Q:  My friend’s dog was hospitalized after he ate some turkey on Thanksgiving.  Should I be afraid to give my pets any table scraps?

A:  This time of year veterinarians are usually busy for several days after each holiday.  Traditionally, the busiest day of the year for small animal veterinarians is the day following Thanksgiving.  One of the more common post-holiday ailments is an inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis.  In dogs, the inflammation is frequently triggered by a fatty meal and can be very serious.  If your friend’s dog suffered from this disease, it was less likely from the turkey and more likely from the gravy, ham trimmings, buttered potatoes, or pumpkin pie.  Some breeds, like miniature schnauzers, are genetically prone to this syndrome and can have life-threatening bouts.  Any dog with this condition is likely to require several days of hospitalization and IV fluids.  Fortunately, cats do not seem prone to the acute form of this disease.

Most pets are able to tolerate small amounts of bland, low-fat table foods.  However, giving too much is a quick way to give your pet vomiting or diarrhea.  Humans are a hunting and foraging species.  Our intestinal tracts are designed for a wide variety of food.  In contrast, wild dogs and cats will generally hunt only a few prey species that are common in their territory.  Their gastrointestinal system is designed for a consistent food source and abrupt changes frequently lead to bacterial shifts and irritated bowels.

If your pets are accustomed to small amounts of low-fat table foods, they should be able to safely handle some during the holidays as well.  Always avoid large quantities, high fat foods, and items with a lot of spice.  If you have a pet with a history of a sensitive stomach or pancreas, you should avoid all table scraps.

It is wonderful to include your family pets in the celebration of the holidays, but you do not want to end up spending a significant amount of holiday time and money at the veterinarian’s office.  Here are some other ideas for keeping your pets safe:

– Never give pets chocolate or alcohol.  Instead look for treats designed for dogs, cats, or birds.  Do not let these treats make up more than 10% of a day’s food intake.

– Keep all electric decorations out of reach.  Strings of light and electric cords are tempting to chew on, especially if they move.  Tie up all cords and unplug any that are not in use.

– Do not use tinsel, icicle strands, or strings to decorate, especially popcorn string.  If swallowed these become linear foreign bodies and do terrible things to your friend’s intestinal tract.

– Pick up gift wrap, bows, and toys.  These items are often left within reach and end up being removed surgically.

– Use plastic bulbs on the lower branches of decorated trees.  A shiny glass bulb is a tempting chew toy for many dogs and can result in serious cuts of the mouth and throat.

– Keep seasonal plants, like poinsettia or mistletoe, out of reach of pets.  Many of these smell sweet, but are toxic if ingested.

– Keep water for trees or flower arrangements covered and never use additives that may be toxic.  Even without additives, Christmas tree water can give pets severe vomiting or diarrhea.

– Do not leave pets outside for more than 20 minutes when temperatures fall below 40 degrees.  Even less time when it’s below freezing.  If a pet is to be left outside, always provide food, fresh water, and warm shelter.  Be sure water doesn’t freeze.

– Do not allow pets to walk on salted or chemical treated surfaces.

– Be sure to give pets attention every day.  The holidays can be busy times and neglected pets can turn to destructive anxiety or attention seeking behaviors.