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Can Turkey Kill Dogs? Thanksgiving Treats to Avoid!

Can Turkey Kill Dogs? Thanksgiving Treats to Avoid!

Jan 21, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Ross Bernstein

Reviewed by Dr. Ross Bernstein

Dr. Ross Bernstein is a seasoned veterinarian who we’re fortunate to have as the head of our Board of Pet Experts. Dr. Ross earned his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was trained under the guidance of some of the country's most renowned veterinary professionals.

Is Turkey Bad for Dogs? Can Turkey Kill Dogs?—The Answer to This Burning Question May Surprise You

Can you give a dog turkey? You wouldn’t believe how many of our loyal readers pose that question (particularly around the time Thanksgiving approaches, wink-wink). We get it, though. Haven’t we all been there at one point or another — the whole family gathers around the table, enjoys a turkey roast meal prepared with love, but our furry family members are unjustly left out?!
It’s only natural we want to slip our goggies a Thanksgiving turkey slice (or two) under the table. Their puppy-eyed stares aren’t making it easy either — it’s almost impossible to resist sharing our food with them. That is when the doubting bulb suddenly lights up: “Didn’t I hear somewhere that dogs aren’t supposed to eat turkey?”

Alpha Paw  swoops in to set the record straight on yet another doggo conundrum. We looked into this matter thoroughly and consulted experts to help us uncover the truth. We aren’t paid by any affiliate businesses, so you can be sure that what you read below is 100% what we found out through research or personal experience (we are lucky to be dog parents ourselves, and we’re proud of it!).

A Word on How We Did Our Research

We’ve all heard at one point or another that dogs aren’t allowed to eat turkey — or any poultry, for that matter. Yet all the best dog food brands use poultry meat in their recipes and tout their formulas for having optimal nutritious value precisely for having bird meat among their main ingredients. That is enough to make anyone’s head spin — why can’t dogs eat turkey for Thanksgiving (or any other day) when they can have it in their kibble?

To answer that question without a shred of doubt, we had to take the guesswork out of the equation. So we asked experts on the matter for advice:

  1. Veterinarians informed us about canine nutritional needs and the intricacies of their digestive systems.
  2. Nutritionists told us about the nutritive value of turkey.
  3. Pet store owners shared their opinions on the best turkey-based formulas among commercial dog foods.
  4. Our community of dog owners gave us homemade turkey-based recipes that any Fido would approve of.

They helped us truly cover all our bases. Then, we could figuratively slice Thanksgiving turkey from the skin to the bone to see if there is anything in there that could harm our beloved pooches.

Can Dogs Have Turkey Meat?

Yes and no.

Turkey is one of the superfoods when it comes to the canine diet. Nutritionists argue that it is more beneficial for consumption than chicken as it has more protein and fewer fats. Apart from those nutrients, turkey meat is loaded with:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Riboflavin
  • Phosphorus
  • Niacin
  • Selenium
  • Copper

There is even more to be said in favor of turkey for dogs. Doggos can develop food allergies , and when that happens, these are the usual suspects:

  • Chicken meat
  • Grains, such as soybeans, wheat, and corn
  • Dairy
  • Beef

Turkey meat is considered to be hypoallergenic, so it is an excellent substitute for the allergy-inducing meats. It is also easy on the dogs’ tummies, and due to its low calorific content but high nutrient count, it is fantastic for senior dogs, too. Going for the best dog food with dogs with allergies and the best senior dog food is also a good choice.

Your dog can eat turkey prepared at home only under certain conditions. You should only use lean turkey meat in your pooch’s diet — the white meat from the breast would be ideal. It is protein-packed, with an optimal amount of fat, tender, and absolutely delicious!

Make sure to separate the skin from the meat and debone it, and then cook it well. Raw meat is not advised as it can easily be contaminated with listeria, salmonella, or e.Coli — all of which will be destroyed by cooking. Ground turkey meat is perfectly fine for your pooch — you can cook it and sprinkle it over their kibble as a topper or make delicious, juicy meatballs for your little furball!

Turkey has other delicious parts that your doggo would enjoy tremendously, such as thighs and legs, but those contain more fat than is recommended for your pup to consume. You may still include those turkey bits in their meals, just make sure to use them sparingly and in combination with white meat.

Is Turkey Safe for Dogs?

There is no doubt that turkey is safe (and sometimes preferable) when used in kibble, but home cooking is where things get tricky. We, humans, like our Thanksgiving turkey roast crunchy, aromatic, seasoned, and juicy. To achieve such a savory dish, we add a lot of ingredients to our birds:

  • Oil and fat to crisp up the skin
  • Herbs and spices to create a mouth-watering aroma
  • Salt and other seasonings to make the roast salty and delish
  • Veggies and fruit to stuff the bird and make it truly scrumptious
  • Butter and flour to make the gravy as succulent as possible

The rule of thumb of homemade turkey for dogs is this — turkey meat is super healthy, but only if we prepare it without any add-ons can we serve it to our dogs. Let’s look into the no-nos of feeding Thanksgiving turkey to dogs.

