Talking turkey with your dog

Thanksgiving is not just for people. Some of the bounty filling your plate this holiday is good for your dog too, says a growing contingent of nutrition-oriented veterinarians. Turkey, green beans, pumpkin, carrots–it’s all protein and fiber your dog thrives on.

“Dogs’ nutritional needs are fairly similar to people’s,” says Jean Hofve, a recently retired holistic vet from Denver. “If you’re eating well-balanced, healthy, unprocessed food, your dog’s plate should look a lot like yours.”

People have been feeding table scraps to dogs since the first canine began hanging around the village campfire. But sharing food with your dog hasn’t been as popular since–until a recent recall of more than 60 million cans of pet food.

The incident prompted many people to rethink their dog’s diet and look for sources they could trust. In the weeks following the recall a dog food cookbook made Amazon’s top 10 bestseller list for the first time ever, and one pet recipe website, BalanceIt.com, estimates their sales quadrupled.

“People want better, fresher food for their pets, and they’re making it themselves,” says Grant Nixon, a British Columbia veterinarian and co-author of Better Food for Dogs, who estimates that five to ten percent of his clients started cooking for their pets during the recall.

Not necessarily comfort food

Being able to trust what goes into your pet’s food is appealing. But before you scrape your plate of food into your dog’s bowl, consider this: a sudden switch from kibble to people food can make your dog very sick.

“Every Thanksgiving, we usually see five or six dogs come in with vomiting or diarrhea,” says Grant Nixon. “If you ate nothing but bread and water and then someone gave you a steak, it’d upset your stomach, too.” Nixon advises easing your dog into a home cooked regimen slowly.

A bigger challenge to regularly serving your dog home-cooked fare is making sure it includes the right nutritional balance. Buying commercial food is not only convenient, most brands are formulated to give your dog appropriate amounts of protein, fat, fiber, and other nutrients with each meal.

Worth the trouble?

Depending on who you ask, cooking for your dog either requires a degree in veterinary nutrition, or some healthy ingredients and a little common sense. Both Nixon and Hofve agree that, once you’ve figured out the right proportions and amounts, it’s not rocket science. “It’s kind of like cooking for another child,” says Nixon.

Experts advise basing meals around meat, with the rest split between vegetables and whole grains. Your vet or a veterinary nutritionist can offer further guidance, especially since a dog’s exact nutritional needs varies with age, size, breed, activity level, and special needs, such as allergies.

Is it worth the extra effort? For people uneasy about what goes into kibble and cans, the answer is yes. For others, a high-quality store brand with human-grade ingredients gives them peace of mind.

Or there’s the middle-of-the-road solution: high-quality dry food supplemented with a little meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, cheese, or whole grains from their own plates. And on Thanksgiving day, a nice slice of turkey.

Do you treat your dog with Thanksgiving leftovers? Post a comment and share your pet’s favorite menu items.

More articles with important information about your dog’s health and nutrition:

Food & Nutrition

Store brand foods nutritious?

Healthy dog food recipes?

Feeding people food to dogs

Dogs and people food