Thanksgiving Safety for Your Pets

“Honey, where’d the turkey go?” And then you realize that the dog is also mysteriously missing in action. Expecting your dog to pass up an unattended roast turkey is like expecting you’ll eat just one bite of that pumpkin pie.

The Thanksgiving feast is a treat for people, but a potential threat for our furry friends. All too often the dog gets a stomach ache—or worse, life-threatening pancreatitis—thanks to your brother, sister, niece, and cousin each sneaking him a portion of that delicious gravy-laden turkey. According to Dr. Thandeka Ngwenyama, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana who is pursuing board certification in emergency and critical care, “A small piece of skinless turkey, with no gravy should not cause a problem, but the fatty sauces that go along with our traditional meal can, because pets’ digestive system is not designed to handle a high-fat meal.

“The best treat owners can give their pet is attention,” says Dr. Ngwenyama. Your dog will probably be even more grateful for a good belly rub, or being allowed to tag along on your after-dinner walk.

While you are refraining from offering people food, you should be aware that four-legged food snatchers could wind up in medical trouble if they down any of these foods that are toxic to pets: onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, and avocadoes. By now, most pet owners know that chocolate is also very toxic to pets, and the more and darker the chocolate the greater the toxic effect. If you think your pet may have eaten something she shouldn’t have, contact your local veterinary emergency clinic or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Hotline at 888-426-4435.

A final food warning: as you stand at the sink scraping the plates for the dishwasher, do not be tempted to give Fido that turkey bone, no matter how hard he tries to win you over. Many holidays have been ruined when foreign objects, such as turkey bones, become stuck in the pet’s throat. This can become a very serious problem if not treated promptly. Dr. Ngwenyama says, “Unfortunately, it may take a few days before owners realize that their dog has something lodged in his esophagus.”

In addition to food-related illnesses, “hit by car” is another frequent and tragic emergency seen over the holidays. Owners usually tell the same sad story: their guests, not used to having a pet around, accidentally let the dog or cat out of the house, and the animal ran into the street.

Keep your pets healthy and your holiday happy by remaining watchful and restricting the people food to people.

Ashley Mitek is an Information Specialist at University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine.