Ask Einstein: Can Cats Eat Thanksgiving Turkey?


Dear Einstein,

Oooooh, I’m so excited. The whole house smells like turkey! I’m drooling so much you’d think I was Pavlov’s cat. But my human mom told the little ones not to feed me any holiday ham or turkey. She said it will make me sick. Doesn’t she know that the occasional blue jay is on the menu of a natural cat? What’s the difference between snacking on grackle and biting a Butterball? They both have feathers.


Tough luck, Pilgrim,

I’m afraid that partaking in the wrong kind of Thanksgiving celebration could cause your metabolic processes to stage a revolt. Although humans stuff themselves with rich Thanksgiving cuisine, we kitties should observe mealtime moderation.

“A drastic change in diet can upset anyone’s gastrointestinal tract,” says my pal Dr. Margie Scherk, a board certified feline veterinarian from Vancouver.

Even poultry bones are a feline faux pas. Duke, I know hunting kitties don’t bother to de-bone mice or pigeons before dining. So why can’t you tackle that drumstick bone? Cuz cooking makes turkey and chicken bones brittle, and they splinter. Those sharp shards can lodge in the throat or puncture the esophagus, stomach, or intestine.

Bones aren’t the only things in the garbage that can turn our insides out. Kitty tongues are magnificently designed. Those little barbs help keep our coats shiny and clean, but they also prevent us from spitting things out of our mouths. That’s why vets have to surgically remove all kinds of weird things in our stomachs and intestines. The strings that tie the drumsticks together (and permit us to steal both legs at once) can wreak all kinds of havoc in our innards. If the string quits moving through the digestive tract, it creates an accordion affect sawing through the intestines. The result: deadly peritonitis.

So unless you plan on joining a chamber orchestra, steer clear of strings. Holiday chefs should place baking string, fatty leftovers, and bones in a plastic bag before disposing of them in a sealed trash can, preferably outside.

My buddy Dr. Drew Weigner, an feline-only veterinarian in Atlanta, says you should turn up your nose at anything containing human ingredients that are harmful to kitties like: onions, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, raisins, grapes, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, some nuts and foods containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol.

“Most cats cannot tolerate dairy products,” Dr. Drew warns. “It’s never a good idea to feed human food to cats with intestinal disease. Sugars should be avoided in diabetic cats. Many vegetables are high in oxalate (broccoli, greens, and so on) and shouldn’t be fed to cats with urinary tract disease.”

So what can a celebratory feline feast on this Thanksgiving? Dr. Drew says cat food is fine. “But, really, it’s too early to play Scrooge.”

If your mom can’t resist your wails of starvation (despite your full food bowl), she can give you a maximum of one ounce of cooked of turkey white meat (sans skin or bones), low-sodium deli turkey, turkey baby food or a commercial cat treat.

Dr. Scherk warns that more than an ounce “will cause digestive upset, diarrhea, maybe even vomiting.”

How festive!

Our older feline brothers (and sisters) should observe even more caution. “Many older cats have some decrease in kidney function and can’t handle large amounts of protein,” Dr. Drew says. “But, with side helpings of love, a little goes a long way!”

Board certified veterinary nutritionist Tony Buffington isn’t a fan of treats. The professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University reminds cat families that the holidays are not holidays to your pets.

“Holidays can be stressful for cats,” he says. “(Owners) should understand that they can help their cats cope by not adding unfamiliar foods to the stress of the events. Just keep feeding them the foods they are familiar with and let them pass on the festivities.”

Stress causes more than tummy trouble. Dr. Cassie Epstein, owner of the Animal Hospital on Teasley Lane in Denton, Texas, says, “Some cats suffer flare-ups of viral upper respiratory infections or urinary tract inflammation due to stress caused by schedule changes and visitors coming and going.”

She recommended humans give their kitties the gift of a Feliway diffuser (a comforting synthetic feline pheromone) to help reduce stress. During parties and get-togethers, we kitties need to hang out in a quiet room with our toys, litter box and favorite sleeping linens.

Duke, be thankful you have humans who love you and care enough to say no to holiday foods. Happy Thanksgiving!

Read more about cats and Thanksgiving:

Learn how to live a better life with your cat on Catster:

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.

Current Issue


Follow Us

Shopping Cart