Pets can give thanks with safe people food

By Dr. Beth Leermakers

On Thanksgiving Day, I’ll be helping serve holiday meals to hundreds of Fort Worth shelter dogs. On the menu: turkey, green beans and pumpkin.  

Turkey is safe for cats and dogs in small amounts.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest

If you’re planning to share your Thanksgiving feast with your pets, proceed with caution. Consuming a high fat meal can trigger pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that causes loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and difficulty breathing. Severe pancreatitis can be fatal. You don’t want to spend Thanksgiving night at the emergency vet clinic.

As the holiday feasting season begins, let’s review a few “people foods” that are safe and healthy for your cat or dog. 

White meat turkey (without the skin and bones). Turkey is a good source of lean protein. Plain, cooked, boneless, skinless turkey is safe for cats and dogs in small amounts. Choose white meat turkey that is baked (not fried) to limit the fat. Dark meat has about twice as much fat as white meat. Remove large pieces of fat, skin and all bones. Cooked turkey bones can splinter, getting caught in your pet’s throat or digestive tract and causing damage. Don’t feed spicy or salty turkey. Spices and seasonings can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. 

Pumpkin — not pumpkin pie — is a superfood for cats and dogs. Canned pumpkin is a staple in my — and many foster parents’ — pantry. High in fiber (3 grams/cup), pumpkin promotes digestive health for cats and dogs, helping with constipation and diarrhea. Many veterinarians recommend pumpkin as a cure for feline constipation. As cats get older, constipation is a serious problem, primarily solved via diet. Feeding your cat more fiber keeps his stool moving through his colon. 

The fiber found in pumpkin adds bulk to the diet, making cats and dogs feel fuller. This can be helpful for overweight pets who are on a diet and constantly hungry. Composed of 90 percent water, pumpkin adds a good dose of moisture to your cat or dog’s diet, particularly if she eats kibble. According to traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, dry pet foods can have a dehydrating effect on the body, since they stimulate increased secretion of gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes to promote digestion. Adding moisture to pet foods reduces this dehydrating effect. Adding pumpkin to your pet’s meal can improve hydration and reduce heat in the body. 

This healthful fruit (yes, pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable) is rich in potassium (essential for muscular contraction and recovery from activity), vitamin C (an antioxidant that supports the immune system), and beta carotene. Food-based beta carotene has greater anti-cancer effects than it does in supplement form.

The easiest way to feed pumpkin is to use canned, 100 percent pumpkin — not the pie filling that contains added sugar, fat and spices (such as cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon). Some spices can be toxic to dogs. Add one to four tablespoons of pumpkin to the cat or dog food, once or twice a day. Start with a small amount and gradually increase it.

Sweet potatoes. A great source of fiber, sweet potatoes are gentle on a dog’s digestive system. They contain calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and B6, and beta carotene (the precursor to vitamin A). Sweet potatoes are safe (non-toxic) for cats, but they aren’t easily digestible or particularly nutritious for carnivorous kitties. 

Green beans. Green beans are a terrific low-calorie treat (ok, the “treat” part is debatable) that contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and K, and several minerals (calcium, folic acid and iron). Green beans are a good choice for dogs who are watching their weight but are hungry all the time. The fiber and water content fill dogs up without many calories. True carnivores, cats are less likely than dogs to enjoy vegetables. Your cat may prefer fresh cucumber, steamed broccoli or asparagus to green beans. 

Carrots. Carrots are low-calorie, high-fiber snacks that are rich in potassium and vitamin A. Freeze carrots for a healthy, crunchy chew toy for your pup. 

Apples (not apple pie). Apples are a good source of fiber, vitamin A, antioxidants and potassium. Remove the core and seeds before giving apple to your dog. Cats rarely like fruit; they can’t taste sweet foods. 

Do NOT Feed Your Pets These Toxic/Harmful 


Don’t feed your dog:



Grapes and raisins

Onions and garlic 



Most fruit pits and seeds

Macadamia nuts

Raw eggs

Raw fish 

Caffeinated beverages (e.g., coffee, tea, soda)

Sugar free foods containing Xylitol 

High-fat foods of any kind 

Don’t feed your cat:



Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda)

Cheese and milk

Fat trimmings

Raw eggs

Raw meat

Raw fish

Grapes and raisins

Onions and garlic 


Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!