Making Thanksgiving Safe & Healthy for Your Pooch

Unattended food is not safe from the hungry eyes of our pets.

Pies and potatoes devoured when the cook is left food unattended for a few minutes. Night-time raids on food dumped in the garbage. Even piping-hot food snagged from an open oven.

Try as we might, our pooches’ food drive sometimes outsmarts the best of us.

Most “food wild” dog stories end on happy, if not otherwise digestively challenging, notes. But there are also some sad stories too.

Pancreatitis: Way too Common During Thanksgiving

One of the most serious threats to dogs is pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. An organ in the gut that helps the body digest food, the pancreas releases enzymes that help with digestion by helping break down fats and promote digestion. Pancreatitis typically occurs in dogs when the pancreas becomes inflamed from eating the wrong foods.

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute (occurs suddenly) and chronic (happens over time). Both forms can be mild or severe, and symptoms can be very similar.

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis can occur after a dog eats fatty food like pork, skin from chicken or turkey, butter, sour cream, cheese dips, or gravy. Acute pancreatitis can cause diarrhea, vomiting and/or abdominal pain. Symptoms may not be immediate and can occur up to four days after eating these foods. Nuts, also high in fat, are another food that can put dogs at risk for pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts are the most dangerous. Besides causing vomiting and diarrhea, ingesting these nuts can temporarily incapacitate your dog, making it difficult to stand up or walk normally (your dog may look drunk or drag its rear limbs as if injured).

Chronic Pancreatitis

If your dog continues to eat these foods, pancreatitis can become chronic, and lead to loss of appetite and severe lethargy. Some breeds, including Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles, and Cocker Spaniels, are more prone to it than others. But all dogs that get into fatty foods are at risk.

Physical Injuries

In addition to pancreatitis, dogs can also be physically injured by foods they eat, especially turkey trussings (threads and wires), splintered bones, and even corncobs. Dogs that ingest these can end up with obstructions or gastrointestinal injuries that may require surgery.

Turkey brine is another Thanksgiving bugaboo. The salt-saturated solution used to baste or marinate raw turkey is very appealing to dogs. But it can cause salt toxicosis, which causes excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and diarrhea, and serious electrolyte imbalances that can even lead to brain swelling.

Xylitol, another, but more of a year-round risk to dogs, is an artificial sweetener found in everything from gum, mints, candy, sugar-free chocolate, and toothpaste. Ingestion can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar and liver damage in dogs. It can be life-threatening even in small quantities.



Other foods to watch out for at Thanksgiving include:

Raisins and grapes found in some favorite Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts. In dogs, these foods can cause acute renal failure—even in small amounts.

Chocolate, alone or in desserts, is especially dangerous to many dogs. Typically, the darker the chocolate, the more serious the reaction and the quicker it leads to vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, increased heart rate, and potential seizures.

Bread dough is also quite dangerous. It can cause intense intestinal pain and swelling.

Alliums, including garlic and onion, are especially worrisome. Small amounts of garlic or onion are unlikely to hurt your dog. But they may get very sick after tucking into a bowl of soup or a sauté that contains onions, garlic, or leeks. Garlic pills or powder can also cause poisoning. According to the Pet Poison Hotline, onion toxicity has consistently been found in animals that eat more than 0.5% of their body weight in onions at one time (a quarter cup can make a 20-pound dog sick). Onions and garlic can also cause anemia when smaller amounts are eaten over a long period of time.

What to do if your dog gets into any of this stuff?

Keep some activated charcoal capsules on hand, just in case. Activated charcoal absorbs the toxins in the upper gastrointestinal tract of your dog through “covalent” bonding. The carbon acts like a magnet, attracting and holding the toxicant, allowing it to pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being absorbed by the body.

Some studies show that when it is administered immediately after poisoning, it is highly effective in increasing excretion from the body and reducing symptoms.

In the case of chocolate or xylitol, inducing vomiting may be the best option. A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide will cause mild gastric irritation—usually within minutes—and make your dog throw it up. This can be repeated one more time if not initially successful.

If your dog is already unwell, unhealthy, pregnant or debilitated, go straight to the vet clinic for assistance.

turkey thanksgiving


So what Thanksgiving foods are safe?

Small amounts of turkey—but no turkey skin. Always remove the meat from the bone; home-cooked bones tend to break and splinter, which can cause intestinal damage.

Green beans are another safe food dogs can enjoy during the holiday season. They are very nutritious—an excellent source of plant fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, and manganese. But keep beans plain—no added butter, salt, oil, spices, garlic or onions. They can be a choking hazard for small dogs so be sure to cut them up into small pieces.

Sweet potatoes, or yams, are an especially nutritious treat for your dog. They’re an excellent source of dietary fiber, as well as vitamin B6, vitamin C, beta-carotene (a source of vitamin A), and manganese. Sweet potatoes promote healthy skin, coat, eyes, nerves, and muscles in dogs. Just don’t give them a lot and don’t add butter or salt or sugar. Too many carbohydrates are not good for dogs so provide sweet potatoes as a treat sliced, dehydrated, or mashed in small amounts. And definitely no candied yams!

Pumpkin, like sweet potatoes, is chockfull of beta-carotene and fiber (good for digestion). It’s also a fast cure for diarrhea. Feed it cooked or raw; just leave out the sugar and spices.

Apples are a safe food that naturally cleans your dog’s teeth, is low in fat, and is a good antioxidant. Remove seeds and stems, as they contain cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause an upset stomach, and other problems if eaten in large quantities.

Carrots are low in calorie, low in fat and loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins, and fiber. While cooked (unseasoned) carrots are equally good, dogs love the crunch of raw carrots.

Meet the Author: Jo Ostgarden

Jo Ostgarden is a former Dog Life columnist, and has helped vet and foster more than 100 dogs with a rescue group in Oregon for the last 15 years. She has a fur child named Nik, a tri-color English Springer Spaniel, whom she walks or runs daily, rain or shine.

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