By Dr. Bruce Little
Thanksgiving means family dinners and parties to celebrate the blessings that we have. It is hard to beat the wonderful smells that emanate from the kitchen at Thanksgiving time. And if it smells that good to us, imagine what the family dog or cat both with much more sensitive noses, thinks about this time of year. Precautions must be taken when protecting the pets that make up an important part of the family during this Holiday event.
Sometimes pets, especially dogs, become overzealous in partaking of the family’s food and drink that can be detrimental to their health. Fat trimmings, skin and bones from the turkey dinner should be kept far out of reach of the family pets. They are delicious to eat, but are dangerous for the pet. 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. Strings used to hold the turkey together during the cooking process or string turkey bags will contain the odors of the turkey, but can have critical effect on the digestive health of your pet. If swallowed, these string products that smell so good can cause blockage in the digestive tract and many times can only be relieved with surgical intervention. Raw eggs, meat and fish can contain bacteria until it is cooked which can upset your pet’s gastrointestinal tract causing vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive tract symptoms.
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. Alcohol and caffeine in large quantities can make dogs disorientated and sometimes cause seizure-like symptoms. Chocolate in large quantities whether it be in candy, cookies, cake or other baked foods can create problems for your dog. The darker and the more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. It is never proper to feed baked goods that contain marijuana or other recreational drugs to your pet, and alcohol is strictly off-limits. Dogs should not be allowed to eat the stuffing that is such an integral part of Thanksgiving meals as it usually contains onion powder that can be toxic to dogs causing the destruction of red blood cells leading to anemia. Grapes and raisins contain toxins that are harmful to pets as both, if eaten in enough quantity, can cause kidney failure.
Use caution while preparing the meal for the family. A dog in the kitchen is an accident waiting to happen. Hot grease, open containers of forbidden food, garbage containers that are open and inviting to the pet can be a cause for concern. Dogs in the kitchen can cause the cook and her helpers to trip or to be distracted from the issues at hand, and accidents happen. If there is spilled grease or other food ingredients, most dogs and many cats will immediately scarf the food up from the floor potentially creating some emergency that will definitely interrupt the festivities of the day. It is usually a good idea to feed the pets in advance of the gathering of people to your house so they are not as interested in food. Take them for a walk or let them run in their favorite spot to expend as much energy as possible before bringing them inside. Then take them to a quiet room out of the sight and noise of the gathering crowd and leave them with a long-lasting treat dispensing toy that will occupy their attention for many hours while the activities of the holiday occur. There is usually a high volume of traffic on holidays. This is something different than most dogs are accustomed to and may cause them extreme anxiety. If your dog or cat has that type of personality, it is best to isolate them with their favorite toy and check on them periodically to see that they are alright. Holidays can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted and new activities occur, pets may exhibit traits that they would not normally possess. Take this into consideration beforehand in the holiday planning process, and prevent accidents from happening.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday! But don’t forget the family pets in your planning. You don’t want to ruin a great day by having to visit an emergency veterinary clinic. If you suspect your pet has gotten into a potentially disagreeable food or substance, call your veterinarian immediately. Have the emergency telephone number to your local emergency animal hospital readily available, as well as the number for the national animal poison control centers. A little preparation can go a long way to ward off difficult decisions with your pets during these holiday gatherings.
Bruce W. Little, DVM
ASPCA Poison Control Unit at 888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661