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Can Dogs Eat Turkey? The Ultimate Guide

Can Dogs Eat Turkey? The Ultimate Guide What pet parent hasn’t slipped their furry best friend a nibble or two under the table? While table scraps aren’t always the best nutritional option for doggos (and some dishes can be downright dangerous), JustFoodForDogs was founded upon the knowledge that many whole, delicious “people foods” can benefit

Can Dogs Eat Turkey? The Ultimate Guide

What pet parent hasn’t slipped their furry best friend a nibble or two under the table? While table scraps aren’t always the best nutritional option for doggos (and some dishes can be downright dangerous), JustFoodForDogs was founded upon the knowledge that many whole, delicious “people foods” can benefit humans and canines alike. One such food is turkey.

While it is safe for dogs to eat turkey, that doesn’t mean that pet parents should be sharing slices of the Thanksgiving bird or a bite of a turkey sandwich. Proper preparation and nutritional balance, among other factors, need to be taken into consideration before letting your dog chow down. If you want to start adding turkey to your dog’s diet, here’s what you need to know.

Is Turkey Good for Dogs?

When it comes right down to it, experts agree that turkey can be good for dogs…IF (and that’s an important if) if it is prepared correctly and is part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, Dr. Dan Su, MS, DVM, DACVIM-Nutrition, explains, “Turkey is a good source of lean protein, amino acids, vitamins, and other nutrients.” Those other nutrients include selenium, niacin, iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins—all key to your dog’s good health.

Su recommends ground turkey as the easiest way to incorporate turkey into your dog’s diet, but light and dark meat, turkey skin, and turkey organs all have dietary value as well. He adds, though, that pet parents should familiarize themselves with the nutritional properties of the different parts.

“For example, turkey skin is very high in fat. That’s OK in small portions, but too much could cause your dog to gain weight and may lead to health issues,” says Su. “Then, there are the organs. For example, turkey liver is packed with nutrients, but if your dog is already eating a nutrient-rich diet, you risk the dog ingesting too much of a particular nutrient and that can actually be harmful.”

Bottom line: Adding turkey to your dog’s diet CAN be beneficial, but it takes more than mixing some turkey into your dog’s kibble to get the full nutritional benefit. Once you start combining ingredients, it’s easy to lose sight of the overall balance or nutrient profile. That’s why it’s so important to work with your veterinarian or a nutritionist, like those on the JustFoodForDogs team, to ensure your dog is getting a well-balanced complete meal.

According to Su, equally important is making sure that any turkey your dog eats is cooked completely through and unseasoned. “Poultry is a breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella and listeria, which can make a dog—or person—seriously ill. You have to make sure any turkey you give your dog is cooked to a safe temperature.” According to USDA food safety standards, that’s 165° Fahrenheit.

Is Ground Turkey Good for Dogs?

“Ground turkey is very good for dogs,” Su says. “It’s a versatile meat that’s readily available in different lean-to-fat ratios. You can go to the grocery store and buy ground turkey that’s 99% lean, 93% lean, or 85% lean, all of which have different nutritional properties and can be eaten to achieve different health goals.”

“For example,” Su continues, “If your dog is experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) upset, a veterinarian might recommend a homemade diet of boiled chicken and rice. If you’d like, 99% lean ground turkey can be used in place of the chicken. Or if you have a healthy dog who needs a daily, maintenance-type diet, JustFoodForDogs has a Turkey and Whole Wheat Macaroni Recipe containing 85% lean ground turkey, which offers plenty of proteins and amino acids, as well as essential fatty acids.” 

Again, exploring these options is best done with the help of a veterinarian or nutritionist who can take into consideration what else your dog is eating and calculate exactly how much turkey and what kind is needed to achieve an optimally balanced diet.

One of the reasons many veterinarians recommend ground turkey as an easy way to incorporate turkey into your dog’s diet is because there are no hazards, like bones, to consider. Su advises cooking the ground meat either on the stovetop or spread out on a baking sheet in the oven, to ensure it’s cooked all the way through. “Also, ground turkey you plan to feed to your dog should never be seasoned,” he adds.

