I make a special Thanksgiving meal for my dogs every year, and you can, too

Boston Terrier and beagle wearing festive fall bandanas
My little gentlemen, Turtle (left) and Archie (right)
Photo: Lillian Stone

Welcome to Hibernation Holiday, The Takeout’s guide to celebrating Thanksgiving in the comfort of your own home—and in your sweatpants.

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I adopted my Boston Terrier, Turtle, almost four years ago. Since then, his comfort and amusement have become my life’s work. He has a cozy spot in every corner of my home. He attends daycare so he can terrorize a Pomeranian named Spicy. He wears little hooded sweaters. And, as of April, he has a spherical beagle brother named Archie to keep him company. (They ignore each other completely and Turtle does not care whether Archie lives or dies, but I still rhapsodize about their brotherhood.)

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Catering to Turtle’s canine pleasure reached new heights two years ago, when we started a new tradition: Turtsgiving, an occasion that’s part holiday celebration, part intentionally bland culinary challenge. On Turtsgiving, I prepare a multi-course meal of holiday classics for myself—and the dog. The only rules are that I eat whatever the dog eats, and whatever the dog eats must be completely safe for Turtle’s little belly. And also marginally palatable for me.

Why do I do this? The answer is simple: Turtle deserves it. If you woke up to that little Boston Terrier frown every day, you’d do it, too. And it turns out that I’m not the only one who likes to feed my dogs a special feast every year. Today is the third day of Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains around the world. Diwali’s Nepalese counterpart is known as Tihar, but unlike Diwali, each of the five days of Tihar celebrate the creatures associated with Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death. The second day of Tihar is called Kukur Tihar, or the “Day of the Dogs.” On that day, pet dogs and stray pups alike are showered with treats, flower garlands, and other tributes.

The existence of Kukur Tihar proves the universal appeal of spoiling our furry friends. Takeout associate editor Aimee Levitt has also waxed poetic about the beauty of preparing dog-friendly, human-grade food. She writes:

Many scientists believe the dog-human bond, one of the strongest between two distinct species, was first forged through food. Imagine that interaction: Nearly 30,000 years ago a wild dog approached a human campfire, sat down, wagged its tail and cocked its head as adorably as it knew how, and the humans, charmed, gave it a small chunk of leftover mammoth. Such a small price to pay for enduring love!

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She’s right. There’s something very rewarding about surprising my little guys with a special meal, especially since both of them come from less-than-perfect backgrounds. Since Archie is a recent rescue, I’m especially excited to spoil him.

A note on Fido-friendly eats

Please note that Turtsgiving is an annual tradition, and I’m in no way advocating feeding a rich meal to your dogs regularly. I don’t have the patience to cook for my dogs every day, especially given Archie’s tendency to scream at the top of his little beagle lungs as I dish out his meals. Anyway, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), an entirely homemade diet might not actually offer real benefits for dogs. But as a one-day-a-year festival, Turtsgiving is totally fine.

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If you’re curious about preparing your own canine holiday feast, start by reviewing the American Kennel Club’s list of unhealthy and unsafe foods to avoid. Some things to never, ever feed to your dog include alcohol, almonds (including foods made with almond extract or almond flour), chocolate in any form (raw cacao nibs, cocoa powder, Hershey’s—it’s all bad), cinnamon, garlic, grapes or raisins, and onions.

Finally, make sure to call your vet if you’re unsure of which treats to incorporate into your own Turtsgiving fest. If your dog has any unique health concerns, you’ll also want to take those into consideration. For example, Turtle has dental decay from his previous home, so we stick to softer foods. Archie also chunks up very quickly (beagles, man), so he gets a smaller portion than Turtle. Oh, and make sure you let the food cool for at least half an hour before dishing it out so they don’t burn their little dog palates.

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Boston Terrier staring at food bowl
Turtle absolutely losing his mind during the inaugural Turtsgiving.
Photo: Lillian Stone

The recipes

And although most dog-friendly recipes are pretty bland (see below for no-no ingredients including garlic and onion), I’ve rounded up some winners that I’ve used in past years:

  • Basic candied sweet potatoes (omit any cinnamon or nutmeg, and go easy on portions—especially if your dog has a sensitive tum)
  • Shepherd’s pie (no onion or garlic)
  • Tortilla española (no onion)
  • Store-bought yeast rolls (I like Sister Schubert’s. I usually give half a roll to each pup, splitting the roll in two and shred it into Boston Terrier-sized pieces. Otherwise, Turtle will grab the roll and drag it into the other room, creating an epic crumb trail.)
  • Fruit salad (My guys like apples, bananas, and pears. Just make sure you omit the citrus and grapes.)
  • Stuffing (sans onions or garlic)

Is my Turtsgiving meal the best food I’ll make during the holiday season? Not at all. I’m the self-declared Queen of Garlic Mountain, so these recipes aren’t necessarily showstoppers for a human palate. But it’s fun to devise the menu, and the look on Turtle’s dumb little face makes it worth it.

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I need a little extra holiday spirit this year, which is why I’m planning to hold Turtsgiving a bit early. So this weekend, I’ll surprise Turtle and Archie with tiny scoops of sweet potatoes, stuffing, and shepherd’s pie. If all goes well, Archie will release one or two guttural screams of beagle pleasure, Turtle will make lots of little piggy snarfing sounds, and my ruined digestive tract will appreciate a relatively mild meal. Then the dogs will go right back to licking butts at the dog park and eating burned popcorn off the sidewalk, and I’ll start preparing for a new Christmas tradition: Beaglesnacht. Menu TBD.

Staff writer @ The Takeout. Pork shoulder princess @ Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

I had a cat that was a foodie, and he got all treats all year (wet food to promote hydration, treats to get him to take medicine, and others). When it came the holidays, I decided he didn’t need any extra food, so I took my Navy Pea Coat out of the closet and laid it on the bed. He would literally spend all day on the Pea Coat, and that was his holiday present every year for all holidays.