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Ask a Vet: Which Thanksgiving Foods Are Safe for Cats?

Can cats safely eat turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving foods? See which Turkey Day treats are safe for cats and which aren't!

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Nov 16th 2017


Several years ago, I was at a Thanksgiving celebration with my relatives. Most of the food had made it onto the dining room table, but for some reason all of the people were still in the kitchen or in the living room. We migrated en masse to the dining room and found the cat on the table. He was helping himself to the gravy.

It was obvious that everyone present was a cat lover. Several photos were taken before the cat was removed from the table. And we still ate the gravy.

If my pal Buster were allowed unfettered access to a laden Thanksgiving table I can only imagine the decimation that would occur to the dinner and the dog. Fortunately, cats aren’t as prone to extreme gluttony and subsequent pancreatitis and bloat.

However, cat parents might be wondering which Thanksgiving foods are safe to share with cats — and which foods they should avoid.

Thanksgiving Foods and Cats — Some General Advice

Your cat shouldn't be on your Thanksgiving table, but if you want to share some of your Turkey Day feast, here's what foods are safe for him to eat.

Your cat shouldn’t be up on your Thanksgiving table, but if you want to share some of your Turkey Day feast, here’s what foods are safe for him to eat. Photography ©MJFelt | Thinkstock.

First, remember that any cat might have specific food intolerances or allergies. So even if something is generally safe for cats, it might not be safe for your cat. Second, remember that moderation is key. If you allow your cat to feast at Thanksgiving to the extent that I do, then your cat, like me, will probably feel ill after the dinner. Unlike with me, however, that feeling of illness might progress to real illness. And some things, as will be outlined below, might be mildly toxic to cats and therefore should be minimized.

Let’s look at specific Thanksgiving foods that are safe for cats:

Can Cats Eat Thanksgiving Turkey? 

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Turkey dinner. Photography by Bochkarev Photography / Shutterstock.

Yes. This staple of Thanksgiving happens to be completely edible and delicious for felines. Skinless white meat is most benign, but most cats can handle dark meat or a bit of skin and giblets as well. I remember as a child my father would give a hearty helping of skin, fat, and giblets to the cat every Thanksgiving. I was worried that it could cause heart disease in the cat. I had not yet learned that fat and cholesterol do not contribute significantly to heart disease in cats, and possibly not in humans either. However, the fattier parts of the turkey are more likely to cause upset stomach, so go easy.

Can Cats Eat Gravy?

The cat I mentioned above suffered no adverse consequences from his gravy lapping. However, remember that gravy is fatty and salty. Moderation is key, and the salt could cause problems for cats with pre-existing heart conditions.

Can Cats Eat Mashed Potatoes?

I like to make my mashed potatoes with lots of garlic, onion, shallots, half-and-half and butter. It turns out that garlic, onions and shallots can cause Heinz body anemia in cats. And many cats are lactose intolerant, so the half-and-half could be a problem. However, garlic isn’t cyanide and half-and-half isn’t acetaminophen (which is massively toxic to cats). Most cats could survive a bite or two of my potatoes. And they certainly could tolerate milder, less rich mixtures. But I wouldn’t recommend serving up mashed potatoes to your cat.

Can Cats Eat Stuffing?

Again, garlic and onions could be a problem. And the bread laden with delicious turkey grease might cause gastrointestinal issues. It’s best to keep your cat out of the stuffing.

Can Cats Eat Green Bean Casserole? 

The green beans are no problem, but the canned onions are. This is a no-no for cats.

Can Cats Eat Cranberry Sauce?

Although it’s certainly not a part of a cat’s natural diet, it’s not toxic either. I learned in vet school that cats supposedly are not attracted to sweet items or tart items. My experience, however, has been different. I’m sure that some cats love cranberry sauce. Fortunately I doubt that any problems will occur if your cat breaks into yours, unless it’s so loaded with brandy that the cat gets drunk.

Can Cats Eat Rolls and Breads?

Plain rolls and bread should not be a problem. Garlic bread, on the other hand, introduces a risk of Heinz body anemia.

A Final Word of Caution on All Thanksgiving Foods for Cats:

For the record, I am not advocating that cat owners pile heaping dishes of Thanksgiving food for their cats. In fact, really the only food that I can unhesitatingly recommend for most cats is skinless turkey breast. But if your cat drinks a bit of gravy, or licks a bit of cranberry sauce, or noshes on a roll or digs into the lime Jell-O, you probably don’t need to be worried.

Also, remember not to feel too sorry for your cat when you do not share your delicious Thanksgiving meal with her. She already no doubt has plenty for which to be thankful.

Thumbnail: Photography ©JasonOndreicka | Thinkstock.

Read more about cats and Thanksgiving on Catster.com:

 (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)