6 min read


Why Dogs Can't Eat Turkey



6 min read


Why Dogs Can't Eat Turkey




The holidays are here, and your mouth is salivating just at the thought of all of the delicious food that will soon grace your table. All of your favorites are slated to make an appearance including sweet potato casserole, green beans, and mashed potatoes with Grandma's award-winning gravy. Yum! You can hardly wait. But you can't forget the piece de resistance, the turkey!
Turkey tops the list of holiday favorites in most homes. It's delectable on Day One of your Thanksgiving feast and still appetizing on Day Three of leftovers. But by Day Four, your enthusiasm for turkey is starting to wane, and you're wondering if maybe Fido might like a little turkey and gravy mixed in with his kibble for an extra treat. After all, it IS the holidays. Shouldn't Fido get to indulge a little bit too? Unfortunately, turkey makes the list of no-no foods for dogs. What is it about turkey that makes it something our dogs should avoid? It's nutritious and safe for human consumption. Why not for our dogs? Many human foods make healthy, delicious snacks for our dogs when given in moderation. However, there are some that should remain firmly as people food only.

The Root of the Behavior

If you've ever carefully observed your dog while your husband is carving a turkey, you know that he's definitely interested in snagging a few morsels of that delectable-smelling bird. In fact, he's pretty hopeful that your husband might accidentally drop a piece or two on the floor for him to snag. After all, a dog takes his role in keeping the house "clean" rather seriously. 

But just because our dogs are interested in some of the foods that we eat does not mean that we should feed it to them. Some foods that are perfectly healthful for human consumption are toxic to our dogs, and some of them even in very small quantities. Chocolate, a favorite treat in most households, has a cocaine-like effect on our dogs' systems and can lead to heart attack and death. *Xylitol, a favored plant-based sugar substitute, ingested in trace amounts can induce liver failure in an otherwise healthy dog. But what about turkey? Experts agree that for the utmost in safety precautions, turkey should not be fed to dogs. 

Unlike other foods which can be poisonous to our furry canine friends, turkey is non-toxic. However, there are other concerns about turkey's effects on our dogs' systems that make it an unwise food choice for dog consumption. When we cook a turkey in our homes, we take care to prepare it with additional spices, rubs, oils, and even butter to help enhance its natural flavor. Most people also like to incorporate onions and garlic into dressings or to surround the turkey itself to contribute to the turkey juices which will form the basis for the gravy. This is where we run into trouble when it comes to turkey and dogs. While turkey on its own is non-toxic to our dogs, onions and garlic can have very serious deleterious health effects on the canine system. More than this, added oils and butters increase the overall fat level of the prepared bird. Foods that are too rich in fats can lead to pancreatitis in our dogs. Pancreatitis can be acute or severe but nearly always requires veterinary assistance to treat. Gastrointestinal distress is also a side effect of turkey consumption for our dogs. It is not uncommon for dogs who ingest turkey to suffer with diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting. Dehydration from excessive vomiting is also a concern.

Need advice about your pet's health?

Get answers fast from a veterinary professional 24/7 in the Wag! App.

Get Vet Chat

Encouraging the Behavior

So, if you avoid the fats, garlic, and onions and prepare a turkey breast for your dog's nutrition alone, can you safely feed your dog turkey? It's a good question, and the answer is yes. However, there are strict guidelines that you must follow in order to eliminate the risk of illness or injury from your dog enjoying some turkey. One of the most critical rules to observe if you elect to feed turkey to your dog is to avoid the skin. Skin is comprised mainly of fat and is also usually generously doused in oils or butter to help crisp up the delicious outer covering. Because of this, it is the leading culprit in pancreatitis attacks and must be avoided. To ensure optimal health and safety, you are best to restrict any turkey offerings to meat only. Cooked turkey bones can easily splinter and become lodged in your dog's throat. But tiny shards of bone can also work their way between teeth and into the gums or tongue necessitating a trip to the vet for costly dental surgery. However, though canine dentistry can alleviate the problem, the condition is extremely painful for your dog and is simply best avoided altogether. 

As with all human foods, it is best to limit the amount of turkey you feed to your dog. There is always the potential of developing an upset tummy. Any deviation from your dog's regular diet has the potential to lead to gastrointestinal distress. Vomiting and diarrhea are no fun any day of the week but definitely worse during a holiday when you have your entire family gathered in celebration. Avoid unnecessary illness or trips to the vet by feeding only very small amounts of this food. It is also wise to consider that feeding your dog people food can lead to behavioral problems you would not otherwise experience. Allowing your dog to enjoy turkey mixed into his meal can inadvertently create a dog who no longer wants to eat the high quality, nutritious food you place in front of him. He used to lap it up with delight, but now he has learned that if he refuses to eat that over time you will become so concerned about him that you will offer him something that he likes better. Fido has just played you! But don't feel badly, all of our dogs are masters at this skill, and if this has happened to you, you are most certainly not alone!

Other Solutions and Considerations

Some dogs may also be allergic to turkey. Many proteins can cause allergic reactions in our dogs; particularly ones that are poultry-based. If your dog begins to experience itching or troubling looking skin conditions, turkey might be the culprit. Food-based allergies are much simpler to treat than environmental ones. If you can pinpoint your dog's health symptoms to the consumption of this one food, you know that this is a food your dog's system will not tolerate and that you cannot feed again. It is interesting to note that some commercial dog food products do include turkey in their formulations. From this we can safely conclude that when prepared properly and combined with the required nutrients and supplementation, turkey can be a healthy part of our dog's diet. 

Raw turkey bones are an excellent means of exercising your dog's jaws and cleaning his teeth. Bones that are not cooked are much stronger and less prone to breakage though care must be taken to observe your dog while he is enjoying his treat. You need not fear a raw turkey bone any more than you would any other raw bone. Dogs love to chew on them, and they make a healthy, delicious snack for them. Their teeth-cleaning benefits are just an added bonus! The bottom line is it is safe to feed your dog turkey in limited amounts and under the right conditions. It is advisable that you limit the addition of any human foods to your dog's diet. For the best results, restrict human foods to treats used for training opportunities or to reinforce desired behaviors. Used in this fashion, your dog will start to associate human foods as special privileges instead of meal options. 


Should you feed Fido turkey? With the right precautions in place, Fido can enjoy a little turkey as part of your holiday celebrations. Make certain that you avoid fattier items such as the skin, gravies, and concentrate on limited quantities of meat for Fido's snack. A little bit of caution can prevent unnecessary and expensive veterinary bills. For an extra special treat, give Fido a raw, meaty turkey leg to enjoy while you and your family share the cooked equivalent at your holiday meal.

Written by hannah hollinger

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/26/2018, edited: 04/16/2021

More articles by hannah hollinger

What do you think?

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.