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Dog stealing holiday leftovers from plate

Should dogs eat Thanksgiving leftovers?

Q: Can we treat our dogs to Thanksgiving leftovers?

A: My dogs have been known to clean my family’s Thanksgiving plates when our backs are turned. Sometimes they even stand on their hind legs to gobble tidbits from the kitchen counter.

The problem is that often they end up with a belly ache because they’ve overindulged in food they’re not accustomed to eating. And it’s embarrassing when they vomit or develop diarrhea in front of guests. 

Worse, many dogs who eat turkey skin, mashed potatoes and gravy, all high-fat foods, experience pancreatitis. This condition, which starts with loss of appetite, abdominal pain and vomiting, may progress to death. Recurrent pancreatitis can lead to diabetes and loss of normal pancreatic digestive enzyme activity.

Don’t let your dogs clean the turkey carcass or chew on bones. Small bones can splinter and damage the gastrointestinal tract, and large ones can get stuck and require surgery.

Another concern is foods that are healthy for people but toxic to dogs. Onions and garlic can damage pets’ red blood cells enough that they break apart and no longer carry oxygen. Grapes and raisins can harm canine kidneys. Macadamia nuts cause neurologic problems in dogs.

Even xylitol, a sugar substitute found in many prepared foods, candies and gums, can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver damage in dogs.

Show your dogs you’re thankful they’re part of your family by treating them to new chew toys, while you enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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