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

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Safe Holiday Fun for You and Your Pet!


Pet Column for the week of November 17, 2003


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

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season with turkey, football, and family-and in most American households, "family" includes pets. The holiday season poses many hazards for pets, so follow these tips to ensure that you and your pets celebrate safely!

"One of the primary problems we see during the holidays, especially with dogs, is gastrointestinal upset from rich or too much food," says Dr. Steven Marks, head of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "Food-related problems range from dogs running away with the Thanksgiving turkey to owners feeding their pets part of Christmas dinner."

Unlike your pet's typical fare, holiday food tends to be very rich and high in fat. Vomiting and diarrhea, the first signs of stomach upset, are the body's response to something it is not used to. Gorging can cause discomfort and a distended abdomen. Luckily these animals often return to normal after being fasted for 24 hours.

However, more serious concerns may arise from doggie overindulgence. Pancreatitis, a possible consequence to a fatty meal, can be quite serious. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which upsets many systems in the body. To avoid at trip to the emergency room, don't feed your dog people food.

"Parties are a time when you're busy socializing and being a good host. Your pet may not be at the front of your mind. In crowded rooms small dogs and cats can get stepped on and large dogs running around can cause damage to your house and guests," says Dr. Marks.

The front door opens frequently as more guests enter and exit the party. Spot could run outside between someone's legs and it may be several hours before you realize he is gone. Lost pets increase during the holidays and losing a pet can be very heartbreaking. For their safety, pets should be kept in their kennels or in a separate room during parties.

If there will be eggnog or other alcoholic beverages at your holiday parties, be sure your pets will not have access to the drinks. The same holds true for other recreational drugs. Upon accidental ingestion, contact a veterinarian.

Most pet owners are aware that chocolate is a hazard. Depending on the size of the dog and amount ingested, chocolate can cause life-threatening problems. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate are more toxic to dogs.

"During the holidays, when people take time to relax at home, more time is spent with pets. Sometimes owners notice for the first time a problem that may have been going on for a while. If your pet is acting unusual, give your veterinarian a call," suggests Dr. Marks.

If a holiday hazard or concern befalls your pet, contacting your local veterinarian is a good first step. The emergency service at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital will be happy to offer advice; the number is 217/333-5300. The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center is another great resource for information and is staffed 24 hours a day by veterinary clinical toxicologists. The hotline number is 1-888-4ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435), and there is a $45 consultation fee.

Happy holidays to you and your four-legged friends from the students and staff at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine!