Thanksgiving Causes for Concerns for Pets

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Thanksgiving Causes for Concern for Pets

Thanksgiving is that time of year when families and friends get together to celebrate and give thanks for all the blessings we have in America. It is the time for joyous family gatherings and parties to remind us of the good things our forefathers gave us by making America a democracy that has made the United States the greatest place on Earth to live. We are thankful for these blessings. And yes, we give thanks for the presence of our pets and the unconditional love and devotion they bring into our lives. However, we must take into consideration the health and well-being of our pets as we celebrate the Thanksgiving Season. Household guests can be stressful for pets during this time. This is especially true if the house guests bring their own dog or cat to your house for the duration of their stay. The pets who live there all year feel like their territory is being infringed upon. Loud noises and the resultant anxiety of additional house guests can cause diarrhea and vomiting in many pets. All pets should have access to a comfortable, quiet place inside if they want to retreat. Make sure your pet has a room or crate somewhere away from the commotion, where your guests will not follow, that it can go to anytime it wants to get away. Place a television or stereo in the room with music to temper the noise from the revelers. Many times, a chew toy that distributes a slow trail of “treats” will keep them occupied at least until they become accustomed to the noise and outside activity.

While preparing meals during these hectic days, be sure to take your pets into consideration. It is impossible to eliminate the wonderful smells that emanate from the kitchen during these festive times. Sometimes pets, especially dogs, become overzealous in eating the family’s food and drink, and that can be detrimental to their health. Fat trimmings, skin and bones from the meat should be kept far out of reach of the family pets. Fat, whether cooked or raw, can cause pancreatitis while bone splinters can get lodged in your pet’s mouth, throat or intestines causing a digestive tract blockage. Poultry bones are brittle and can be especially dangerous or even fatal to animals. Kitchen twine used to hold meat together during the cooking process will contain the odors of the meat and can have a critical effect on the digestive health of your pet. If swallowed, these products can cause blockage in the digestive tract and many times can only be relieved with surgical intervention. Caffeine in large quantities in coffee grounds or drinks can make dogs disorientated and sometimes cause seizure-like symptoms. Materials such as xylitol that is used as artificial or “sugar free” sweeteners in baked goods, chewing gum and other products is highly toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in higher doses can cause heart beat abnormalities, tremors, and possibly seizures. The darker the chocolate the more toxic the contents may be. Milk and other dairy products are not well tolerated by many cats and are particularly difficult for dogs to break-down and digest. Dairy products can also predispose pets to food allergies. It is never good to allow dogs or cats to access marijuana products, either raw or in baked foods. With the recent legalization of medical marijuana in more than half of the states, the incidence of marijuana toxicity in dogs has increased as much as 65% in some of those localities. Baked products that contain raisins, currants, and grapes even in small doses can result in kidney failure in dogs. Small quantities of alcohol consumed by pets can cause vomiting, incoordination, confusion, and seizures in pets if given in enough quantity. Remember, it takes a lot less alcohol to intoxicate a 25-pound dog than it does a 200-pound person. Open purses and suitcases of guests can be dangerous if they contain certain human medications, wrapped gifts or foods that could be toxic to dogs and cats. The opioid pain killers come to our minds immediately regarding protecting our pets from these human products. Remember, pets do not always have the same reaction to certain medications as humans. You must protect against your pet gaining access to garbage in the kitchen or when turned outside where they can raid the garbage cans that may contain the scraps and leftovers of the family meal. Any garbage can contain toxic bacteria such as Salmonella or coliform bacteria that can cause digestive distress, vomiting and diarrhea.

Trash should be cleared away where pets can’t reach it. Clear the food from your table, counters and serving areas when you are done using them, and make sure the trash gets put where pets cannot reach it. A turkey carcass or other large quantities of meat sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is easily opened, could be deadly to your family pet. Dispose of carcasses and bones and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as kitchen twine, bags and packaging in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors or behind a closed, locked door.

Visitors can upset pets, as can the noise and excitement of holiday parties. Even pets that aren’t normally shy may become nervous in the hubbub that can accompany such a gathering. Inform your guests ahead of time that you have pets or if other guests may be bringing pets to your house. Guests with allergies or compromised immune systems due to pregnancy, disease, or medications that suppress the immune system need to be aware of the pets in your home, so they can take any needed precautions to protect themselves. If guests ask to bring their own pets and you don’t know how the pets will get along, you should either politely decline their request or plan to spend some time acclimating the pets to each other, supervising their interactions, monitoring for signs of a problem, and acting to avoid injuries to pets or people. Pets that are nervous around visitors should be put in another room or a crate with a favorite toy. Exotic pets make some people uncomfortable and may more easily stress them. Keep exotic pets safely away from the activities of Thanksgiving events. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you’re welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four-legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost. Identification tags and microchips reunite families. I prefer that all pets be microchipped with a standard chip inserted by a veterinary professional and the information regarding the pet’s name and contact information be kept updated with the company registry database. If your pet is going to have the opportunity to go outside, it is also best to have a collar with identification information immediately accessible by neighbors and the people who are outside. That way, if they do sneak out, they’re more likely to be returned to you. If your pet isn’t already microchipped, talk to your veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.

Whether you take your pets with you or leave them behind, take these precautions to safeguard them whenever you’re traveling. Interstate and international travel regulations require any pet you bring with you to have a health certificate from your veterinarian, even if you are traveling by car. Learn the requirements for any states you will visit or pass through, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get the needed certificate within the timeframes required by those states. Pets in vehicles should always be safely restrained and should never be left alone in the car in any weather. Proper restraint means using a secure harness or a carrier, placed in a location clear of airbags. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck. If you’re traveling by air and considering bringing your pet with you, talk with your veterinarian first. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel. Some pets are not built for air travel due to their physical makeup or due to health conditions. Pack for your pet as well as yourself if you’re going to travel together. In addition to your pet’s food and medications, this includes bringing copies of their medical records, information to help identify your pet if it becomes lost, first aid supplies, and other items. Talk with your veterinarian to find out how best to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.

Nothing can spoil good cheer like an emergency trip to the animal hospital. Talk with your veterinarian in advance to find out where you would need to take your pet if an emergency arises, and plan your travel route so you’re not trying to find your way when stressed. Always keep your veterinarian’s clinic phone number and a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic posted in an easy-to-find location in case of emergencies. Thanksgiving is a special holiday that brings together family and friends, but it also can carry some hazards for pets. Holiday food needs to be kept away from pets, and pet owners who travel need to either transport their pets safely or find safe accommodations for them at home. Follow these tips to keep your pets healthy and safe during the holidays. Quick action can save lives. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. Signs of pet distress include sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian immediately.



For help if you suspect your pet has swallowed a poisonous product call or go on line to visit:

Pet Poison Helpline: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com
Telephone: 1-855-289-0358

ASPCA Poison Control Center: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
Telephone: 1-888-426-4435


Bruce W. Little, DVM