Be Careful What You Give Pets on Thanksgiving, SPCA Warns

Adoptable dog S'mores bundles up for a chilly winter season. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

November 24, 2020

Four-legged friends might be thankful for a special treat, but they shouldn’t eat every table scrap on Thursday.

MARTINSVILLE – It’s fine to throw a dog a bone every once in a while. But on Thanksgiving, Catherine Gupton, facility manager and director of operations at the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County urges thinking twice.

That’s because dogs can’t have all bones – particularly, many found on the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“Because they are from birds, they are much lighter and they’re hollow for flight. So instead of being really hard and very dense like a pig or a cow bone that they can chew on, instead, these just splinter,” Gupton said. “Those splinters can get stuck in an animal’s throat.”

Turkey and chicken bones aren’t the only items not suitable for a dog’s Thanksgiving meal. Garlic, onions, grapes, raisins and casseroles or stuffings containing those ingredients are not safe for canine consumption. Also, leave off the chocolate pie for dessert.

“You don’t want to feed things like turkey skin. It creates a lot of fat build up for them,” Gupton said. “So the skin’s not great.”

Furthermore, the American Kennel Club cautions against turkey gravy, sweets containing xylitol, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, ham and yeast dough. Additionally, dogs should never consume alcoholic beverages.

Paw-sitively safe foods

In addition to fully-cooked, unseasoned turkey meat, Gupton noted there are other traditional Thanksgiving foods dogs can eat. She urged owners to keep foods not normally in their pets’ diets to a minimum, in case of digestive difficulties.

“If they like it, they can have some fruit things, like cranberry sauce – although most dogs aren’t really going to like that,” Gupton said. “They can have some of the vegetables – green beans, broccoli and things like that. Again, as long as they’re not cooked with a whole lot of seasonings and stuff. And they can also have pumpkin.”

The American Kennel Club also notes that dogs can have plain peas, apples without the toxic core, plain sweet potatoes, plain boiled or baked potatoes with no toppings and frozen yogurt for dessert.

As for the Crazy Cat Lady down the street? Well, she can feed her furry friends some special treats, too. But like dogs, cats can’t have everything out of the pantry.

“Between the cats and dogs, it’s really pretty similar on what they should and shouldn’t have,” Gupton said. “They both kind of have the same stomach upsets or organ damages from things like the bones or the garlic or the onion and chocolate that causes the same problems in cats and dogs.”

Taking out the trash

Even the most carefully balanced diets go out the door when pet parents leave their dog or cat home alone. From missing – and half digested socks – to raffia from the autumn indoor scarecrow decoration, pets sometimes get into mischief.

Simple oversights can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars at the veterinarian. Some of those annually occur on Thanksgiving.

Once the meal ends and the guests leave, there’s one more thing pet owners should do before heading out for more festivities or going to bed. That’s taking out the trash.

“Once it gets stuffed full of things that smell great that they haven’t been able to eat, even if you don’t traditionally have an animal that’s going to be really interested in the trashcan, once they start smelling all of these Thanksgiving things that are in there, they might raid the trashcan,” Gupton said. “They might break their habit and start looking for snacks.”

While they might sniff out the turkey or green beans and be totally fine, they could also find the grape-stuffed-stuffing delicious or gorge themselves on some festive onion dip. Instead of spending money on Black Friday sales, pet owners could find themselves dropping big bucks on the oversight.

Thanksgiving at the shelter

At the SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County, staff host a pet-safe Thanksgiving dinner each year. The special meal gives animals awaiting their forever homes a special treat for the family-centered holiday.

“What we do at the shelter is we will take canned chicken or canned tuna and mix it with a little bit of rice and maybe a little bit of green beans and kind of give the animals a little bit of that as a treat. You don’t feed too much because it can upset their stomachs, especially if they’re not used to having a lot of food like that,” Gupton said. “But just something real small with just the meat, just the vegetables – that’s something that they can celebrate the holiday with us, even though they don’t have any idea what the holiday is.”

The festivities continue

In the days following Thanksgiving, several special days continue into the following week. First, there’s Black Friday, then Small Business Saturday, followed by Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.

The local SPCA will take part in two of those events. The first occurs on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

“Any animal that’s black, black and white, has black stripes, has black spots, essentially if they have black on their fur anywhere, they are going to have a discounted adoption fee,” Gupton said.

For one day only, cats with black in their fur will be $10. Dogs with black in their fur will be $75. The price covers animals aged above four months.

The second occurs on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 1. This year, an anonymous donor pledged a matching donation up to $50,000. That means that if the community donates $50,000, that money automatically doubles to $100,000.

“That would be a huge benefit,” Gupton said. “We may not hit that goal, but we would like to get as close to it as possible.”

With COVID-19 ransacking the area and canceling events like the SPCA’s annual Furball fundraiser, 2020 proved financially difficult for the nonprofit organization. The Giving Tuesday donations – coupled with the matching pledge – would greatly benefit the animal shelter.

“Traditionally Giving Tuesday goes to kind of our general operations – so our vet bills, our utility bills, all of that, water, power, food for the animals, vaccines, dewormer,” Gupton said. “All of that is covered by the general operations and that’s where we need a lot of support at the moment.”

Making a donation

On Giving Tuesday, the shelter will be open from 12 to 6 p.m. for everything from adoptions to in-person donations.

Donors may also mail funds to the shelter’s physical address, 132 Joseph Martin Hwy, Martinsville, VA, 24112.

For those donating virtually, they may visit the shelter’s website at

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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