December 2, 2019

General Wellness & Prevention

Make Your Holidays Pet-Friendly

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

It’s that time of the year again…time for family to gather, celebrate, and share some delicious food. For a lot of us, the holiday season means getting to indulge in mashed potatoes with delicious gravy, eating extra servings of favorite side dishes, and sampling the variety of desserts (with whipped cream of course)! Calories don’t count during the holidays, right?

And while it is ok for us to indulge once in a while, we know (or should know) our limits. We realize that if we overdo it, we won’t feel well afterwards.

During the holidays, people not only want to indulge and share with their human family, but they also want to include their pets. For pets that aren’t used to this rich food, sharing could lead to some health problems ranging from mild (stomach pain) to life-threatening (severe cases of pancreatitis).

Why is “people food” a problem for my pet?

A lot of the foods available during the holidays are cooked in or made with butter, making them richer and higher in fat. These fatty foods can cause the pancreas to work harder to produce the enzymes that help us, and our pets, digest food. When the pancreas has to work harder, it can get “angry” and become inflamed.  An inflamed pancreas can lead to pancreatitis which can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting and/or diarrhea to severe abdominal pain and distress.

Even foods on the lighter side can cause illness in our pets. Keep in mind that Fluffy and Fido do not typically eat these foods so their bodies are not accustomed to them. The same is true for us. If we all of a sudden eat a bunch of new foods, we may experience increased gas, cramping, vomiting or diarrhea.

Also, some foods that we may eat during the holidays may contain certain things that may be toxic to our pets. Ingredients such as grapes or raisins, certain nuts (like macadamia nuts), raw onions, and chocolate can be toxic to our pets. For a more complete list of potential food toxins for pets, please check the ASPCA website.

I think Uncle Marvin may have given my dog his leftovers!

You might not always know when some of your guests give your pet some extra snacks. Monitor your pet for symptoms that range from mild to severe, including but not limited to:

  • Stomach gurgling/Increased stomach sounds
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Lethargy (decreased activity level)
  • Increased gassiness
  • Painful belly (may notice frequent stretching or difficulty laying down/getting comfortable)
  • Hiding more
  • Nausea (can see signs like not wanting to eat, drooling, lip smacking)

What can I do for my pet if she is showing signs of problems?

Treatment for your pet will really depend on the signs that she is showing. The best thing to do if your pet is not feeling well is to get her to the vet for an exam. Your vet may need to do some bloodwork and/or check a stool sample to determine the treatment that would be best for your pet. The doctor may also recommend a temporary diet change to help the digestive tract to calm down and return to normal.

Never give your pet any medications for any condition without first checking with your veterinarian. Many medications that can help humans, can be toxic to your pet and may cause more severe problems for your pet. Other human medications that can be given to pets must be given in a dose that is appropriate for the size of the pet. A well-meaning pet owner could easily give his pet an overdose without consulting a veterinarian.

But my dog gives me those sad eyes when I’m at the dinner table!

I would recommend that you keep some pet treats handy. During your celebration, you can share a few healthy pet treats with your furry family member. Keep in mind that even too many healthy treats can make your pet sick.

The holidays are definitely a time of celebration, traditions, and, of course, delicious food! We’ve all been there at the dinner table when we’ve looked down to see those big sad puppy eyes staring back at us. We all want our entire family to be able to celebrate and have something special.

There are other ways to include your pet in the celebration that don’t involve food. Maybe start a tradition that you go for a relaxing walk with Fido after your meal.  Play an extra game of fetch or laser chase. Give some extra belly rubs or chin scratches to include your pets in the family holiday traditions.

Stand your ground!

It’s okay to remind guests at your house to not share their food with your pet. They may think that they are just being nice, but they could be making your pet sick instead. And remember, even a small piece of food could lead to days of problems or piles of diarrhea to clean up. There’s nothing wrong with including your pet in the celebration, but I recommend leaving the plate clean-up to the dishwasher!

Dr. HeiDr. Aili V. Heintz, countrycare animal complexntz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.