Last night, I had thehonor of being a guest of master dog trainer Greg Kleva’s excellent Sirius XM Radio show, “It’s a Dog’s Life” on the Martha Stewart Channel. Handsome Greg – whom I always tease for being a Keanu Reeves impersonator (see photographic proof at right)- appears often on Martha’s show to offer expert advice on training dogs, but this time he asked your “Living With Dogs” columnist for feedback on what’s safe to feed Spot for Thanksgiving.
As Greg rightly pointed out, we hear a lot about what not to feed Spot at the holidays (dark baker’s chocolate tops the list, of course, because it’s toxic to dogs). But we don’t hear a lot about what is actually safe to share with the dog. And it turns out there are quite a few holiday feast items that are perfectly fine – in fact, healthy! – to share with four-footed friends.
Sweet potatoes are excellent for dogs – in fact, they’re a key ingredient of several dog food brands. Of course, nothing tastes as sweet as a freshly baked sweet potato. What dogs don’t need is any butter, cream, salt or extra sugar added (sweet potatoes are loaded with their own natural sweetener). Aplain, baked sweet potato is a perfect dog treat. Come to think of it, a plain, bakedsweet potato would taste great to me right about now, too. (I eat them for breakfast, hot or cold!)
Canned, pureed pumpkin is also great for dogs. So, while you’re prepping the pie, plan to reserve a loving spoonful or two of the orange stuff for Spot. It’s high in fiber and beta carotene, so it’s a truly healthy indulgence for any canine. I’ve found that the beta carotene inpumpkin also helps highlight the coat color of my beautiful red dog Sheba– so it doubles asa canine beauty treatment!If you have a red-coated K9 – an Irish Setter, say,or a Vizsla – by all means pile on the pumpkin. Plus, dogs love the taste of pumpkin, especiallywhen it comeswith a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon.
Speaking of that popular spice, Cinnamon is a seasonally appropriate seasoning that, thankfully,gets a lot of use at this time of year -what with all the holiday baking of pies, cookies, and gingerbread -so be sure to add some to Spot’s meals, on Thanksgiving and every day of the year.This warm,irresistible spicedoes a lot more than add rich flavor and aroma to food; Cinnamon actually slows bacterial growth and retards food spoilage, so it’s a good idea tosprinkle some overdog-food leftovers before refrigerating them.
Cinnamon also slows the growth of lymphoma cancer cells – and with so many dogs receiving this dreaded diagnosis, that’smajornews-plus its anti-inflammatory property is especially appreciated by senior dogs experiencing the stiffness of arthritis. It also boosts cognitive function, so sprinkle some cinnamon over your dog’s favorite treat rewards before a training session and you could see an improvement in his or her performance.
Turmeric is a spice our pilgrim ancestors didn’t include in their holiday feast, but it adds zing to Thanksgiving leftovers (consider adding it to your turkey salad the day after). And besides its vibrant, mustardy flavor, this staple of Indian cuisine is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; in addition to easing joint stiffness, it too boosts cognitive function (as cinnamon does) and actually helps prevent and treat dementia. So go ahead and sprinkle turmeric on your dog’s food at Thanksgiving, andthroughout the year.
Last, but not least in your carnivorous canine’s eyes, is the subject of meat. So many brands of canned food smell and taste like gourmet meals for humans that every day can be Thanksgiving for your dog; just the other day, I observed that Wellness Turkey Stew smells exactly like a fragrant combination of turkey meat and stuffing – complete with celery bits. No wonder the bowl gets licked extra-clean when that’s on the menu!
But hey, this is the holidays, so it’s only natural to want to offer some of the feast to favorite pets. Food is love, after all, so please don’t be a Scrooge by hogging the holiday roast all to yourself! Go ahead and spread the love. When treating Spot, skip the stuffing – he doesn’t need the extra carbs – and instead offer scraps ofturkey to dogs (and cats). Just be sure to trim away skin and excess fat, to avoid giving your pet painful pancreatitis. And make sure the meat you offer Spot has no bones in it, which could puncture his intestine or cause him to choke.
My Mom can’t resist reserving choice parts of the Thanksgiving turkey for my dogs. She makes them wait until after the humans have eaten to distribute the scraps, whichshe very carefully de-bones, de-skins, and de-fats, setting allaside in a dedicated bowl. The wait is well worth it for them – they end up scoring a lot more this way! Do you have any Thanksgiving rituals you share with your dogs? Please share them in the comments.