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A Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving for You and Your Pet

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season - a time of entertainment, joyful festivities and reflection. Family and friends may come to your house and participate in holiday activities. With the continued recognition of the bond felt by owners for their pets, a recent survey revealed that almost 90% of pet owners include their furry friends in holiday celebrations. However, the day after Thanksgiving is well-known in veterinary clinics throughout the USA as Vomit and Diarrhea Day. One can give thanks without giving gastrointestinal insult at the same time. Our pets should certainly share in the bounty, but keep a few tips in mind when you share any meal with them.

    While entertaining, do not neglect or ignore your pet's needs. Take him for walks or let him outside as you normally would; keep his water bowl filled; and take time to either play with him yourself or designate another family member to spend quality time with the household pet.

    If you are cooking a large meal and have lots of people in the kitchen at one time, make sure your dog is out of the room. He can easily get underfoot and cause an accident. Ask a guest to entertain your dog in another room or outside.

    One of the biggest mistakes people make, especially during holidays, is to "treat" their dogs to foods they aren't used to eating - foods smothered in rich gravies, sugars, salt, etc... . It may seem fun going in, but such a heavy diet, even for just a night, can wreak havoc coming out. Don't feed the dog turkey skin. As tempting as it is, the skin is not only high in fat and hard to digest, but also holds any marinade, butter and oils, or spices used in baking, which can cause stomach upset. Instead, peel the skin off a big slice of turkey (white meat is the most bland and usually the best tolerated), then cut into appropriate-sized pieces.

    As you prepare side dishes, set aside some of the good stuff before adding all of the cream, salt, butter, wine, etc... . A scoop of plain mashed sweet potatoes, a cup of cooked carrots, broccoli or green beans, even a small biscuit without butter or some dressing without gravy will be a treasure for your dog, and is good for them in addition! If your dog normally eats only "dog food" (i.e. kibble), don't offer up a big plate full of turkey, veggies and potatoes all at once. This can stress his system. Instead, try adding a slice of turkey and a few veggies to his kibble. Save some veggies for "treats" throughout the evening.

    A good substitute for gravy for your dog is a little turkey broth. If you cook the giblets in water for stock, save a little to help moisten meat before you turn it into gravy. Or buy it canned!

    If your dog is used to a homemade diet, have fun and be creative as you indulge him in his Thanksgiving feast. Oh, and for dessert? Instead of apple pie a la mode, how about some sliced apples with a "scoop" of mashed potatoes, and maybe some applesauce on top? Pumpkin is also very good for a dog's diet, but make sure it's real pumpkin, and not the filling that is loaded with sugar and fat.

    Thanksgiving dinner should be fun and fulfilling - a special treat on a special day. By carefully preparing your dog's meal, the holiday can be enjoyable for every member of the family, even the furry ones!

    While it is tempting to prepare a plate complete with turkey and the trimmings for our pets, fatty foods such as turkey skin can upset the digestive system and potentially trigger pancreatitis. This condition causes the pancreas to release digestive enzymes into the body cavity, causing possibly life-threatening abdominal (belly) inflammation. Your dog may become listless, refuse to eat and drink, vomit severely, and have a tense, painful abdomen. Less dangerous, yet still uncomfortable, gastroenteritis may follow any change in diet or overindulgence during the Thanksgiving feast.

    Another common ailment in pets that eat leftover turkey is salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella is an organism that lives in the turkey's intestinal tract. The cooking process usually destroys the organism, making the turkey safe to eat. Occasionally, the center of a turkey may be undercooked, especially if it's large or full of stuffing. If the meat sits out at room temperature for too long, the salmonella organisms can multiply and cause contamination. Pets may become poisoned if they eat any of the turkey that has been sitting out. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, a high temperature, and loss of appetite and listlessness.

    With tasty morsels at every turn, even the most well-behaved pet may be tempted to steal food from the kitchen counter or rummage through the garbage can. To help prevent these situations, try to keep food pushed toward the back of the counter and keep trash cans either secured with a tightly fitting lid or under a kitchen cabinet or in a closet. Should your pet find its way into a pile of discarded turkey bones or left-over stuffing, call on your veterinarian immediately. Swallowing bones can cause problems ranging from intestinal blockage or puncture (necessitating emergency medical intervention) to bellyache and constipation from slow moving bone chips. A pet who has a turkey bone lodged in his digestive system may not show any symptoms for one to two days. Sometimes the bone will pass by itself; other times it may need to be surgically removed. Should you notice listlessness, severe vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal distention, contact your family veterinarian immediately.

    In addition to the Thanksgiving feast, there are other holiday items to be on the lookout for:

    Holiday plants: Holly and mistletoe are extremely poisonous when eaten. The lovely poinsettia may not be truly poisonous, but its milky white sap and leaves can certainly cause severe gastric distress. With so many hybrid varieties available each year, the best approach is to keep the plants out of your pet's reach.

    Electrical cords: Holiday lights mean more electrical cords for puppies to chew. Be sure you have cords secured and out of the way.

    Candles: Lighted candles should never be left unattended and that is even more important if left at doggy eye level or within chewing zone. An exuberant tail, a swat of a paw, and candles and hot wax can quickly become disastrous. Anchor candles securely and away from curious faces and feet.

    Pine needles: Check around holiday trees and boughs frequently. Ingested pine needles can puncture your pet's intestines if sharp enough.

    Holiday tree: Make sure your tree is well secured. If you have a large dog with a happy tail, anchor the top of the tree to the wall, using strong cord or rope. Preservatives often used in the water in a tree stand can cause gastric upsets, so be sure it is inaccessible or not used. Avoid sugar and aspirin additives in the water as well.

    Ornaments: Sharp or breakable ornaments, dreidels, and even aluminum foil should be kept out of reach. String objects, especially tinsel and ribbons, are to be safeguarded at all costs. They are thin and sharp and can wrap around intestines or ball up in the stomach.

    Stress and company: With everyone coming and going, watch out for open doors and sneaky pets. Make sure your pets have collars and tags on in case of escape. Ask guests to keep an eye out for pets under foot and remind them that sometimes your normally friendly dog may be less than willing to deal with enthusiastic children and rooms full of unfamiliar people. Provide a special quiet place with a blanket and fresh water for your pets to retreat to when the festivities get too stressful.

    Some of you may be going out of town for the holidays. Before traveling with your pets, make sure they have all required vaccinations and health papers. If they are on medications, have enough to last through the trip. When traveling by air, be aware of airline restrictions regarding outside temperature and number of animals allowed per flight. Someone may have already booked a pet, and there are no more allowed. Check with the airline reservations or travel agent.

    Thanksgiving can be a fun-filled day for family and friends - including our four-legged best friends. Our dogs play a very important part in our lives by providing us with comfort when we are down, joyfulness when we are happy, and serenity when we need peace. We should be thankful on this special day that we have been blessed with their companionship and loyal devotion.

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