How to Keep Your Pets Safe During Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of coming together for family and friends, but it can also be a time when there are many opportunities for your pets to come to harm. Below are some tips, compiled from various online sources, to help you keep your pets safe during the holiday season.


Stock photo, Army.Mil
Stock photo, Army.Mil

It’s actually best to keep pets on their regular diets during the holidays. However, if you’re like my family and you can’t resist giving handouts, Do NOT allow your pets to overindulge in foods that they normally don’t eat. New foods in can cause unwanted abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Also, please AVOID the following foods:

  • Turkey Skin: On its own, turkey skin can be fatty and hard to digest, but on Thanksgiving it’s particularly bad because of all the butter, oils and spices rubbed into it.
  • If you wish to share turkey with your pet, peel the skin off and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add it to your dog or cat’s regular food or puree the turkey with sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Don’t offer any turkey which has been under cooked or left sitting out for hours. It might contain salmonella bacteria. Also, keep in mind, white meat is blander and easier to digest than dark.
  • Turkey Bones: Bird bones are hollow and can easily break when chewed. Pieces could lodge in the esophagus or cause an irritation of your pet’s stomach or intestines; worse, they could threaten your pet’s life. If your dog begs for a bone, look for store-bought ones or chews in special Thanksgiving flavors that will be a treat without the risk.
  • Gravy: Fatty foods like gravy (and the aforementioned turkey skin) can cause pancreatitis. On the mild side, pancreatitis can cause decreased appetite, excessive gas, and vomiting, but at the other extreme it can also be fatal. If you must share a liquid, try substituting gravy with a little turkey broth.
  • Turkey Stuffing: This Thanksgiving favorite might contain garlic, onions, or raisins, which are all toxic to dogs and cats. Stuffing could also include sage, a herb which can cause gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system depression if eaten. Cats are especially sensitive.
  • Vegetables: If you want to treat your pet, it’s best to stick to unsalted and unbuttered vegetables. Cooked sweet potato, pumpkin, peas, green beans, and carrots are terrific options for dogs, cats, birds, and for that matter our rodent pets. Another Thanksgiving table stable, that of cranberries, also makes a good treat.
  • Bread Dough: According to some online sources, when raw bread dough is ingested an animal’s body, heat causes the dough to rise in his stomach. As it expands, the animal may experience abdominal pain and bloating, which could become a life-threatening emergency.
  • Chocolate: Most pet owners are aware of the danger of chocolate. I’m including it in my list, because sweets containing chocolate are often left out on tables during the holidays. If you keep your bowls filled with candies, keep them out of sight and reach of your pets. The same goes for chocolate desserts.


Holidays can be the busiest day of the year for the kitchen and so it’s best to keep your pets out of there. With hot dishes being whisked from one counter to the next, there’s a chance an underfoot pet could be burned or cut if someone were to drop a hot dish. Other dangers include:

  • Aluminum Foil and Plastic Wrap: There are two risks here: One, your pet might try to lick fatty foods off the wrappings. Two, swallowing these can cause an intestinal obstruction.
  • Food Packaging: All strings, plastic holders and bags that have a meat smell to them can be attractive to a pet. Once ingested, these items can cause damage or blockage of the intestines.
  • Garbage Can: Your pet might find some of the items listed above, and rancid food is full of bacteria that can make a pet sick.
  • Hot Stoves: If you own a bird, you know that hot stove-tops and ovens pose a significant burn hazard year-round, but they’re especially dangerous when preparing for a Thanksgiving feast. To make sure that your pet bird doesn’t get burned this year, be sure to keep your feathered pet inside a cage while your kitchen is in use.
  • Pots and Pans: A related bird safety risk associated with cookware is poisoning from the fumes given off by hot pots and pans that are treated with Teflon or other non-stick coating. These fumes can quickly overwhelm a bird’s sensitive respiratory system and result in acute illness or death. For your bird’s safety, please be sure to use only non-coated stainless steel cookware.


Especially when visitors arrive and leave, you might elect to seclude your pet in a room with  “Do Not Disturb” sign or to crate them. Other tips for helping your pets handle visitors include:

  • Keep your pet home and away from parade celebrations. With the large crowds, your pet can become stressed or even worse, can get lost in the crowd.
  • Maintain his regular schedule for feeding and exercise. A dog or cat who has been active prior to the arrival of guests will be much more likely to run out of energy during the feast than one who has slept all day.
  • Make sure fresh water is available at all times. Busy children and relatives may bump a bowl and spill the water.
  • Keep current registration and identification tags on your pet. With guests coming in and out of your home, it is easy for your pet to bolt or simply wander out a door.

If you’re like my family and your pets are allowed to roam the house when visitors come, you might also provide your pets with distractions. For example, consider a squeaky toy shaped like a turkey bone or some other holiday food. Interactive toys that dispense treats are also a proven way to keep your pet occupied while you’re entertaining guests. Alternatively, should you wish to invest the extra time, a quick search online will provide you with multiple recipes for holiday treats specifically designed for your pets. Finally, if any of your guests like pets, you might ask them to do tricks with your pet. This could prove entertaining to everyone.

This article first appeared November 2014 at LAA Pet Talk.

Online Sources:

About (Birds)


Banfield Pet Hospital


Four Muddy Paws


Veterinary Team