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  • Thomas F. Dock, BSc, CVJ

The Holidays & Your Pets

I don't know about you, but as I start seeing the snow fly and the temperatures plunge, my holiday spirit gets a jump start! Even if you don't like snow and cold, many people love this time of year because it often brings families and friends together, sharing gifts and sharing holiday food and fun. What we don't want during our celebrations is a pet related emergency where we end up spending hours of time and maybe a fair amount of money at the animal emergency hospital. So, how can we prepare for the holidays and keep our pets out of trouble?


I know very few pet owners who aren't moved to share part of their meal with their furry friends, but food-related emergencies are far too common in veterinary emergency clinics. In fact, just this year (2018) at the three Noah's emergency clinics, we saw more than 35 cases of holiday food related issues with pets, included several foreign body ingestion cases! This has become so prevalent that they are now a viral meme on social media! Veterinarians are more likely to see cases of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), obstructions or broken teeth from bones, and even simple bouts of GI upset (think vomiting and/or diarrhea) at this time of year than almost any other. A lot of the reasons go right back to the dinner table.


Let's start with the main course...are you a turkey fan, ham aficionado, or do both end up on your table? We know our pets will love the meaty goodness sitting there, but the ham and the skin of the turkey can be very fatty and this may set your pet up for pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a painful condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed and starts pumping digestive enzymes into the GI tract inappropriately. Your pet may seem uncomfortable, unwilling to lay down and rest, and could even start vomiting. Thankfully, prompt attention by your veterinarian will help resolve pancreatitis without any permanent damage, but a failure to address this issue could lead to severe organ damage or even brain damage. If you MUST share something from the meat course, use an appropriately sized piece of the white breast meat from the turkey. Your 4 lb Toy Yorkie does not need an 8 oz slice of turkey!


Even though we often hear that you should give a dog a bone, most veterinarians would prefer that you didn't! Cooked bones can splinter, leading to perforations in the gut and a lot of bones can cause an obstruction that might need to be surgically removed. Even un-cooked bones are not 100% safe. Fractured teeth, bones caught on the jaw and, again, obstructions are often seen with these as well.


Moving on to the sides...do you like your stuffing seasoned heavily? Do you add garlic or onion salts, powders or even whole pieces into any of your side dishes? If so, make sure your pup is not sampling from people's plates. Onions, garlic and other members of the Allium family (like leeks and chives) can cause problems by damaging hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying molecule of our body. Then, in turn, the red blood cells (who carry hemoglobin) are destroyed by the body because of that damage. Anemia can result as well as dark colored urine. It only takes about 0.5% of a pet's body weight in onions or garlic to cause issues...that equates to about a 1/4 cup for a 20 lb dog. Play it safe and avoid these foods!


Last, but definitely not least, is the dessert table. We need to avoid chocolates, sweets that are made with the artificial sweetener, Xylitol, and even healthier options, like grapes and raisins.


Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine. These chemicals can cause significant heart arrhythmia in our dogs as well as GI signs and neurologic issues. It's not only the amount of chocolate a dog eats, but the type as well. Milk chocolates are the least problematic, moving up through dark chocolates and baking chocolates with cocoa powder being the worst. If you find that your pet has eaten any kind of chocolate, contact us or the closest animal emergency hospital. We might tell you that the fun sized Milky Way bar your Labrador ate is not going to cause an issue, but it's always best talk with us and not make any assumptions.


Xylitol is a sugar substitute that can be super helpful for human diabetics, but is VERY dangerous for your dogs. It's so dangerous that a Jello Sugar Free pudding snack is enough to kill your pet. Xylitol causes a pet's blood sugar to plummet, leading to seizures. You need to get your dog to us immediately! Don't forget that some peanut butters as well as many over the counter medications might include this chemical!


Grapes and raisins are SO frustrating because we simply don't understand WHY these fruits cause issues...and it's not just the grapes and raisins, but dates and currents as well. Veterinarians have seen pets who have ingested as few as 5 grapes or a small snack sized box of raisins show up with kidney failure while others seem to be just fine. Again, don't take chances...keep the fruitcake away from your pets!


Probably the best piece of advice that I can provide is simply to talk with your holiday guests and visitors. Let them know that you would prefer to control what Fluffy or Fido is eating and to please keep their plates out of reach of the furry family members. Keep your trash can secure (with a lid and behind a door) so that Rover isn't tempted to fish out the

turkey carcass or scraps.


I hope that your holiday season is MERRY and that your and your canine/feline companions are safe throughout the entire year. Remember, #KeepCalmAndContactTom. Let us know what questions/concerns that you might have when it comes to your pets and the holidays. Part 2 of this blog will go over decorations, holiday plants and some common cold weather issues. Stay tuned!!

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