4 min read

Can Cats Eat Turkey?


By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 10/26/2022, edited: 10/28/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and you may already be starting to think about the menu, the center of which will likely be a roast turkey. The crispy skin and juicy meat can be the highlight of any holiday meal, and Thanksgiving tops the list! But what about the felines in the family? They’ll no doubt be drawn to the dinner table by the aromas, especially the meaty centerpiece.

Is it safe for cats to eat turkey? The answer is Yes! While there are a few cautions to consider, sharing some of the bird with your purr baby will be delicious for them and fun for you.

Cats are obligate carnivores, so virtually any meat is good for them, and cat food manufacturers often include turkey in their formulas as part of the protein component. When shared as a treat, turkey can be a low-fat, low-calorie alternative to commercial treats. On top of that, it has significant health benefits for your kitty.

Do cats like turkey?

There may be cats that will turn up their noses at the offer of turkey because of personal preference – after all, humans vary in their food choices, too. But fur most, turkey is a welcome addition to their day-to-day diets. And plain, home-cooked turkey treats are best of all. Overindulgence may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and pancreatitis in cats, but there’s no reason to withhold this yummy celebratory food from your kitty. 

While your purr baby may eagerly wolf down any turkey they can lay their paws on, and actually may prefer deli slices, turkey skin, or processed turkey bacon, bologna, and ham, these products contain ingredients that may be harmful to your cat’s health, so it’s important to limit their treats to unseasoned, cooked turkey. Raw turkey, while it may be tasty to your purrer, can be a source of salmonella or campylobacter infection.

Cooked turkey breast on a plate - Can Cats Eat Turkey

Health benefits of turkey for cats

Turkey contains many nutrients that support a cat’s health. Let’s look at what these beneficial nutrients include and how they can help your kitty stay happy and healthy throughout their life.

Keeps kitty’s belly full longer

Protein is well known as a nutrient that not only builds and maintains muscle and other tissues, but protein rich foods also keep cats satiated for longer periods of time and reduce between-meal hunger. It can be an important aid in reducing high-calorie, fatty treats in an effort to lose pounds or maintain an ideal weight.

Reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease

Turkey’s low fat, sodium, and sugar-free content reduce the incidence of diabetes and heart disease. Also contributing to this low risk is turkey’s largely non-existent carbohydrate content and minimal cholesterol found in white meat.

Given in moderate amounts as treats, turkey also can replace higher calorie treats that can lead to obesity, another important risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. In addition, turkey is rich in taurine, an amino acid that cats can’t manufacture in their bodies, and which can prevent cardiomyopathy if enough is consumed.

Healthy vitamins and minerals

A 20-gram serving of turkey boiled, roasted without seasoning, or broiled without fat contains the following nutrients: 

  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Calcium: 3 mg (milligrams)
  • Iron: 0.16 mg
  • Magnesium: 8 mg
  • Phosphorus: 59 mg
  • Potassium: 62 mg
  • Sodium: 117 mg
  • Selenium (Vit E): 7.5 ug
  • Vitamins B3, B6, B12 (various)
  • Taurine (in organs and dark meat)

How much turkey can I give my cat?

It’s important to remember that only plain, simply-cooked turkey, preferably breast meat, should be offered to your cat. They shouldn't eat any of the fatty bits, skin or seasoned areas, especially when the seasonings include onion and garlic, and only a minimal amount of dark meat or unseasoned giblets. Cats also should steer clear of processed foods made with turkey or deli sandwich turkey because of their high content of sodium, garlic, onions, and nitrates. Ground turkey is also fine if it’s cooked without seasoning or sauces. 

So how much turkey is safe? Our recommendation is two to three pieces the size of your thumbnail offered once or twice a week as a treat. Treats should comprise 10% or less of your cat’s total food intake of calories. Of course, if turkey is one of the main ingredients of your cat's diet, they will eat a lot more than this. If cooking homemade meals for your cat, be sure to talk with your vet about how much turkey your cat should be eating at each meal. 

Slices of turkey breast on a plate

Is it okay to give my cat pieces of our Thanksgiving turkey from the dinner table?

Roasted turkey is a good way to treat your purr pal, preferably taken from the breast, with no skin or seasoning. Meat that comes into contact with stuffing or gravy shouldn’t be offered because of the potential inclusion of onions, garlic, butter, and salt. Organ meats that have been boiled or roasted can be given when they’re diced finely and used as a topper for their regular food.

Can cats be allergic to turkey meat? How will I know if my cat is allergic?

Turkey is one of the more commonly occurring allergens for cats. Signs are generally mild. A more serious, or anaphylactic reaction, would be incredibly rare. To be safe, start with a very small sample, and if the cat doesn’t have a reaction, you can increase the amount for subsequent treats. 

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to turkey in a cat can include:

  • Itchy, irritated skin
  • Hair loss from licking and biting the skin
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Eye discharge
  • Swollen mouth or tongue

If your cat shows any of these signs after eating turkey, it’s crucial to get them to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The vet may administer medication and other treatments that will relieve the severest symptoms, and will undoubtedly recommend that turkey should be avoided in the future.

Does turkey make cats sleepy?

Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which is known to produce a calming effect in people, cats, and dogs. It’s believed that it can help induce sleep after a meal of turkey, as well.

So, if your kitty is meandering around the dinner table on Thanksgiving and you want to include them in the tasty festivities, go ahead and treat them to small pieces of cooked turkey and let the purring begin. Happy Thanksgiving!

A high-quality diet is essential for keeping your cat happy and healthy. Digestive problems and food allergies can be expensive to treat. Compare pet health insurance plans to save more than $270 a year on vet care.

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