Of all the cultural battles that routinely wage in North America, perhaps none strikes at the stomach as much as the war over what to call the traditional side dish served with the Thanksgiving turkey. Is it turkey stuffing or turkey dressing? And, just as crucial, is this favorite dish made with bread or with cornbread? From this point, the argument truly becomes heated over the exact ingredients used in the recipe. Every family cook seems to have their own secret recipe. Whatever the answers, dogs almost always beg for stuffing (or dressing). Can dogs have turkey stuffing? Keep reading.
Turkey stuffing nutrition
For the sake of fewer arguments, we’re going to use “stuffing” to refer to bread stuffing. “Dressing” will refer to the similar mix that is made with cornbread. This isn’t a foolproof difference but it will work here.
For many people the turkey stuffing is almost the highlight of a holiday meal. These meals can bring to mind family gatherings from years past. Nothing makes food taste better than nostalgia.
This recipe could be considered fairly traditional if you like a stuffing made with bread.
If you prefer a cornbread dressing, this recipe is very typical.
Both bread stuffing and cornbread dressing are remarkably similar in terms of nutrition. One cup of cornbread dressing contains about 358 calories while one cup of bread stuffing contains about 342 calories. Both dishes are high in fat. Cornbread dressing contains 17.6 grams per cup; bread stuffing contains 20 grams per cup.
Cornbread dressing contains 49 percent carbohydrates, 44 percent fats, and 7 percent protein.
Bread stuffing contains 35 percent carbohydrates, 52 percent fats, and 13 percent protein.
Bread stuffing is high in vitamin A and iron. Cornbread dressing has modest amounts of vitamin A and iron.
Cornbread is cholesterol-free, sugar-free, and a good source of fiber. Bread stuffing, on the other hand, contains trans fats.
Still, both dishes are very similar. You can count on both to be filling because of their high carb and fat content. They are both high in calories. Of course, there are countless variations on these recipes so this is only a look at the basic dishes.
Is turkey stuffing dangerous for dogs?
If you glance at a smattering of stuffing or dressing recipes, it will quickly become obvious that onions are almost always included to provide some of the savory flavor. For this reason, stuffing and dressing would be dangerous for dogs.
Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots are all members of the Allium family. They contain N-propyl-disulfide, a compound that damages the oxygen-carrying substance called hemoglobin in red blood cells in dogs. Garlic is 3-5 times more toxic than onions. Cats are even more sensitive to allium toxicity than dogs.
As a result of this damage to the hemoglobin, red cells can rupture and leave the body faster than normal. This is called hemolysis. It leads to anemia (sometimes referred to as Heinz Body Anemia) and your dog can produce red or brown urine from the damaged red cells. In severe cases, this anemia can lead to internal organ damage, organ failure, and even death.
Dogs that eat any onions or garlic can also experience gastrointestinal irritation.
Even consuming as little as 15-30 grams per kilogram of a dog’s weight has resulted in clinically significant hematologic changes. Just one-fourth of a cup of onions can make a 20-pound dog sick. This includes onions (and related ingredients) whether they are fresh, cooked, or in dried/powdered form such as spices (think onion powder or onion salt). Onions and garlic can also cause anemia if they are given to a dog in small amounts over a long period of time.
Symptoms of onion/garlic poisoning
Clinical signs of toxicity from Allium species, including garlic and onions, can appear within one day of consumption if your dog has eaten large amounts. In most cases it can take several days for clinical signs to develop.
Signs to look for include
- Ataxia (lack of coordination)
- Pale gums
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Increased heart and/or respiratory rate
- Red or brown discolored urine
If your dog consumes onion or garlic in stuffing or dressing (or in any other foods), contact your veterinarian for advice on how to proceed.
Most of the other ingredients that are usually included in these dishes would not be harmful to dogs in small amounts. Unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, every cook seems to put their own stamp on these holiday traditions. Some people add nuts (walnuts or pecans, for example) which can be problematic for some dogs. Mushrooms, oysters, sausages, scallions, and various herbs and spices can turn up in stuffing and dressing. Even jalapenos can show up in dressing! You never know what someone might add to make a recipe new and different.
For this reason – the unknown factor – it is dangerous to give your dog stuffing or dressing that’s been made by someone else.
Can dogs eat turkey stuffing?
The good news is that dogs can eat a little turkey stuffing, under certain conditions. All you have to do is make some stuffing or dressing yourself and leave out the ingredients like onions, garlic, nuts, or anything else that might be harmful to your dog. Celery, sage and the other ingredients used won’t hurt your dog.
It’s true that the fat and carbs in any stuffing or dressing, whether made with bread or cornbread, are not especially healthy for your dog. But if you only give your dog a small amount once or twice per year on a holiday, it should be safe.
Remember not to let your dog have too much of this fattening food. Veterinarians report an uptick in dogs with pancreatitis during the holidays. Pancreatitis can occur for many reasons and sometimes the reason is never discovered. However, it’s often associated with dogs that overeat fatty foods.
Symptoms of pancreatitis
- Loss of appetite
- Belly pain
- Fever or low body temperature
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
If your dog displays these symptoms for a day or more, or if the symptoms recur, contact your veterinarian. Older dogs and dogs that are overweight are more prone to an attack of pancreatitis. Mild cases are very treatable. More severe cases have a more serious prognosis.
Whether you like dressing or stuffing, these holiday favorites are usually high in fat, carbs, and calories. Additionally, onions and sometimes garlic and other ingredients make them dangerous for dogs. It’s best if you do not let your dog have stuffing or dressing unless you make a dog-friendly version that omits any harmful ingredients. Even in that case, you should only let your dog have a small amount because of the high fat content.