Turkey trauma: Keeping pets safe on feast day

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Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Thanksgiving is coming! We know this because there are now Christmas decorations in the stores; the typical harbinger of the next holiday. I typically love Thanksgiving. In my ideal world, I wake up and do some baking, then some eating, play with my animals, eat a little more, take a walk, and then watch football. That is truly one of my most perfect days. While we do a lot of sitting with our pets, which they love, there is also a chaotic aspect to many Thanksgivings that we must keep in mind.

If you aren’t cognizant of the things that might happen to pets on Thanksgiving, there is a good possibility that we will be spending it together. I love your pets, I truly do, but I still prefer to spend this holiday with my own when possible.

Keep an eye on the turkey. Your dog is. They don’t care if it is brining, they don’t care if it is raw, and they certainly don’t see 30 pounds as a challenge. Your cat probably is watching too.

The dogs may be working out a pay-off system as we speak. The cat gets a mouthful if they push it close enough to the edge for the dog to get.

Cooked poultry bones are very dangerous for pets to ingest. Cooking the bones makes them splinter when chewed. These splintered pieces travel through the gastrointestinal tract scraping and poking as they go. At the least, they cause GI upset; at the most, they can rupture the intestines and cause life-threatening infections. Once they are swallowed, we have to do our best to manage the issue. While we can have pets throw up some things, these bones are just as dangerous going in the other direction.

Keep the turkey well out of reach of any pets. While uncooked turkeys aren’t as harmful, it will still cause quite a bit of GI upset, and pets will have some trouble passing all those bones. The amount of salt on turkeys before cooking is too much for animals. Importantly, you will not have the time to brine and bake a second turkey while you are at the vet’s office. I can accomplish a lot of things while I’m at work, but unless you want me to cook it in my microwave, that cannot be one of them.

Bread dough expands A LOT — think of how much bread dough rises, then imagine how much it will expand in an animal’s stomach. Even a small amount of dough can expand to almost the entire capacity of the stomach, which causes great discomfort. A stomach provides a warm, dark environment which is perfect for dough rising. This can cause pains, intestinal blockage, and even movement of the stomach out of where it belongs.

Additionally, the breakdown products of the yeast in the stomach ferment into an alcohol. Animals’ livers lack some enzymes that ours have, so they are not able to process alcohol effectively or safely. Alcohol absorption can cause irreversible liver damage.

Drunk pets aren’t amusing. Dogs and cats cannot process alcohol the way humans (or horses) can, so even a small amount can cause liver failure. People sometimes think it is funny to see their pets stumbling after taking a few laps of beer, but the amusement ends with an emergency vet bill. Unless you are getting enough views on YouTube to sell ads, this will not be worth it.

Fats aren’t just bad for bikinis. Dogs are very susceptible to pancreatitis when they eat rich, fatty foods. Instead of simply taking a post-meal nap, they become very ill and usually require treatment with intravenous fluids, days of hospitalization, and pain medication.

Pancreatitis can cause serious problems if left untreated, and inflammation in the pancreas can lead to other abdominal issues. If you notice an empty gravy boat on the floor or a stick of butter missing, let your vet know right away. Cooked turkey skin, stuffing, potatoes with butter and the like are all dangerous. If diet plans wouldn’t approve, neither will your dog’s pancreas. Think of your dog having a Weight Watchers point limit, because their pancreas sure does.

Holidays are stressful! Luckily for our pets, they don’t have in-laws or large extended families to worry about on holidays. But they do pick up on our stress. Many pets also get very stressed by the constant doorbell, strangers coming and going, and loud noises in the house. While some pets thrive on being adored by new people, many become anxious when their routine and home are upended.

If your pet is prone to anxiety around lots of people, create a space away from the center of the action where they feel safe and can escape. Watch young children and instruct them on proper pet interactions if they are not aware; the way young children talk and move is novel to many animals and can be frightening. Dog bites towards children usually arise from situations that make them uncomfortable, rather than a typically aggressive dog. Pay close attention to kids interacting with new pets, because the ER is much less fun than the vet’s office. My nephew recently took a potato-covered utensil away from my dog who isn’t accustomed to kids.

Thankfully, he accepted this turn of events, but dogs often bite in this situation. This isn’t the fault of the dog, we need to be paying close attention when our dogs are in positions to guard something delicious.

It IS all right to give your pets Thanksgiving treats. Pets can have pumpkin, small amounts of cooked boneless turkey, some mashed potato free of butter, green beans or other vegetables.

The key is moderation. While it is difficult to moderate ourselves when faced with a feast, we can thankfully control how much our pets get. They are not able to conceptualize the day, so a little piece of turkey and a few green beans will probably make their week. A family walk and time on the couch watching football is most dogs’ dream day, so we don’t need to overcompensate with too much food. When you do add more treats than you should, cut back their food a little bit to compensate.

A day hanging out with their loved ones is all pets need to be thankful, so don’t worry about them not getting enough Thanksgiving food!

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL: petdocanna@gmail.com

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