Can Cats Eat Thanksgiving Food?

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cat on man’s lap, at festive dinner table

disuskin dmitry / Shutterstock.com

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can almost taste the delicious roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes. Our feast will contain numerous savory dishes along with scrumptious desserts to tickle everyone’s fancy. With all of this mouth-watering food available, there’s no doubt our cats will be turning on the charm in an attempt to grab a bite or two. (They’re starving, after all!)

But is Thanksgiving food safe for the furry members of the family? Some foods are perfectly safe in moderation, while others can cause serious tummy upsets or worse. We’ll discuss everything you need to know about which Thanksgiving foods are safe for cats to eat.

Which Thanksgiving Foods Are Safe for Cats To Eat?

fluffy cat eating food from white bowl

Cats can be offered small amounts of safe Thanksgiving foods. Natalia61 / Shutterstock.com

There’s so much food available at Thanksgiving, that it can be difficult to know what is safe for cats to eat. In general, sticking to plainer foods that aren’t seasoned or contain harmful additives is safer. But even then, some foods can be toxic so ALWAYS check if a food is safe before you feed it to your cat.

Luckily some foods are safe for cats to eat at Thanksgiving and can be given to most cats in moderation.

1. Turkey

Cats can eat small amounts of lean turkey meat—and most cats will be thrilled! The samples you give to your cat should avoid any of the seasoning, oil, butter, fat, or bones.

2. Ham

A little bit of ham, avoiding seasoning and fat, is safe for cats to eat. Avoid giving big portions of ham because it can be high in salt, which can be damaging for cats with heart or kidney disease.

3. Salmon

Though not a part of all Thanksgiving feasts, smoked salmon is sometimes used as a starter. Small amounts of salmon are safe to give to your cat. Avoid the seasoning, fat, and those tiny fish bones.

4. Vegetables

Most veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, corn, and sweet potato, are safe for cats. Most won’t be interested because cats are obligate carnivores and don’t need vegetables. Avoid vegetables that have been seasoned or are covered in butter, oil, or sauces as these may cause an upset tummy. That means no green bean casserole for kitty.

5. Fruit

Most fruits aren’t harmful to cats, except for citrus, grapes, and raisins. They’re unlikely to want fruit when there is meat to be had, but they can try a little bit. I once had a funny cat that would come running for a taste whenever she heard me bite into an apple.

Cranberries on their own aren’t harmful to cats in small amounts but cranberry sauce should be avoided. Cranberry sauce can be high in sugar, which isn’t good for cats to ingest. Make sure they don’t eat any fruit seeds, pits, or stems because these can be harmful.

Which Thanksgiving Foods Are Not Safe for Cats To Eat?

cat eating cooked chicken bone

Avoid feeding cooked chicken bones to cats as they may cause intestinal damage and blockage. Rita Image / Shutterstock.com

Now that we know what food we can feed to cats at Thanksgiving, it’s even more important to know what foods are off-limits to cats. Some foods may be high in fat and cause upset tummies (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting) or pancreatitis. Others can even be toxic or poisonous. Let’s discuss these further now—some may surprise you!

1. Bones, Skin, and Fat

Although cats can get lean cuts of turkey meat, they can’t eat the rest of the bird. Skin and fat can potentially cause gastrointestinal upsets and pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening. Cooked bones may pose a serious choking hazard or cause an intestinal bowel obstruction that can require surgery.

2. Gravy

Avoid giving your cat gravy if you don’t know what ingredients are in it. Gravy that contains onions and garlic can make your cat very unwell. Members of the allium family, such as onions, garlic, scallions, and chives can cause the destruction of red blood cells and anemia in cats. If the gravy is free from onions and garlic and mostly contains meat juices, you can offer them a small amount.

3. Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie on table

Avoid feeding pumpkin pie to your cat at Thanksgiving, as it can be high in fat and sugars. svitlini / Shutterstock.com

Pumpkin puree can be healthy for cats and even helpful in cases of tummy upset or constipation. However, this doesn’t mean that pumpkin pie is healthy for your cats to eat. Pumpkin pie contains added seasoning, spices, and a rich pastry crust. These ingredients can be harmful to cats.