Are Turkey Necks Safe for Dogs?

So, we know that turkey meat, organs, and skin are good for dogs to eat, but what about turkey necks?

Su says that, while some pet parents may give their dogs raw turkey necks as a treat, turkey necks—raw or cooked—should never be given to dogs because they contain bones, which are always a choking and obstruction hazard.

However, that advice does not apply to the other “innards,” commonly known as giblets, you may find inside a turkey carcass, alongside the turkey neck. According to Su, giblets—which include the turkey gizzard, kidneys, liver, and heart—are perfectly safe to eat once they are cooked. “Organs are high in nutrients and vitamins. Just be sure that you’re not overdoing it and giving your dog too much of any one nutrient. A balanced diet is key.”

Are Turkey Bones OK for Dogs?

It is never safe to give dogs turkey bones. As mentioned above, bones are choking hazards and may lead to intestinal obstruction, which may require surgery to resolve. Su notes that many dogs are big enough to chew up turkey bones, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll chew the bones up enough for them to become harmless.

“We all know how dogs eat,” Su says. “They’re not chewing carefully—they just sort of swallow. It’s usually OK and the bone will pass through, but when they don’t pass, it can be a life-threatening condition that requires surgery.”

Su adds that if you realize that your dog has eaten turkey or any other food with bones and they experience vomiting, diarrhea, or any other signs of GI upset, like a lack of appetite, you should call your veterinarian right away to get your dog checked out.

Are Turkey Tendons OK for Dogs?

Turkey tendons—and tendons in general—can be tricky, Su says. “I’ve seen tendons made into chewing treats. But if the pieces are too big, they can be difficult to eat and swallow. They can present the same choking concern as bones.”

If you’re looking to combine the nutritional benefits of turkey in a chewy or crunchy treat, Su recommends JustFoodForDogs’ line of healthy dog treats, which provide a balanced blend of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in a variety of tasty, snack-sized, dog-approved flavors. 

Are Turkey Tails OK for Dogs?

Even though you can purchase turkey tails from certain pet retailers, Su advises against giving them to your dog, even as an occasional treat.

Not only do turkey tails contain bones, but they are also extremely high in fat. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “The tail is actually a gland that attaches the turkey’s feathers to its body. It is filled with oil that the bird uses to preen itself, so about 75% of its calories come from fat.” Though some fats have nutritional benefits, pet parents should steer clear of any food that introduces that much fat into their dog’s diet.

Guidelines for Feeding Dogs Turkey

So, to recap, turkey is a great lean protein, rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which makes it ideal for dogs…and not just during the holidays when it’s more readily available. Su encourages pet parents to look for ways to incorporate turkey into their dog’s meal plan so they can enjoy its many nutritional benefits year-round.

“There’s a big difference between sneaking your dog a few bites of the Thanksgiving turkey and making turkey a balanced part of their diet,” Su says. “You want turkey to be a part of their daily calories, not a treat that you give them on top of their existing meals.”

There are plenty of ways to go about that, from home-cooked recipes made from scratch to commercial dog foods touting turkey as an ingredient.

But to ensure that you’re feeding your pet a nutritionally optimized diet that includes the right ratios of lean protein and organ meat, Su recommends using recipes or supplements from a trusted dog food company.

With JustFoodForDogs formulations, that’s all taken care of. “You never have to worry about serving your dog too much Vitamin A or some other nutrient,” says Su.

JustFoodForDogs has a range of options featuring turkey as the main ingredient. “We have a Turkey & Whole Wheat Macaroni recipe that’s sold freshly prepared and frozen or in a shelf-stable Pantry Fresh option, as well as a DIY kit. We also have Balanced Remedy, a low-fat, turkey-based diet that may be helpful for dogs who need to avoid high-fat diets”.

As with any new dog food, pet parents should pay close attention when they introduce turkey into their dog’s diet. Su recommends starting your pet out slowly when introducing new foods and consulting your veterinarian if your dog experiences prolonged symptoms of GI upset, to determine whether it’s due to dietary changes or other health issues.