Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are a time for gathering and feasting with friends and family. Our pets are family too, and as much as we would like to fully include them in our celebrations, we need to be mindful that these events can be very stressful and even dangerous for our furry companions.
Some of the biggest holiday hazards our pets can encounter are on the dinner table. We humans often feel the unpleasant effects of overindulging in the rich, fatty foods traditionally served during the holidays. These same foods can make our pets feel unwell too, and in some cases could result in serious illness or even death.
High-fat foods can trigger acute pancreatitis in pets, particularly dogs, and it must be treated quickly and aggressively to prevent lasting harm or fatal consequences. While most stomach upset issues will not be health emergencies for our pets, they can still be a problem. Cleaning up messes when our pets eat things they are not accustomed to can be unpleasant any time of the year, but especially during the holidays when family or friends may be visiting!
Some holiday dishes may contain ingredients that are tasty to us but toxic or unsafe for our pets, so it's important to know what to avoid sharing with our four-legged family members.
Specific Foods to Avoid Giving Your Pets:
1. Fatty meats and poultry skins
2. Cooked bones
4. Foods with seasoning, including salt
5. High-fat side dishes, such as those made with cream or butter
6. Grapes and raisins
7. Desserts or sides made with high sugar content or sugar substitutes
The safest way to include your pets during celebratory meals is to feed them regular pet foods and treats in holiday flavors and varieties. Look for foods that feature seasonally appropriate ingredients such as turkey, pumpkin, sweet potato, and cranberries to share the holiday experience with them.
Not all "people food" is bad for pets, and there are fixins your pet can safely enjoy. Plain cooked meat (such as turkey breast) that is free of seasoning, skin, bone, and excess fat can be chopped up and used as a tasty topper for your dog or cat's regular food. Plain steamed vegetables such as carrots or green beans are low calorie and filling, and many dogs love them as meal additions. A dollop of plain canned pumpkin or canned sweet potato -- there are brands specifically for pets! -- is both digestion friendly and holiday spirited. As you may have noticed, "plain" is the key word to remember.
If you are concerned that family members or houseguests won't be able to resist slipping bites of inappropriate food to your pets, then prepare a quiet room where your pets can hang out during the festivities. This can also help with two other common holiday problems: pets that get stressed out, and pets that escape the house.
Ringing doorbells, unfamiliar guests, loud activities, and lively gatherings can be stress inducing for many pets. Providing a quiet location in the house that has warm blankets, favorite toys or chews, and soft music or TV noise can reduce the impact of a "home invasion" on your pet. If you know that your dog or cat is prone to excessive fear or anxiety in such situations, then plan to give some calming treats or supplements prior to the start of the celebration. Natural calming products that use herbal ingredients, theanine, hemp or CBD are available for pets and can be used safely and effectively. Pheromone sprays or diffusers can provide additional calming assistance, especially for cats.
The other benefit of keeping your pets in a safe, secure room is to minimize the possibility of their getting out of the house and getting lost, stolen, or injured. Each time the front door opens for guests entering or leaving is a chance for escape, perhaps without anyone noticing. Some overwhelmed pets disappear and hide within the house, leading their humans to believe they have escaped outdoors, and then a frantic search ensues until the missing pet casually reemerges hours later. This is especially common among cats, who probably think it is funny when their owners cannot find them for hours, even though they are right at home! Save yourself the time and anguish of looking for a missing or "missing" companion by providing that safe room.
One last suggestion: Make sure your pet's microchip information is up date, and that tags have contact info where you can be immediately reached, just in case your pet does manage to get out and get lost!