How to keep your dogs and cats safe on Thanksgiving

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By Dr. Parker T. Barker

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, right behind Christmas and just before Easter. I love to visit with my mom to friend’s houses and watch them celebrate by eating and drinking too much. Not always, and not everybody, but definitely some do. I always preach moderation but it seems to go out the window at Thanksgiving. Know that Veterinarians see an uptick in visits from both dogs and cats after the holiday. Why? Because said pet gets into things they shouldn’t and either gets sick or worse, hurt. So what do you need to pay attention to? Glad you asked.

Please don’t succumb to the temptation of giving ol’ Fido a big bowl of everything that is on the buffet. That’s a really bad idea. Fatty foods can lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, or a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis. If you insist that they join the celebration, a few strips of turkey mixed into their regular dinner is a great treat. Do not give in to the “please just a little bit” eyes that tug at your heart. And, knowing how little will power most owners have when they see those eyes — talkin’ to you Uncle Tom W. — keep in mind that turkey skin can wreak havoc with a dog’s digestive system, so make sure they get only skinless, boneless turkey.

Just like chicken bones, turkey bones can present a huge danger to your pets. They’re sharp, and potentially very dangerous. You may not know a dog has a turkey bone lodged in their digestive system for days. Please don’t leave plates with bones lying around for an occasional counter-surfer like me to get into. Same goes for the turkey carcass. Hungry dogs have been known to run off with the remains of a carved turkey. It can happen in the blink of an eye. You notice the turkey is gone. You notice the dog is gone. And maybe you find them before something bad happens and then again, maybe you don’t. Make plates or platters unreachable if they aren’t in eye-sight or on the table.

And unless your dog is already on a raw diet, no giving them some raw turkey in their bowl. The change from their regular diet will undoubtedly upset their tummies and yucky things may wait for you on the new carpet.

But more importantly, keep your pup away from the uncooked dough for bread, rolls or pie crusts. This is what Bobby Flay, my meat man, taught me. What helps make dough rise? Heat. If your dog eats raw dough, what’s it going to do in your dog’s tummy? Get all warm. The dough rises, and if the dog has eaten enough, it can cause pain, vomiting, and bloating — conditions that can send you to the pet ER on Thanksgiving. Bring your credit card.

Sage and some other herbs have essential oils that can cause tummy upset and central nervous system depression if a dog eats them in large quantities. Sage is really, really bad for cats but personally I think gnawing on sage would make me throw up. And onions are toxic to both dogs and cats. Honest. They can lead to all kinds of yucky things. No pearl onions, red ones, or yellow ones even if they come from Vidalia!

I am particularly fond of finding the plastic wrap or aluminum foil that has covered something that is being served and taking it away because it smells and tastes so good with some of those marshmallows on it. But it is really hard to just eat the food that is stuck to it and not get any of the plastic or foil. Neither of those are easy to digest but that usually doesn’t stop me from devouring whatever is on it. Now, Mom makes sure all the wrappings are out of reach which for me means they are in a trash can with a top and something really heavy on the top. I’ll try anyway but it usually doesn’t work. She is wise to my ways. Except for that one time at the Gleason’s for Easter…. Never mind, I’ll save that story for another time.

Oh, I bet this will surprise you, but some pets, both cats and dogs, like alcoholic drinks. It is not a good idea to leave your cocktails where your four-legged friends can get at them. Imagine a slightly toasted Great Dane? Or worse, a Siamese who decides to sing along with the TV? Pets and booze are a bad mix. Most of us don’t drive but none-the-less, abstinence is a good thing so watch where you — and others — put their drinks, especially if you have a curious pup.

So that’s pretty much what you shouldn’t do. What should you do? I have two ideas for you. Do you have a Kong? Put a bit of your dog’s regular food plus a little boneless turkey, and a smidgen of gravy in the Kong and I promise you, your dog will be busy for a long, long time.

My second idea is good for both you and your pup. Everybody should get lots of exercise – both before the big feast and definitely after the pants are tight around your middle. A rousing game of fetch- the- tennis- ball is always good or a nice long family walk will keep everything moving. A tired pup is the one who won’t look at you with those pleading eyes but will be curled up by the fireplace or on Aunt Patti’s favorite chair instead.

Having said all that, I wish that everyone has a great, and safe, Thanksgiving.