Archive for Sunday, November 23, 2003

Holiday food harmful to pets

November 23, 2003

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The tumultuous holiday season can be stressful enough for people who plan for it, but what about for our pets? The holidays can be satisfying and safe for your pet if you take some steps to protect them from often hidden dangers.

Let's start with Thanksgiving. Roast turkey crowned with stuffing, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, sweet potato casserole smothered with marshmallows, and pumpkin pie ala mode. That's just a partial list of what many will consume on Turkey Day, and the ambrosial description makes two-legged and four-legged mouths water with anticipation.

Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks and sharing the abundance. But before you think about sharing that mountain of meat, scrumptious leg bone, spicy stuffing, or amalgam of half-eaten desserts with your pet, think again. While overeating at Thanksgiving may be a "Tums time" for humans, it may result in an unexpected trip to the veterinary emergency room for pets, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even if you don't end up at the emergency room with a pet, you may end up on your hands and knees cleaning up a mess that spurted from either end of your pet. Unexpected dietary changes can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or worse. In fact, Thanksgiving keeps Dr. Steve Hansen, veterinary toxicologist and director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty's Animal Poison Control Center's staff, very busy. I recommend that you keep their Web site -- www.aspca.org -- handy, not just at Thanksgiving, but for any emergency that might arise.

Here are the top turkey day taboos:

l Bones. Bones are not as healthy and safe as you might think. Raw bones can contain bacteria, and cooked bones can splinter. As a veterinarian I've had to take ham bones off a dog's swollen tongue and round steak bones off a dog's lower jaw, remove rib bones wedged between the upper teeth along the roof of the mouth, and have had turkey bone shards perforate the intestinal track causing internal trauma.

l Fatty, rich foods. These typically include fatty trimmings off the ham or roast, turkey skin, butter-coated potato skins, and of course, the gravy. Giving these to your pet is not a treat; it is dangerous for them. Board certified veterinarian Dr. Fred Metzger of State College, Penn., says "Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas is a serious disease and unfortunately common during the holidays. This potentially life -threatening disorder can occur when pets overeat or eat fatty foods resulting in pancreatic irritation. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia and an extremely painful abdomen."

l Sweets. Although you may want to indulge your dog's sweet tooth, a pet's digestive system is not adapted for such foods; and chocolate contains Theobromine, which can be harmful -- even fatal -- to dogs in high enough doses. "White chocolate is less toxic than dark chocolate but avoiding all chocolate is the best advice to avoid a visit to your veterinarian. One pound of dark chocolate or 4 ounces of Baker's chocolate can be lethal to a 16 pound pooch," Dr. Metzger says.

l Alcohol. While we may enjoy some holiday libations, and many pets will drink alcohol if given the opportunity, even a small amount of alcohol can put a pet in grave danger. Forget the attempt for an America's Funniest Home Video's winner and keep Rover a teetotaler.

l Cheeses. "We get a surprising number of phone calls from alarmed people with tremoring dogs," says Dr. Hansen. The culprit? Moldy cheeses that contain tremorgenic mycotoxins.

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