Lawrence veterinarian: Holidays can be hazardous for pets

Your dog is probably going to beg for scraps on Thanksgiving. But indulging him can be bad for his well-being — and potentially your wallet.

That’s according to longtime Lawrence veterinarian Herschel Lewis, who expects he’ll see an uptick in holiday-related pet emergencies this Thanksgiving. And Lewis isn’t alone; the stretch between Thanksgiving and early January is typically when vets see a lot of food-based episodes.

“Usually two days after the holiday, we’ll get dogs with constipation and vomiting,” says Lewis, who practices out of Lewis Veterinary Clinic, 3101 W. Sixth St. “In one end or the other, they get sick.”

Turkey is a huge “no-no,” Lewis said. Eating turkey meat or skin can result in a potentially fatal case of pancreatitis in dogs and cats. He also advises against turkey bones, which can easily splinter and puncture your dog’s digestive tract.

Pet owners should also be watchful around desserts, always plentiful this time of year.

“Another thing is, there’s always chocolate around. Chocolate is not the bugaboo that people think it is, except for baker’s chocolate,” Lewis said. Out of all chocolate, this kind contains the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine, a bitter alkaloid that is poisonous to dogs. Even a relatively small amount of baker’s chocolate could prove toxic for little dogs.

Diabetic candies, with their high levels of the artificial sweetener Xylitol, can also lead to low blood sugar in dogs and cats, posing an “even more serious” health risk, Lewis said.

In short, “Don’t feed them anything except their regular food,” Lewis said. “I’ll just put it very bluntly.”

“It’s extremely important after you’ve cleaned up the dishes and everything that you take the garbage bag out where the pet cannot possibly get into it,” he said.

Also, don’t let them become dehydrated. Pet owners often forget that animals need extra water during the cold winter months.

“The water actually helps them maintain their body heat, and it flushes the things they don’t need out of their blood,” Lewis said. “Most people don’t think about that.”

Christmas and the other winter holidays pose plenty of decor-related hazards for pets — trees, ornaments and tinsel among them — in addition to the food issues. Your cat’s fondness for yarn, ribbons and bows may land you in some trouble if you’re not careful.

“Cats will swallow the strings off packages for whatever reason — they’re big on strings — and that can be quite serious with a cat,” Lewis said. “Believe it or not, I’ve seen dogs bite through a live electrical wire, and that’s not a good thing. It’s a shocking experience, pun intended.”

Still, accidents happen. Lewis’ clinic maintains a 24/7 answering service, though there’s no guarantee that pet owners will be able to secure a doctor on Thanksgiving or during after-hours. (Usually, though, the answering service is able to answer most medical questions before paging Lewis and his staff, he said.)

If it’s truly an emergency, Lewis said, contact a full-service emergency veterinary clinic. While Lawrence lacks its own facility, Lewis recommends nearby Emergency Animal Clinic of Topeka (5501 Southwest 29th St.) and Overland Park’s Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, 11950 W. 110th St.

“It’s like dealing with a 5-year-old or even a teenage boy,” Lewis said of holiday pet dangers. “There’s no accounting for what’s going to happen.”