by Allison Shalla, Dogly Wellness Advocate & Canine Nutritionist
The short answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Turkey is one of the leanest animal proteins available, making it an excellent choice for most dogs. It is particularly significant for dogs sensitive to fats due to conditions such as pancreatitis. The only reason NOT to feed your dog turkey is if your pup has a sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy to it.
Health benefits of turkey
Turkey is a common ingredient found in commercial pet foods - particularly low-fat kibble, because of its nutrient profile. The nutritional value of a 100 gram serving of cooked boneless white meat turkey (which roughly equals 1 cup) is 29g of protein, only 4g of fat, and 159 calories. In addition to being high in protein and low in fat, turkey has a high biological value (BV) score, which means that it has an increased supply of essential amino acids that are digestible and highly nutritious. It is also an excellent Vitamin B-6, iron, zinc, and selenium source.
Boneless, Skinless Turkey Breast is Good for Dogs
Cooked boneless, skinless turkey breast is also very easy on a dog’s digestive tract and can be helpful when used in a bland diet as a home remedy to ease an upset stomach. Dogs prone to certain medical conditions such as pancreatitis might also do best on a diet where the primary protein source is cooked boneless, skinless turkey breast because it is such a low-fat food. We say this about turkey breast because this is the white meat of a turkey, which is lower in fat and cholesterol than the dark meat found on other turkey parts like the legs, wings, and thighs.
Dark Meat From Turkey is Healthy for Your Dog
The good part about the dark meat from turkey is the type of fat: dark meat contains predominantly the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated kinds. Dark meat also boasts a high mineral content and is more plentiful in iron, zinc, and selenium. So if your dog tolerates fat well, dark meat turkey is also an excellent option.
It is important to note that turkey skin contains extra fat and oils that can cause digestive upset. If your dog is prone to pancreatitis or diabetes, it’s wise to stick to boneless, skinless turkey breast.
How to Incorporate Turkey into Your Dog’s Diet
Cooked Turkey Meat:
Cooked turkey can be a great protein option for a bland diet. A common recommendation is to feed boiled chicken and rice if your dog has an upset stomach, but turkey is also a great protein option. It is easy on the digestive tract and can also be combined with pumpkin or sweet potato for a highly digestible bland diet. If using ground turkey for a bland diet, be sure the ground turkey you buy does not contain any additives like rosemary, which may exacerbate digestive issues. As noted before, it’s important to remember that turkey skin on poultry contains extra fat and oils that can cause digestive upset -- especially to be avoided for dogs with issues like pancreatitis or diabetes.
Check our other articles on bland foods, including chicken, sweet potato, rice (white and brown), and eggs.
Raw Turkey Meat:
Raw feeding has grown in popularity over the past ten years and even more so in the past five years. While feeding raw turkey is safe for most dogs, be sure to research both the benefits and cautions of raw feeding. Dogs who are used to high-carb dry food need a careful transition to raw food, and there are many factors involved to ensure you are feeding a properly balanced diet. Many commercially prepared raw foods use turkey as the main protein, but those products go through a ‘pasteurization’ process called HPP to make the turkey safer for dogs to consume, so there is much less risk of salmonella or other food-borne bacteria. These commercial raw food diets usually contain ground turkey bones as a source of calcium and phosphorus, which is a safer way to feed raw bones. Note - NEVER feed cooked bones of any kind! Choosing a quality source of turkey is especially important if feeding it raw. You want to be sure to purchase from a reputable source to avoid bacteria and potentially unhealthy turkeys. Choosing organic is always a great choice, especially when feeding raw.
Raw turkey necks and wings can be tasty dog treats, but dogs must be supervised carefully when fed these “raw meaty bones.” While these are generally safe, every dog is different, and raw turkey necks or wings can still pose a choking hazard for dogs, especially small dogs. It is essential to assess your dog’s chewing style - if your dog is prone to gulping, instead of chewing food, be very cautious when feeding raw bones.
Adding Cooked or Raw turkey to Commercial Foods:
Incorporating turkey into your dog’s kibble is a great way to boost nutrition and add some moisture. It is high in protein but low in fat, so it is suitable for dogs with fat-sensitive GI issues like pancreatitis (as long as they are not sensitive to turkey).
If your dog eats balanced commercial dog food, adding large amounts of “extras,” even fresh foods, can throw off the balance of things, so be sure not to overdo it to avoid excessive vitamins & minerals, which can lead to health problems.
A good guideline is to use a 20% rule for “human foods” as toppers to a commercially balanced diet. What that means is that fresh food “toppers” should not account for more than 20% of your dog’s diet. So, if you feed your dog 2 cups of commercial dog food, you can replace up to 20% of that amount - 0.4 cups or 3.2oz - with “people foods,” like turkey and other cooked meats, eggs, fruits, and veggies.
Why add human foods to your dog’s kibble? Studies have shown that adding up to 20% fresh food ingredients to a dog's commercial diet can boost nutrition and extend life. Even the most high-quality kibble available on the market is subject to nutrient loss in the high-temperature rendering process. These nutrients need to be added back into the kibble in synthetic vitamins and minerals. Fresh foods often provide a much more bioavailable version of these nutrients.
You can also incorporate small turkey pieces as a treat (great for training!) or even dehydrate strips of turkey to serve as dog treats!
In addition to the many health benefits, adding a variety of fresh foods to your dog’s diet provides enrichment. Imagine eating the same dry food regularly! Adding variety helps your dog get excited about mealtime, provides mental stimulation, and improves satiety.
Do not feed cooked turkey bones to your dog! Any cooked bone can splinter and cause perforation of the stomach, impaction (an intestinal blockage of bone fragments), and severe digestive upset. While a dog’s digestive tract is built to digest RAW bones, all cooked poultry bones are unsafe to feed. So if you are tempted to share a bit of that cooked Thanksgiving turkey, be sure only to feed the dog-friendly cooked meat portions. Fido will gladly gobble that up! Sidenote about sharing your Thanksgiving feast with your best friend: many items on the Thanksgiving table are unsafe for dogs - in addition to cooked bones, stuffing, or gravy, which contains onion, are toxic to pets! Many sauces, spices, and marinades can also cause digestive upset in dogs.
Refer to our Ultimate Guide on Bland Diets for Dogs on how to choose the right foods for a bland diet, how to prepare them, how much to feed, and how to transition your dog back to a regular diet once your pup’s upset tummy is gone.
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If your dog could use some digestion help and a healthier gut to absorb and access all the good nutrients you’re feeding, check out Native Pet’s Probiotic, carefully created by their team of nutritionists and veterinarians.
Frequently Asked Questions about Turkey for Dogs
Will cooked turkey hurt my dog?
Cooked turkey might hurt your dog because of the seasoning that is used. Apart from that, turkey bones too can lead to severe complications.
Can my dog have some turkey breast?
Yes, you can feed your dog a small amount of turkey breast.
Can I share Thanksgiving turkey with my dog?
Yes, you can share your Thanksgiving turkey with your dog. But, do not give your dog turkey skin, bones, or stuffing. These items can be harmful.
My dog ate turkey. What should I do now?If your dog ate turkey breast, then there is nothing much to worry about. But, if it ate other parts, then look for signs like vomiting, fever, diarrhea, bleeding, or difficulty in breathing. Contact your veterinarian without any delay.