanksgiving will depend on how they act around people, human food, and decorations on a daily basis.

In general, do's for pets on Thanksgiving include:

  • Keep food away from them.
  • Remove trash, bones, and animal carcasses from your home as soon as possible.
  • Establish ground rules with guests to keep your pet safe.

A few don'ts include:

  • Share food off your plate since it contains seasoned and fatty foods. If you want to give your pets holiday food, make them their own plate and only feed them plain, safe food items. 
  • Ignore their needs. Pets may let you know when they're anxious by their body language. If your pet is getting anxious, consider taking them to a quiet room where they can calm down. 
  • Leave your plate unattended because curious pets could jump on tables and chairs to eat your food.

Black and white kitten standing on a fall harvest basket

Final Notes

Hopefully, these pet Thanksgiving safety tips can help ensure your dog or cat has a happy and safe holiday. The best thing you can do to keep them safe is to plan ahead. Keep these tips in mind and be sure to consult your vet with any questions you have before the big day.

In addition, if you have a naturally anxious pet that might get triggered by all the festivities, you can talk to a vet about your options for pet anxiety treatment. Does your dog or cat get anxious when you celebrate the holidays? Talk to a Dutch vet. We can help diagnose and treat anxiety in pets to improve their quality of life and help them enjoy Thanksgiving.

References

  1. Dr. Jerry Klein, CVO. "Can Dogs Eat Thanksgiving Turkey?" American Kennel Club, 1 Nov. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/vets-corner/can-dogs-eat-thanksgiving-turkey.

  2. "Do's and Don'ts: Feeding Your Pet on Thanksgiving - Michelson Found Animals." Michelson Found Animals Foundation, https://www.foundanimals.org/dos-donts-feeding-pet-thanksgiving/.

  3. "Thanksgiving Pet Safety." American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/thanksgiving-pet-safety.