Why Is Turkey Bad for Dogs?

There are many reasons why dogs and turkey are not a good match when the bird is made for human consumption. While it is undeniably true that dogs have accommodated to living with humans and have grown used to some of our nutrition, there are still some foods that people can eat freely, while they are toxic for dogs.

Turkey meat in itself is not among those foods, but when we prepare it, say, for our Thanksgiving feast, we season it and stuff it with other ingredients that are not always good for canines. There is also more to turkey than meat — we are yet to see a woofer that would refuse the greasy turkey skin or pass on a gnaw of a turkey bone.

With that in mind, here are all the reasons why we shouldn’t give our doggos a bite of our Thanksgiving turkey:

  1. Skin
  2. Bones
  3. Seasoning
  4. Stuffing

There is more to be said on the topic of home-cooked turkey than meets the eye, so let’s dig in.

Why Is Turkey Skin Bad for Dogs?

According to The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), adult dogs need 5.5% crude fat in their diet. They turn lipids in calories that their metabolism uses as fuel. The skin is the fattiest part of a turkey, and it is way too greasy for your pooch’s health. It is also where we rub most of the seasoning and butter, both of which are unhealthy for dogs.

Since your pup gets sufficient fat from white meat, the skin should not find its way into their bowl. Excess fat can lead to weight gain, obesity, and more severe health issues, the most alarming of which is pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis occurs when your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed and enlarged. This is a vital organ that helps the stomach digest food and regulate blood sugar levels. The most common symptoms of this illness are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach sensitive to touch
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular heartbeat

If you notice any of these symptoms in your doggo, take them to the vet immediately. Pancreatitis should not be taken lightly as it can be fatal if not treated immediately and aggressively.

Should You Let Your Dog Chew on Turkey Bones?

This one is a definitive no-no. Turkey bones are exceptionally dangerous for our doggos. Although all dogs love gnawing on bones, they don’t know the difference between the hazardous poultry bones and those that are safer for them to sharpen their teeth on (and by that, we mean artificial bones and dental chews !).

When cooked, turkey bones become brittle and break easily. They often splinter into tiny, sharp pieces that can lodge in your dog’s esophagus and result in infection. They also pose a choking hazard, especially for small breeds, such as Dachshunds , Chihuahuas , or Teacup Malteses . Worst case scenario, they can cause lacerations somewhere else in the digestive system and lead to severe bleeding.

What You Should Do If Your Dog Swallows a Turkey Bone

The most important thing is not to panic. The bone or its shards may pass through your dog’s intestines without piercing their lining. You should, nevertheless, monitor your pup’s behavior immediately after and in the days to follow. Keep an eye on these warning signs:

  • Heavy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Choking
  • Gagging
  • Retching
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • Nervous pacing
  • Moaning
  • Loss of energy
  • Black or bloody stool

Make sure to feed your dog with soft and fiber-rich foods, such as bread or rice, to aid their digestion. If you notice anything that is worrying you, contact your pooch’s vet immediately and take them for a checkup.

Can Turkey Upset a Dog’s Stomach?

Although lean turkey meat is perfect for dogs, there are a few caveats that we need to be aware of.

Take care not to add salt to your dog’s turkey meal — excess sodium will make your pooch thirsty, and they will urinate more. If you add other seasonings to your pooch’s turkey, they may also experience vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and nausea. You should also never give your pup fried turkey or any of the processed, deli kinds — not only do they contain a lot of salt but are made from nutrient-deprived turkey by-products.

If you suddenly change your dog’s diet, they may also have an adverse reaction. You should always transition your dog slowly from kibble to home-cooked turkey, or from a wet turkey meal to a dry diet. Otherwise, they may experience the digestive issues mentioned above, as well as stomach cramps, temporary loss of appetite, or hard stool.

Why Can Turkey Stuffing Be Toxic for Our Pooches?

In order to make our Thanksgiving turkey packed with flavor and healthy ingredients, we use a lot of stuffing. Some of the most common turkey stuffing is:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Apples
  • Citrus fruit

There lies another danger to our doggos. Garlic, onions, leeks, and other veggies from the same family are incredibly toxic for dogs. They contain thiosulfate , a substance that can severely damage our pups’ red blood cells, and trigger hemolytic anemia . This illness manifests through:

  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue

Stuffing, in general, doesn’t agree with dogs — if they eat it, they will feel nausea and stomach cramps, vomit, or have diarrhea, almost without fail.

Can Turkey Kill Dogs?

If our research has shown us anything, it is that turkey itself cannot kill our furry companions, but it can lead to severe, even fatal, health conditions. It all depends on how we choose to feed our pooches with this delectable and highly nutritious meat.

