Is Turkey Safe for Pets?

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
safe for pets

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  • Turkey is a healthy source of protein and B vitamins for dogs and cats. However, traditional preparations of turkey may cause stomach upset and other problems
  • Cooked turkey bones should not be given to dogs or cats as they are extremely brittle and may puncture their GI tracts and cause significant damage
  • To ensure that you're feeding your pet high-quality meat, limit your choices to organic, free-range, human-grade turkey

The answer to this question depends on how the organic turkey is prepared. Generally, turkey is a healthy source of protein and other nutrients for dogs and cats if prepared unseasoned and cut into small pieces. While your dog or cat may be begging for a bite of your Thanksgiving turkey, it would not be a good idea because this dish is often cooked with garlic, butter and a variety of spices, which may cause digestive problems for your canine and feline friend.1

Remember that turkey is a good choice for snacks and treats for your pets. However, giving your dogs and cats a few pieces of turkey should not serve as an alternative to a balanced diet. Snacks and treats should constitute only about 10% of their caloric intake and should not exceed the recommended amount.

Go for Organic, Free-Range Turkey Instead of CAFO Turkey

An estimated 99% of all farmed animals are currently raised in CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations. CAFOs typically operate by keeping animals, such as turkeys and other poultry, in extremely cramped and inhumane conditions. Because of the poor living conditions, these animals are often given low-level doses of antibiotics to hamper disease outbreaks and infections.2

This has heightened the risk for drug-resistant bacteria being spread to humans due to direct exposure or consumption of contaminated meat originating from these CAFOs.3 Unfortunately, drug-resistant infections have been on the rise in companion animals as well, with pets suffering from drug-resistant skin infections and urinary tract infections.4

To ensure that your pets are getting nothing but the highest quality food, choose organic, free-range turkey from trustworthy sources. This not only will lower your pet's chances of exposure to drug-resistant bacteria, but will also give them the maximum amounts of nutrients. In a 2015 review from Food and Nutrition Research, the quality of animal fat and nutrient concentration in poultry largely depends on the chickens' diet.5

Is Turkey Bad for Dogs?

Turkey isn't bad for dogs at all, especially if given in the right amounts and cooked properly. In fact, turkey is a good source of nutrients that are essential for your pet's health, such as:6

  • Protein — Compared to chicken, which has about 21.43 grams of protein, turkey may provide up to 35.71 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat. Providing dogs with enough protein is important to replenish protein stores and maintain lean body mass. If you're taking care of older dogs, note that they may require higher protein intake as protein restriction may aggravate the age-related decrease in body mass.7
  • B vitamins — Poultry meat, including turkey, contains considerable amounts of B vitamins, mainly thiamine, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid. Thiamine is important for your dog's carbohydrate metabolism, which is vital for optimal brain function.8 Vitamin B6 may be responsible for healthy hemoglobin and erythrocyte levels, and pantothenic acid aids in fatty acid metabolism.9,10 As for the B vitamin levels, turkey provides about 0.564 milligrams of vitamin B6 per 100-gram serving, 0.993 milligrams of pantothenic acid and 0.066 milligrams of thiamin.11
  • Iron — Essential for metabolic functions, iron is especially important for oxygen transport in hemoglobin. It is also needed for energy generation and drug metabolism.12 A 100-gram serving of turkey may provide approximately 1.29 grams of iron, which does not stray far from the 1.27 grams that pork may provide.13,14

Just make sure you're getting organic, free-range and human-grade turkey because conventionally raised turkeys are heavily medicated with antibiotics, increasing the risk of drug-resistant infections.15,16 If you can, avoid packaged turkeys from supermarkets and grocery stores as these are usually sourced from CAFOs.

Can You Give Turkey Bones to Cats and Dogs?

While gently cooked turkey meat is safe for dogs, the bones are not. Turkey bones, much like other poultry bones, are extremely brittle when cooked. The bones can cause damage to your dog's digestive tract when left undigested. They also may splinter and puncture your pet's stomach or serve as a choking hazard. Feeding cooked turkey bones may also lead to:17

  • Mouth and tongue injuries
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding from undigested bone fragments
  • Gastrointestinal blockages

Turkey Treats Are Nutritionally Beneficial for Pets

Turkey is a fresh, human-grade poultry product that makes an excellent snack for your pets. Healthy meats can constitute 10% of your pet's daily intake of calories.

Frequently Asked Questions About Organic, Free-Range Turkey for Pets

Q: Can dogs eat turkey?

A: Dogs may eat turkey. Plain, boiled turkey without the seasonings and additives is perfectly safe for dogs to snack on, and it provides them with essential vitamins and minerals. The same cannot be said for heavily marinated and seasoned turkeys, though.18

Healthy snacks should not constitute more than 10% of their daily caloric intake.

Q: Is it OK to feed pets Thanksgiving turkey?

A: It depends: If it's only roasted with no seasonings, yes. Thanksgiving turkeys are often heavily seasoned with herbs and spices, though, some of which may be harmful to dogs. Thanksgiving turkeys may also contain onion and garlic, which can be highly toxic to dogs. To be sure, it's best that you only give unseasoned turkey to your dogs and cats.19

Q: Are turkey franks safe for pets?

A: Processed meats, like turkey franks, undergo an intense refining and reconstitution process that ultimately destroys many of the nutrients found in the original ingredients. Dogs and cats may also find it difficult to digest processed foods, which may lead to an upset stomach and digestion problems. Furthermore, turkey franks may contain some levels of preservatives and additives that may harm your pets.20,21