Sunday, March 5, 2017

Last night I was told that turkey can kill my dog.

Leopold eyeing up some leftover turkey from last night.
Deep fried myths.
Last night my husband and I threw a "fry party", where we heated up a deep fryer in our back yard and guests came over with ingredients of their choosing to drop in the vat of peanut oil.  It was a night of indulgence for sure.  My favorite fried goodies included oreos, bananas, and the large turkey my husband prepared.

At one point Leopold was eyeing up that turkey (and by eyeing up I mean sniffing awfully close!).  I don't blame him. It smelled good and tasted better.  A couple of the guests were watching and said something to me, in what I thought was jest, about how turkey can hurt dogs.  I laughed and said "Leopold seems to disagree".  They then proceeded to tell me that turkey can, actually, kill dogs.
I responded by saying "What? That's not true".
 Yes it is, they said.  Tryptophan, they said.  Then they told me of their relative who's dog ate a bunch of turkey and turkey fat and then died from pancreatitis.  (which is very sad)

I hope I didn't come off as rude to the well-meaning guests, but in my years working with dogs in both a professional and personal setting, I have never once come across that little factoid.

And that's because it's not... actually.... true....
(sorry, friendly guests!  Either your information is outdated or false. =/  )

Online myths propagation.
I'll admit that I was terribly afraid that I was wrong. So I did some research online.

I did find articles and blog posts about the dangers of turkey.  "Skip the turkey at Thanksgiving for your dog!", stuff like that.  Or this one from NBC that contained a subheading "Toxic Turkey" and advised people to "Refrain from giving any part of the beautiful bird to your cat or dog".
(NBC.... come on man....)

But the articles that made claims about turkey toxicity had no cited references.  No quotes from veterinarians.  So, I'm not sure where they were getting their information--possibly other websites that were getting their information from other websites that were getting their information from a random stranger who claimed turkey killed their dog.  (Apparently if enough people believe something, that makes it true.  ...Except that it doesn't.).

The articles I found that did have any sort of clout explained that turkey, as a meat, is fine to give to dogs.  In fact, it's a high quality protein source.  That's why you can find it as an ingredient in some dog foods.  In fact, "smoked turkey" is on the list of ingredients in the kibble I feed MY dogs -- Taste of the Wild, Wetlands recipe.

So what's the poop?
The poop is that sometimes the manner in which the turkey is given to a dog can cause gastrointestinal upset and in some cases pancreatitis.  It's not the turkey, it's the fact that a dog isn't used to eating turkey, and/or the fat content of the turkey tidbits they're eating is too high (the skin has quite a bit of fat in it, for example).

Thanksgiving is often the time we give our dogs turkey, or maybe even a whole meal comprised of the different delicious dishes we, ourselves, enjoyed.  Thanksgiving turkeys and side dishes are more likely to be decadent, full of extra butter and oil.  At least that's how it is in our house...  Most dogs don't eat this kind of food on a daily basis, and therein lies the problem.

Have you ever tried to switch your dog's kibble to a new brand or a new recipe?  If you try to switch outright, the result is a sick doggy who probably needs to be let outside many many times if you're luck or hours of cleaning for you... (ew.....)!  To switch a dog's food, you're supposed to slowly introduce the new food over time, gradually adding more of the new and less of the old over ten or so days.  And switching dog food brands/recipes is a much more innocuous event than is offering Thanksgiving leftovers.
Imagine, then, that the Thanksgiving meal you're giving your dog is not only atypical to their diet, but is very possibly higher fat that normal.  There's a good chance that it's not going to sit well.  And in some cases can result in pancreatitis and even death, such as the case my guests were relating to me.

What about tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey.  And tahini.  And yellow mustard seed.  And parmesan cheese.  And seaweed....
It does not kill dogs.  It doesn't harm dogs.  In fact, there are even supplements on the market that use tryptophan specifically for dogs to help relieve anxiety (research suggests these supplements don't work...).
If you want to know more, I found this great science-based article online that gives the rundown of tryptophan and dogs.
I'm not sure why my guests thought tryptophan was the blame for the pancreatitis of their family's dog.  I hope their vet didn't tell them that...!

Moral of the story.
Turkey does not kill dogs.  Tryptophan does not kill dogs.

BUT, be smart about the little extras you give your dog.  Is your dog on a low-fat diet? Don't suddenly give them a bunch of fat.  Does your dog never get to eat "people food"?  Don't suddenly give them an entire meal of "people food".  Also, it's a good idea to cover and put your leftovers away so that your dog doesn't sneak onto the counter and help himself. has a great article that gives easy guidelines on how to safely share your special holiday meals with your dog.  And if you're worried about the fat content of the turkey you're giving your dog (for example, if you deep fried it....!), then maybe boil it in water first to remove some of the fat.

yes... yes... I did give Leopold a taste of turkey.  Halo, too.  How can I say no to those faces??

I did research online to write this article.  Part of feeling confident in the information I present to you, my reader, is knowing what to look for in an article that tells me it's a reliable source.  Interested in learning how to research dog-related topics (or... any topics, really), for yourself?  Stay tuned.  I'll work on that blog post next.

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