Thanksgiving Pet Safety Tips

By Jo Marshall, CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

Thanksgiving DinnerOh the festivities of Thanksgiving and oh the trouble our pets can find within this celebration! I can share my Vizsla’s Thanksgiving indulgence from last year. I am very good in keeping things out of reach from the pets in my household and in most cases, according to my family, I take it to the extreme. I had made pumpkin pies for our dinner on the day before Thanksgiving and I had set up a table in the guest room where they were cooling. I really felt that this was a safe option because no one goes in that room and the door is always closed. My son is a passionate eater of pies!  If there is a hint of a pie in the house, he becomes possessed with eating it. I had lectured him that there were pies for Thanksgiving and they needed to be left for our holiday meal. But he decided that he had to “smell the pies” and then did not shut the door completely after smelling them. At some point during the night, our dog decided to check that door.  I woke up the next morning to find all of the filling licked out of all of the pumpkin pies with just the crust remaining. Thanks goodness there was no toxicity with this, but we certainly had an interesting 24 hours with a dog that had ingested 3 pies worth of pumpkin and the fiber response that she had! I share this to point out that no matter how hard we work to prevent these disasters, sometimes there is just no way around it.

In the spirit of attempting to prevent a Thanksgiving Day disaster in your home, here are some common exposures that we get called about during the week of Thanksgiving.

  1. Fatty foods such as butter, bacon, fatty meat drippings, gravies and meat scraps may seem harmless but can pose very real threats of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can result in clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain. Some breeds, such as miniature Schnauzers are very prone to developing pancreatitis but all dogs ingesting a large enough quantity of these foods are at risk. Symptoms may not be immediate and can occur up to 4 days after exposure.
  2. Discarded food items such as corn cobs, discarded turkey trussing’s, and bones can result in an obstructive risk or gastrointestinal injury that have the potential of requiring surgical removal or repair.
  3. Turkey Brine: Who would have thought that the recently popular trend of brining your turkey prior to Thanksgiving would be a risk to your pets?! When you remove the turkey, this salt-saturated solution can be very attractive to dogs and cats, who will readily lap it up resulting in salt toxicosis. Clinical signs are excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and diarrhea. This can potentially result in serious electrolyte changes and brain swelling.
  4. Xylitol: Candies, desserts or other foods that are sweetened with an artificial sweetener called xylitol are dangerous to pets. Xylitol can result in a rapid drop in blood sugar in dogs along with liver damage. In the past, we saw xylitol limited to the ingredient lists of sugar-free gums, mints, and dental products but xylitol is now very commonly used in sugar-free or low-sugar baked goods, vitamins and even peanut butter! Even quantities that appear to be very small have the potential to quickly become life-threatening to dogs. Always check the label!
  5. Raisins, currents and grapes found in some of our favorite Thanksgiving foods are a very serious concern for dogs as they have the risk of resulting in acute renal failure with even small ingestions.
  6. Chocolates in our desserts or treats are dangerous to our pets. Remember that the darker the chocolate, the more serious the ingestion, and the less they will need to ingest to develop clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, increased heart rate along with potential seizures.
  7. Nuts are high in fat and carry the risk of pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts are more serious as ingestions can result in vomiting, diarrhea, inability to rise or walk normally (they take on a drunken appearance and can even drag their rear limbs as if injured).
  8. Holiday decorations are a concern for many reasons. The bouquet of lilies you received from your guests can result in acute renal failure in your cat. Bittersweet flowers are many times included in fall floral arrangements and can cause gastrointestinal upset. Candles can result in burns and flameless candles contain batteries, that when ingested can result in gastrointestinal burns and corrosive injury.

Can you think of any Holiday indulgences your pets have had in recent years? Please comment and share with the rest of us as we expand this list of safety tips before the upcoming holiday and make this our chance to learn from each other.

Please keep in mind that we are here at Pet Poison Helpline® 24/7 throughout your Holiday season to help you with those unexpected exposures. As much as we like prevention, accidents just happen sometimes and we are here to help support you, your pet, and your veterinarian.

From our Pet Poison Helpline® Family, we  want to wish you, your family and your furry friends a safe and Happy Turkey Day!