Melissa holds a bachelor's degree in biology and is a plant and animal enthusiast with multiple pets.
I’ve always viewed Thanksgiving as a preview of Christmas time. While there are no presents or hefty décor, the meal is just about the same. I mostly have cold-blooded pets (eight snakes, a turtle, an iguana, roaches, a centipede, and an axolotl) and two mammals; a dog and an exotic pet called a spotted genet.
If you’re like me and get a warm fuzzy feeling when you include your non-human house mates in with the holiday festivities (whether they’re aware of it or not), and you are not blessed with the responsibility of scrambling to prepare dinner for your human family, then you might be interested in creating a special dining experience for your pets on Thanksgiving and Christmas that can also benefit their health (wouldn't it be great if the same were true for us).
Feeding Thanksgiving Day Scraps and Turkey
I’ll start off by saying that it is generally not a good idea to feed the scraps of the human meals to animals. Remember that the turkey meat we love is not appropriately balanced for dogs and cats. In addition, animals tend to have sensitive stomachs that are easily disturbed when eating so-called human food. This isn’t to say that the higher quality food that humans sometimes eat is bad for pets; I’m a strong advocate of natural diets for animals, which includes raw or slightly cooked human-grade whole ingredients, such as free-range meats and organic vegetables (although let’s face it, most people have trouble providing this for themselves). Animals, however, may not respond well to new foods/meats that are heavily cooked, spiced, or possess other qualities that they simply aren’t used to eating.
We, however, do give our dog some white meat turkey mixed in with her usual food, since we are aware of how she typically reacts with it. As long as you are familiar with how your pet digests certain people food (and as long as it isn’t food that isn’t recommended for the species, such as onions for dogs and animal-based foods for green iguanas), it should be OK in moderate amounts and as treats. With turkey for carnivores, the best route is to add small amounts of lightly cooked, skinless meat (such as that from the leg) and do not feed any cooked bones. Dogs and cats that are used to eating raw meat can also have raw turkey, organ meat (the turkey giblets), and uncooked bones.
Some common fall time cuisine is actually healthy for animals and can be wonderful if specifically prepared with the needs of the animals in mind.
Food to Avoid Feeding Your Pets
- Cooked bones
- Sweet potato skin
- Regular dough/bread
- Unknown spiced food (such as on turkey skin)
- Onions and garlic
Thanksgiving Food That’s Good for Pets
To get pets to sample new foods, mix small portions in with their usual food or a bit of turkey (for dogs, cats, and other carnivores). You may be surprised what your pet might end up eating, however.
I have omitted ingredients like butter, sugar, and salt from the list of pie crust options that are less necessary to feed to pets given that they may do more harm than good. Substitute wet and dry ingredients that are not only safe for pets, but actually have great health benefits, such as apple cider vinegar, pumpkin puree, or coconut oil and coconut meat.
Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie
Why not offer your pets sweet potatoes to celebrate the fall harvest? Often an ingredient used in many prepared dog foods, sweet potatoes make a healthy addition in the right amount to the diets of many pets. Unlike normal potatoes, sweet potatoes have more nutrition, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities and are higher in fiber, which is why sweet potato fries are recommended for humans in place of French fries. The food is often recommended for dogs that have digestive problems, therefore allowing your dog, cat, and other animals an option that is not likely to be a problem if fed in small amounts to begin with. Pumpkin puree has similar health benefits as well.
For Thanksgiving, I actually create special sweet potato pie for my animals that is very nutritious (pumpkin pie is also a good idea). It is simply the same treat enjoyed by my family without the added eggs (in the filling), sugar, and other spices (a bit of cinnamon is not likely to be harmful and hosts health benefits) that is normally added to the filling for the human palate. I make this the traditional way, by boiling the sweet potatoes until they are soft, cooling them, peeling back the skin, and blending them with animal-friendly ingredients for flavor.
You can make the sweet potato or pumpkin puree blend anyway you want. If your pie filling recipe calls for milk, a good substitute is coconut milk. Coconut oil does the job of the butter and is safe and very healthy for most animals. A touch of cinnamon is a healthy spice as well that is enticing for dogs to throw into the mix. A little honey can provide more flavor in the mix if desired and approved for your pet. Sweet potato pie filling may also be combined with pumpkin puree. Sweet potatoes can be given to animals raw, boiled, or in the form of a full pie. It might sound intimidating and time consuming, but it's actually rather simple.
