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Can Cats Eat Turkey? Vet Reveals What Holiday Foods Are OK — And What to Skip

Plus, the one feast food you should never give your kitty

Thanksgiving, with its cornucopia of comfort foods, is one of the coziest days of the year. What could be better than gathering around the table with family and friends to eat turkey, mashed potatoes, casseroles, pies and other seasonal goodies? And for many of us, our cats are just as part of the family as any human, and we want to include them in our celebrations. That got us wondering, can cats eat turkey? And what about other Thanksgiving foods? While we want to give them treats, their safety and well-being is top priority. So we turned to a vet expert to get their expert advice on what Thanksgiving foods are safe for kitty and which need to be avoided. Keep reading for the important do’s and don’ts.

Cats *can* eat turkey — in moderation

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means meat is a crucial part of their diets. While plenty of commercial cat foods do, in fact, contain turkey, you might be wondering if that means you can give them a taste of the turkey on your Thanksgiving table. “Turkey is a great source of protein that many cats may enjoy,” says Purina veterinarian Dr. Callie Harris. “I deem it safe in moderation.”

While a bite or two of turkey makes for a vet-approved tasty treat for your cat, there are some important things to keep in mind. Dr. Harris recommends you follow these three rules:

  1. Pull off any skin from the turkey. While turkey meat is safe, you don’t want your cat eating any spices, seasonings or sauces that may be on the bird’s outer layer.
  2. Get rid of any turkey bones. Bones can pose a choking hazard to your cat.
  3. Avoid the stuffing. While cats can eat a tiny bit of bread (it shouldn’t be a regular part of their diet), stuffing should be avoided, as it often contains spices, onions and other ingredients that may be harmful to your pet.

Dr. Harris says of all the foods on the Thanksgiving table you could offer your cat, a little piece of cooked, skinless, unseasoned turkey is your best bet.

Black-and-white cat looking at turkey on Thanksgiving table
Getty

Avoid mashed potatoes unless you prepare them *this* way

Mashed potatoes are so mild, it’s probably safe to give them to your cat, right? Not so fast! “While I think cats would love to eat mashed potatoes, my recommendation is to avoid them,” says Dr. Harris. “Many recipes include increased amounts of milk products that are high in fat to make them taste good,” she notes. And you should generally avoid giving your cat milk, as it can upset their stomach.

If you really want to introduce your feline friend to the wonders of mashed potatoes, try mashing up plain boiled potatoes with no seasoning and offering them in a small amount, says Dr. Harris.

Similarly, if you have a green bean casserole on your table, your cat should not sample it due to the presence of cream, onions and other potentially dangerous ingredients, but a bite of plain, unseasoned green beans can be safe.

Keep your cat away from the desserts

Whether they’re pumpkin, apple, sweet potato or pecan, Thanksgiving pies are some of autumn’s most delicious treats. Unfortunately, your cat can’t join the fun here — sweetened dishes should be avoided. Dr. Harris says that cakes, pies and cookies containing artificial sweeteners are particularly toxic to cats.

If you really want your cat to enjoy dessert along with you and your family, “you can try a little bit of plain pureed pumpkin,” says Dr. Harris. “If you have a fresh fruit salad, cats may enjoy eating strawberries, blueberries and even banana,” she says. But make sure any leaves, seeds or rinds are removed. She warns that under no circumstances should you give your cat grapes — this particular fruit can cause vomiting, diarrhea and other adverse effects.

Black-and-white looking at pumpkin and other Thanksgiving gourds
Getty

The bottom line on cats and feast food

When it comes to sharing holiday foods with your cat, moderation is key. Only give your cat a small amount, and don’t force them to eat something they aren’t interested in. If you do let your cat sample anything on the table, make sure it has no seasonings or sauces. Dr. Harris says the below ingredients should be avoided at all costs — and they can show up in many Thanksgiving dishes, so always err on the side of caution:

  • Onions, garlic and other alliums
  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Caffeine and alcohol

It’s vital to keep your cat happy and protect them from any holiday hazards. Keep your cat out of the kitchen during your holiday prep, and make sure your cat has a safe space to retreat to if you’re having guests over. Giving your cat plenty of toys to play with will also keep them occupied and can prevent them from trying to eat food that isn’t vet-approved.

Whether you decide to give your cat a feast nibble, it’s important to remember their tastes are very different from ours! When in doubt, a good old-fashioned can of cat food is always the safest option.


Click through for more expert advice on how to keep your cat healthy and happy:

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How to Trim Cat Nails: Vets Reveal the Secrets to Make It Stress-Free for Everyone

The Secret Life of Cats: A Feline Behavioralist Reveals How To Make Your Cat Love You

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