Thanksgiving can be a challenging holiday for pets. Although your pet likely drools over the heavenly aromas wafting from the kitchen, many dogs and cats struggle to cope with Thanksgiving visitors, events, and travel. Excitement and fear can cause your pet to behave abnormally, which can potentially lead to a dangerous—and heartbreaking—situation. To ensure you and your pet have an emergency-free and happy Thanksgiving, check out The Gentle Vet team’s top holiday safety tips. 

#1: Decline your pet’s offer to help in the kitchen

Despite your pet’s best guilt-inducing efforts—including sad eyes or a pleading paw—keep all four-legged helpers out of the kitchen during Thanksgiving meal preparations. Holiday foods include many ingredients that are harmful or toxic to pets, and your enterprising dog or cat will be all too happy to clean up any spills or dropped food—or simply snatch a tempting morsel from your kitchen counters and trash cans. Nosy pets can also get underfoot, causing you to trip, fall, or drop scorching foods.

We understand the guilt you feel denying your pet a treat, especially when you’re in the holiday spirit. Rather than constantly shooing your pet from the kitchen, consider creating a nearby secure area (e.g., a crate, exercise pen, gated room) so your furry friend can keep an eye on the activity while staying out of harm’s way. Consider providing your pet a fun distraction such as a food-dispensing puzzle, LickiMat, or frozen Kong filled with the pet-safe ingredients such as xylitol-free peanut butter, unseasoned skinless white turkey meat, plain sweet potatoes, unsweetened pureed pumpkin, and fresh cranberries, carrots, and apple slices.

#2: Never feed your pet these harmful foods

The Thanksgiving spirit makes everyone feel generous, but exercise caution when sharing holiday food with your pet. Many traditional recipes contain harmful or toxic ingredients that can cause your pet to experience serious illness that may require hospitalization or emergency surgery. Foods most hazardous to pets include:

  • Turkey skin, gravy, pan drippings — These foods are high in fat, and can cause your pet to experience pancreatic inflammation (i.e., pancreatitis)—a severely painful and potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Raw or cooked bones — Bones can lead to choking, lacerations, dental fractures, and intestinal blockages. 
  • Onions and leeks — These ingredients damage pets’ red blood cells. Casseroles, gravy, and stuffing often include these alliums.
  • Raisins and currants — Raisins and currants—often highlighted in stuffing and baked goods—can cause pets to develop acute kidney failure. 
  • Alcohol and yeast dough — Pets can experience alcohol poisoning after ingesting only a small amount of alcohol left at the bottom of an unattended glass. A pet can also experience alcohol poisoning after ingesting unbaked yeast dough. In addition, still-rising yeast can continue expanding in a pet’s stomach, creating a dangerous blockage. 
  • Chocolate — Compounds in chocolate have a stimulant-like effect on pets, causing gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects. Dark and bitter chocolates (e.g., baking chocolate, cocoa powder) are the most dangerous because they are highly concentrated. 
  • Xylitol — Xylitol is a sugar alternative usually used in sugar-free foods and baked goods. Xylitol ingestion can cause a dog to experience a severe blood glucose drop and acute liver failure. 

Any unusual food can cause your pet to experience severe gastrointestinal upset, and The Gentle Vet team strongly recommends that you feed your pet their usual diet during the holiday season. However, if you cannot resist treating your pet to their own Thanksgiving feast, give them plain—unseasoned and with no sauce or gravy—whole foods, and feed them only small amounts. Thanksgiving foods that are pet-safe and healthy include skinless white meat turkey, plain sweet potatoes, unsweetened pureed pumpkin, and fresh cranberries, carrots, and apple slices.

#3: Give anxious pets a safe space to escape the holiday excitement

Whether you are hosting or attending a Thanksgiving gathering, the holiday can be a busy and stressful time. Your pet can sense and internalize your hustling pace and nervous energy, becoming anxious or misbehaving in response. Keep in mind that frightened or stressed pets may be inclined to bolt out an open door and run away, or behave abnormally (e.g., aggressively, destructively,  inappropriately eliminating). The Gentle Vet team strongly recommends microchipping your pet, and ensuring they wear visible identification (i.e., collar and tags) at all times.

Help your pet feel safe and secure at home by creating a dedicated space where they can get away from the noise and excitement. This space could be a crate or exercise pen in a low-traffic area or an entire room away from the celebration. Set up the space with your pet’s favorite belongings (e.g., bed, toys), include necessities (e.g., food and water bowls, litter box, pee pad) and turn on some quiet music or white noise to block scary sounds. Depending on your pet’s needs, the space can allow your four-legged friend to come and go as they please, or remain in solitude until the celebration is over.

#4: Consider your pet’s best interests when traveling

Although you may love having your pet join you on a holiday visit with friends, travel may not be an enjoyable experience for your furry pal. Unless your pet is well-socialized and accustomed to travel—willing to go with the flow—unpredictable and delaying transportation glitches, new places, and unfamiliar people can trigger stress and anxiety. Before you book any travel arrangements, consider your pet’s personality and preferences by asking:

  • Does my pet experience motion sickness, separation anxiety, or reactivity?
  • Can my pet be left unattended in an unfamiliar place (e.g., crated in a hotel room or in a family member’s home) without vocalizing or becoming destructive?
  • Is my pet friendly around new people and unfamiliar pets, or do they respond by barking, lunging, or retreating?

When you consider your pet’s best interests, everyone—two- and four-legged—can celebrate a safe and relaxing holiday. Sometimes a staycation (e.g., with a pet sitter, or at a pet resort) is your four-legged pal’s best option. 

Help your pet enjoy a relaxing and satisfying Thanksgiving holiday by taking precautions to help keep them safe and calm. Making a few pet-safe preparations before the big day can ensure your dog or cat feels like part of the family—despite not having a seat at the table. For additional questions about pet safety, or to inquire about anti-anxiety medication or supplements, contact The Gentle Vet team. Happy Thanksgiving!