Typical pie crust is not healthy for dogs, but a crust made with coconut flour (as opposed to grain-based crusts) can actually be a fun way to cook for your pets and give them added nutrition. Coconut flour is high in fiber and does not raise blood sugar levels, optimizes gastrointestinal health, and is gluten-free.
To get the right size (if you want a smaller pie) and desired texture may require some experimentation, but the good news is that pets tend not to be too discriminative. You simply need something to place the soft sweet potato (or pumpkin) mix on. Simply add wet ingredients until your dough is moldable, and not too loose.
Ingredients for Pet-Safe Pie Crust
- 2 tablespoons Virgin Coconut Oil
- 1 cup Coconut Flour
- 3 Eggs (for carnivores and omnivores), or ice water/fruit juice/coconut milk)
- 1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar (if you have it), (Apple Cider Vinegar is very healthy)
- 1/2 cup Shredded coconut, (optional)
- 1 tablespoon Honey, (optional, not for young animals)
My Homemade Sweet Potato Pie for Pets
Other Spices that can be included: Cloves, cinnamon, and ginger (aprx. 1 teaspoon).
A pinch of salt enhances the flavor in the dough, but I won't include it here to make the pie as healthy for pets as possible.
Mix the ingredients together and blend well with a spoon, then line the dough in a pie tin in equal proportions. You can cook the crust separately and add the sweet potato/pumpkin filling, or bake the completed pie at 300 degrees F for about 40-50 minutes (or less depending on how big your pie is).
Instructions for the Dough
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until the dough is at the right consistency.
- Form the dough into a 9 inch pan then add your filing at the desired amounts, smoothing it in the pan evenly.
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Cranberry sauce (pictured in the top photo) is an easy dish to make safe for pets. Do not use the canned jellied version (which is really a bunch of high fructose corn syrup, but it sure is tasty). Cranberries are known to be one of the fruits containing the highest amounts of antioxidants and other beneficial nutritious qualities.
All you need are cranberries and orange juice (you can also add a bit of honey for sweetness if you are OK with your pet having this). Simply add your desired amount of orange juice (you can also combine the orange juice with water to dilute out this ingredient) into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat, adding the cranberries (in about equal portions) and honey after it has reached the boiling point while stirring. The berries will quickly begin to 'burst' in about seven minutes, thickening the sauce until it has completely changed into the final product. This is an easy and tasty treat for pets willing to sample it. You can pepper small amounts of this in your pet's bowl.
Vegetables and Fruit
For animals that are vegetarians (like my iguana) or as a supplement for omnivores and carnivores, you can treat them to new flavors and interesting additions. Spice up your pet's dish with unique and fall-themed vegetables. All squashes make a wonderful treat to jazz up a pet's dish (a nutritious preferred food choice for the diet of my iguana). I also like to use mixed salads that include leafy greens like various baby lettuce, spinach, and red cabbage.
In light of the special occasion, I buy some less common salad additions such as edible flowers (available in specialty stores like whole foods and Fairway market), that are really enticing and flavorful (for my iguana at least, probably less so with carnivores). When available, I love to add star fruit, which creates a decorative touch as well as more variety for fruit eaters. Your pets can certainly have steamed (or raw) green beans, and other common vegetables without cream and other additives. For dogs, mix in veggies with their meat ingredients to make it more appealing.
Some Other Veggies and Fruits I Like to Offer My Pets
- Dandelion greens
- Collard greens
- Prickly pear cactus fruit
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
- Cantaloupe, mango, and papaya
The foods listed in this article are safe and healthy for most animals, but always research whichever species you plan on feeding these ingredients to. For instance, dogs should not be given grapes or raisins, and iguanas shouldn't be given animal-based foods. It is probably a good idea to avoid milk-based ingredients (even for cats). Do not introduce new ingredients in excessive amounts. Be aware that some animals might have allergic reactions to some ingredients (such as honey) so always start small and discontinue use if a problem like this arises.