Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Thanksgiving Tips Your Dog Will Thank You For


Pet Column for the week of November 13, 2006


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brookelyn Nitzkin
Information Specialist

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and whether that conjures warm memories of family gathered around a wonderful feast or a nightmare of in-laws that have inundated your house, it is important to remember that pets will be around for the holidays as well.

Personally, Thanksgiving is my favorite meal and it isn't hard to imagine how much my dogs would enjoy some of the leftovers of our feast. However, I have to remember that no matter how human-like my pets act, their bodies function differently than that of a human. Their gastrointestinal tracts are not equipped to handle the amount of fat that comes with drippings, stuffing and buttered mashed potatoes.

Most dogs usually eat the same meal every day. Their diets are much less varied than that of a human and adding new foods can result in diarrhea or vomiting, a scenario best avoided.

"Also," reminds Dr. Julie Byron, internal medicine veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Urbana, Ill., "many dogs become lactose intolerant as they get older." The rich, creamy fare of Thanksgiving provides a sure way to an upset stomach.

If you must give holiday treats, try to stick to the more bland provisions, such as simple starches liked boiled potatoes or non-spiced meats. It is best to avoid anything with a lot of spices in it.

For behavioral reasons, if you want to feed your dog "people food," this should not be done directly from the table. Your pooch, or even your cat, will think that the dinner table means an opportunity for delicious snacks and begging is a tough habit to break.

If your dog gets an upset stomach, give its stomach a rest for a day. A good substitute for your pet's food is bland rice or cooked hamburger. If your pet's upset stomach persists, consult your veterinarian.

Some common ingredients in our traditional Thanksgiving Day feast are toxic to our pets. Garlic and onions are members of the allium family and can cause a blood disorder. This, if given in sufficient amounts, can cause hemolytic anemia in which the red blood cells essentially burst. Red blood cells serve a number of purposes, but perhaps most importantly, transfer oxygen throughout the body to the necessary tissues.

Raisins and grapes are also little known pet toxins; these seemingly harmless treats have been linked to kidney failure.

Also, Theobromine, the active ingredient in chocolate, can cause heart complications. Chocolate, when given to dogs, can cause serious heart abnormalities. The more rich the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to your pet. Dark chocolate is worse than milk chocolate, and baker's chocolate can be very serious and a potentially lethal problem for dogs.

There are a number of other random ingredients that can cause problems for your pet, such as macadamia nuts and avocadoes. For this reason, it is best to err on the side of caution by not feeding your pet human food. It is also important to keep the phone number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline nearby--1-888/426-4435.

Many of us buy dog bones for our dogs at the pet store, so it is not too far of a leap to assume that the bones from a turkey carcass or a roast are also safe to give to your dog. However, the danger with bones from your turkey carcass or roast is that they could fracture into pieces and cause an obstruction or tear your pet's gastrointestinal tract.

The bottom line for giving thanks to your dog this year is to keep it simple. Though it might seem like a treat to bestow your Thanksgiving table goodies to your favorite pet, keep the leftovers in the fridge and the dog food bowl relatively boring for a healthy holiday overall.

For more information about the dangers of feeding your pet foods other than those intended for pets, consult your local veterinarian.