Can Dogs Have Turkey?
Chickens are the most widely consumed land animals in the United States, but their larger, more festive cousins are a common feature in the Standard American Diet, too—the average American ate sixteen pounds of turkey meat in 2012. Every Thanksgiving, we as a nation eat 46 million turkeys. But, though we tend to think of turkey flesh as one of the holiday meats, we aren’t picky; we eat turkey throughout the year in the form of sandwiches, soups, turkey meatballs, and even turkey jerky. Our turkey consumption has doubled since the 1970s, with many health-conscious individuals opting for turkey meat in lieu of fattier, more expensive red meats like beef.
The three most popular turkey products are whole turkeys (which we tend to eat during Thanksgiving and the winter holidays), ground turkey, and precooked turkey deli slices that we use for sandwiches and appetizers. Because turkey is white meat, we often consider it one of the healthiest protein sources available to us—most of us don’t think twice about eating turkey during the holidays or any other time. But, when our dog begins begging for leftovers, cautious pet parents have to pause. Is it safe to give this holiday staple to our dogs? Can you give your dog turkey?
The answer is yes, dogs can eat plain turkey in moderation. In fact, if you give your pooch commercial dog food, there is a good chance that they are already eating turkey on a daily basis! Dogs are true omnivores, which means that they can consume most types of meat in moderation without suffering from any serious or immediate health problems. Turkey is not at all toxic to your pet—so, even if you’ve already given them a Thanksgiving-sized portion of boneless, skinless white meat, there is a good chance that they will be just fine in the long run.
Are There Any Health Benefits?
So, is turkey as healthy as your personal trainer would lead you to be? While it certainly is not a miracle food for humans or for dogs, it can be a solid source of nutrition when it is consumed in moderation. Lean white meat provides a hearty helping of protein, as well as small amounts of key micronutrients, such as iron, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, and some B vitamins. Because turkey meat is made of high-quality, easily-digestible protein, it is a common source of protein in commercial dog food brands.
Is protein really so important for your pooch? After all, your Dalmatian does not spend his afternoons pumping iron or prepping for physique competitions. Is this macronutrient worth all the fuss it gets?
While it is true that your healthy adult dog does not need to guzzle protein supplements for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and neither do you), it is important that they eat a diet that includes adequate amounts of protein. Your dog does not need the proteins themselves, but they need the building blocks that the proteins are made out of. When your dog eats protein, their body breaks it down into its constituent parts—called amino acids—and uses these pieces to build brand new proteins that make up their muscles, fur, nails, skin, and internal organs.
One of the benefits of turkey is that it is usually well tolerated by dogs. If your pooch has problems digesting chicken, beef, or grains, ask a vet about turkey.
Things to Consider
Turkey and other animal proteins contain some of all ten canine essential amino acids. Dogs who do not consume adequate protein may suffer from skin problems (such as itchy, dry skin or brittle, thinning fur), chronic fatigue, poor wound healing, and overeating. Dogs who are pudgy or hate exercise may need their diets cleaned up, and placing an emphasis on protein-rich foods is often a good way to help them get back in shape.
If, however, you suspect that your dog has any sort of nutritional deficiency, it is crucial that you have them examined by a veterinarian before you introduce a new food into their diet. While certain symptoms may be indicative of low protein intake, they can also be the result of a more serious underlying condition that requires veterinary treatment. Any time something is ‘off’ about your dog, seek professional help instead of trying to diagnose and treat their problem yourself. This can save your dog’s life in the long run.
Though turkey is nutritious, it does have some downsides: like most meats, it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, and it is sadly lacking in fiber. If your dog has high cholesterol or other cardiovascular problems, ask a vet before you start feeding them scraps of meat. In order to minimize the amount of unhealthy fats your dog consumes, avoid giving them turkey skin—all turkey you give to your dog should be skinned and de-boned.
Finally, only give your dog plain, fully cooked turkey. Raw meat is often contaminated with bacteria or parasites that can poison and even kill your dog, and many of the ingredients we use to flavor turkey can cause digestive problems and weight gain. Your pooch does not need butter, oils, salt, or spices—they will be perfectly happy with a chunk of plain white meat.
In conclusion, cooked turkey meat is safe for dogs to eat in moderation. It is rich in protein and certain minerals, generally easy to digest, and not at all toxic to canines. Just make sure that the turkey in question is thoroughly cooked, unflavored, and free of bones or skin. The plainer your dog’s food, the better.