Turkey carries the risk of contracting salmonella and e.Coli if served raw at home. Home-cooked meals should be made with unseasoned, skinned, and deboned turkey to be absolutely safe. Thanksgiving turkey stuffing may also be toxic for doggos, and excess fat can lead to pancreatitis, a life-threatening illness. However, only if we feed them such food on a regular basis can we actually risk their lives.

Are Dogs Allowed Turkey for Thanksgiving?

The answer to that question remains ambiguous — we want to say yes, but we have to say no. If you treat your doggo to a family meal that one day in a year, it is unlikely your dog would suffer any dire consequences, such as an inflamed pancreas after that one sinful meal. We’re all allowed to cheat while dieting, right? Why should dogs be any different?

While humans have grown accustomed to consuming piles of junk food and overly spicy meals, dogs are, unfortunately, not as resilient to all human-approved ingredients and their strong, overpowering flavors. The good news is that most dogs won’t have a bad reaction if they eat a small amount of scraps from your Thanksgiving feast, but the bad news is that you can never be sure that your little goofer will be one of the lucky ones. The chances are they will have an upset stomach from all the spices they are not built to eat and digest.

More Concerns About Dogs Eating Turkey

What we would be more concerned with is that feeding your dog Thanksgiving turkey scraps from your plate would drill unwanted behavior in your furry buddy. Look at it this way — every time you give in to their puppy-dog eyes, tippy taps, and their enthusiastic yet pleading yaps, you are encouraging bad behavior . Pretty soon you will find yourself with a disobedient dog that refuses to eat it’s carefully selected, premium-quality dog meals and insists on having the same meal as the rest of their (human) family.

A Dog’s Thanksgiving

Why not make your doggie their own Thanksgiving meal instead? You can buy a slice of lean, white turkey breast and cook it to perfection without any seasoning as a special Thanksgiving treat for your pooch. You can also add some of the green veggies that are packed with vitamins and minerals, such as broccoli, zucchini, or spinach. Sprinkle some ground flaxseed for those precious Omega goodies and add a bit of carrot for a sweet flavor and a kick of the amazing beta carotene.

In case you are too swamped preparing an elaborate feast for all your humans to cook one for your pooch, we suggest you check out our top commercial dog food picks . They are only the tried-and-tested, best dry dog food brands that have numerous formulas, including those with pure, white turkey meat:

  1. Wellness CORE RawRev Original + 100% Raw Turkey (and check out our Wellness CORE dog food reviews )
  2. Merrick Grain-Free Real Turkey + Sweet Potato Recipe
  3. Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Game Bird Recipe Dog Food (learn more in our Fromm dog food reviews )

We are not paid to promote these brands — they are our personal favorites. If you would like to go for a different brand, go for it! Just make sure to match it to the nutritional value of our picks to ensure you choose the top-quality food for your pooch.

The Takeaway

So can you give dogs turkey from your Thanksgiving table? The safest way to answer that is to go with no. Turkey prepared for human needs is simply too hard for your dog to swallow… And pass. The ingredients we add to our turkey roast to make it as tasty as possible are way too heavy and sometimes even toxic for our furry friends. They should also stay away from turkey skin and bones that can cause serious health complications for our pooches.

Our doggies can eat turkey if it is pure, lean, unseasoned, cooked meat. We can freely use it to make home-cooked meals for our doggos, which don’t include any of the harmful ingredients or spices used in human food. Many safe, delectable dry dog food options also have protein-rich turkey as their main ingredient. Make sure to check out our guides on the:


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_food
  2. https://www.quora.com/Why-is-turkey-considered-harmful-to-dogs
  3. Watson, P. “Pancreatitis in Dogs and Cats: Definitions and Pathophysiology.” Journal of Small Animal Practice , vol. 56, no. 1, 2015, pp. 3–12., doi:10.1111/jsap.12293.

Moore, Arden. Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome . Storey Books, 2001.

author image

Dr. Ross Bernstein

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Ross Bernstein is a seasoned veterinarian who we’re fortunate to have as the head of our Board of Pet Experts. Dr. Ross completed his undergraduate studies at Duke University, earning his B.S. in Neuroscience with a minor in Economics and Psychology. He then went on to pursue his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was trained under the guidance of some of the country's most renowned veterinary professionals.

After UC Davis, Dr. Ross completed a one-year rotating internship in Medicine & Surgery at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine, and recently completed an additional year of further training in small animal surgery at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center, where he gained extensive experience in complex soft tissue, orthopedic and neurological procedures.

Dr. Ross shares his home with a Golden Retriever named Duma. We’re lucky to have someone as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate as Dr. Ross in our pack – not only as our trusted advisor, but also as our good friend. Thank you, Dr. Ross!

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