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Thanksgiving Holiday Dangers to Avoid
Dr. Justine Lee, DVM
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Ah, Thanksgiving… a joyous holiday when friends and family join us for a day of football, lounging, and all-day tryptophan turkey tasting. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie, and turkey all baking in the oven slowly filter through the house, driving you – and your dog - slowly mad.
Being that my specialty is emergency and critical care (and being that I work at an animal poison control too), I have to start my first blog by telling you how to avoid a visit to the animal ER! Here, a few tips on how to pet-proof this Thanksgiving holiday (which would make your emergency veterinarian grateful too!):
First word of advice? Keep your dog out of the kitchen…or better yet, crate him. Accidental counter-surfing can result in severe poisoning to your pet, ruining your holiday and causing you shame when you have to induce vomiting in your dog in front of all your friends and family (Always check with your veterinarian or an animal poison control helpline prior to inducing vomiting, of course.).
Next, make sure your guests know the house rules: Don’t feed your pets. Your friends and family may not be aware of the common kitchen foods that are quite poisonous to pets. Politely inform all your guests to keep their food out of reach and to never feed your pet without your permission (particularly if your pet has food allergies).
Last? Dump the trash. Somehow, your dog will find a way to get into it, and the leftover corn-on-the-cob, yummy string that goes around the turkey legs, turkey skin, bones, moldy food, and fatty grizzle all pose a threat to your pet. Potential problems from “garbage gut” include gastroenteritis (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain), pancreatitis (severe inflammation of the pancreas), a gastrointestinal obstruction, or even tremors or seizures.
So, what tops the list for the most dangerous Thanksgiving foods that are poisonous to your dog? Read on to learn more.
Grapes, raisins, and currants
Currants and raisins are commonly found in stuffing, baked goods, and as snacks. When ingested, these fruit from the Vitus sp. can result in severe acute kidney failure. Signs of poisoning often don’t show up for days, until kidney failure has already taken place.
Onions, leeks, chives, and garlic
When ingested, these common kitchen foods from the Allium sp. can result in oxidative damage to the red blood cells, making these cells more likely to rupture (e.g., hemolyze). Cats are especially sensitive, and can develop a severe anemia (low red blood cell count) from even small amounts. Thankfully, this is typically seen more with chronic ingestion (e.g., when they are eating it for days), but to be safe, keep these out of reach.
If you have any calorie-counting chefs in the kitchen (I mean, really, why bother on this holiday?!), you may want to verify if they’ve used any xylitol in the baked goods. Xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener, is a sugar substitute used in a ton of products nowadays: gums, mints, mouth washes, nasal sprays, chewable vitamins, baked goods, chocolate, etc. When ingested by dogs, it can result in a massive insulin spike, causing a life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and even liver failure with higher doses.
Fatty table scraps
While I’m guilty of feeding my own dog table food (and yes, he gets to lick the dinner plate when I’m done), I’m savvy about what is healthy or not. Fatty table scraps like gravy, turkey skin, etc. are potentially dangerous to your dog, as it can result in severe pancreatitis. Certain breeds are especially sensitive, including miniature schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs, and Yorkshire terriers. Even a piece of bacon can trigger pancreatitis in dogs, so when in doubt, don’t feed it to your dog or cat!
Bones and turkey legs
Huge no-no. While you may think you’re giving your dog a treat, you’re actually putting him at risk for a possible foreign body obstruction. I’ve seen the rare dog die from getting a chunk of bone stuck in the esophagus. The bones can also get stuck in the stomach or intestines, potentially resulting in a perforation (or rupture) of the intestines.
Unbaked bread dough
About to throw some fresh bread in the oven? Make sure your dog doesn’t eat the unbaked dough first. When this occurs, your dog’s stomach acts as an artificial oven, making the yeast rise and release carbon dioxide, causing a distended abdomen and potential life-threatening gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). Next, the yeast and sugar in the unbaked dough are metabolized to alcohol, resulting in secondary alcohol poisoning in your dog.
As mentioned above, we can see alcohol poisoning from weird sources (e.g., unbaked bread dough, rum-soaked fruitcake, etc.). Likewise, dogs can be poisoned by ingesting alcohol drinks, so keep the mixed drinks and beer away from your dog. Accidental ingestion can cause severe coma, slowed respiration, and a life-threatening low blood sugar in your dog.
If you think your dog or cat ingested something poisonous, contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center right away. When it comes to any poisoning situation, the sooner you diagnose it, the easier it is to potentially treat, the less invasive it is to your pet, and the less expensive it is for you. Now, that’s something to be grateful for…
Have any Thanksgiving pet horror stories? Do share!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.