4. Stuffing and Breads

Although stuffing is delicious and seems simple, don’t be tempted to give some to your cat. Stuffing often contains plenty of garlic, onions, and salt, which we know can cause anemia in cats. Small amounts of plain bread or rolls are okay if they are not seasoned. Raw yeast bread dough may cause bloating and tummy upset.

5. Dairy

Cream, butter, cheese, and milk is often readily available at Thanksgiving and cats will only be too willing to eat some dairy. Even though cats love a bit of cream, butter, or milk, it’s not great for them. Cats are lactose intolerant and may develop an upset tummy if they eat dairy products.

6. Desserts and Chocolate

ginger cat reaching for cake on counter

Sweet treats, such as cakes, can be high in sugar and fat, which may be harmful for cats. e-leet / Shutterstock.com

Everyone seems to know that chocolate is toxic for pets. But all desserts in general are a no-no because many are high in sugar and fat and cause health issues for cats. Along with that, desserts may contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol, which is toxic to dogs and may be harmful to cats.

7. Grapes and Raisins

Grape and raisin poisoning is well documented in dogs but it also occurs in cats. Even very small amounts can be detrimental to your cat’s kidneys and lead to kidney failure. Cats are unlikely to eat grapes or raisins compared to dogs, but it’s best to keep them out of their reach just in case.

8. Alcohol

This may be an obvious one. No cat owner will willingly give alcohol to their cats but accidents can happen. Dinner guests need to be vigilant with their wine glasses or other beverages, as cats can get curious about what is in people’s unsupervised glasses.

How Much Thanksgiving Food Can You Give Your Cat?

It’s great news that cats can eat a bit of Thanksgiving dinner such as plain, unseasoned turkey breast but this doesn’t mean that you should pile up their plates. Portion sizes are still important, even in the holiday season.

In normal situations, treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your cat’s diet. This is to avoid weight gain and obesity, tummy upsets, and potentially pancreatitis. Try to bear this in mind when you’re feeding your cat at Thanksgiving. Stick to giving small portions of safe food and make sure that your guests aren’t feeding your cat extra food or table scraps.

What if Your Cat Eats Something Bad?

If your cat eats something that is potentially harmful, call your emergency veterinarian right away. Similarly, contact the Pet Poison helpline or ASPCA animal poison control center if you think they’ve eaten something poisonous. Never take a chance if you’re concerned—always contact your vet. Time is of the essence, as your vet may need to induce vomiting in your pet.

Advice From a Vet

Ask your vet if you’re unsure about what to feed your cat at Thanksgiving, especially if your cat has any underlying health conditions. In my advice as a vet, if you want to feed your cat some treats from the Thanksgiving feast, stick to pieces of plain turkey breast to be on the safe side.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Thanksgiving foods are safe for pets?

Thanksgiving foods that are safe for pets to eat include small amounts of plain unseasoned turkey breast, ham, salmon, vegetables, and some fruits (but not grapes, raisins, or citrus). Avoid foods that have garlic, onion, and other seasoning.

Can cats eat turkey stuffing?

No, cats can’t eat turkey stuffing. Stuffing often includes lots of garlic, onion, and other seasonings that can be harmful to cats. It can also be high in fat and sodium, which isn’t good for kitties!

What holiday foods can cats eat?

Cats can eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, and meat without bones, skin, or fatty bits. However, cats are carnivores, so the best thing to feed them is plain bits of unseasoned turkey breast.

Can cats eat turkey lunch meat?

Cats can eat lean turkey meat without skin, bones, or fat. However, be careful of feeding any processed turkey meat, as it may have additives and salt to preserve it. Stick with fresh cooked meat if possible.

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About Dr. Aisling O'Keeffe MVB CertSAM ISFMAdvCertFB MRCVS

Aisling qualified from University College Dublin as a veterinarian in 2015 and went on to work in a mixture of small animal hospitals here and in the UK, including a cat-only veterinary clinic where she currently works. She has completed a postgraduate certificate in Small Animal Medicine and the International Society of Feline Medicine's postgraduate certificate in Advanced Feline Behaviour. She wrote a children's book called 'Minding Mittens', which aims to educate children on cat behaviour and care. Aisling featured on the RTE tv series 'Cat Hospital'. She is a Fear Free certified vet, which aims to make vet visits as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. In her spare time, she enjoys looking after her pets, which includes 4 felines.