Thanksgiving has become my (Dr. Perry H. Jameson) favorite holiday. When else do we get four days to eat, relax and spend time with our families?
Of course, when the Pet Docs talk about families, we are always referring to the four-legged variety as well as those with only two legs. Since they are part of our families, we want them to share in the festivities, but unfortunately not everything that is safe for us to eat is safe for them.
Here are a few things to watch out for and a ways that our pets can be included.
Remember that dogs and cats may not tolerate dramatic changes in their diets the way we can. Most pets are fed the same thing at every meal, and their gastrointestinal tracts adapt to this. A sudden change in diet, especially the rich, fatty foods we all enjoy over the holidays often will result in GI distress or even pancreatitis.
The mildest problem we see over the holidays is gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Symptoms may be abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite to severe vomiting and diarrhea. Usually, this is not life-threatening, but if left untreated, it can cause dehydration.
Treatment involves resting the GI tract to allow the inflammation to resolve. Removing food for 12 hours often will be enough. Water then can be reintroduced, and if tolerated, a bland diet offered for the next 24 hours. Boiled chicken and white rice are easy to prepare.
If they do well with the bland diet for 24 hours, the original food can be reintroduced over the next two days by mixing it with the chicken and rice. If they continue with vomiting and diarrhea despite withholding food and water, they need to be seen by a veterinarian before they become dehydrated.
There, the veterinarian can administer fluids to treat dehydration and administer medications to stop the vomiting.
A more serious complication of eating fatty food is pancreatitis. This condition occurs when the pancreas, which sits at the junction of the stomach and small intestine, becomes inflamed. Pancreatitis may be mild to severe. In severe cases, the pancreas may begin to die.
The inflammation can be so severe that other organs such as the liver, kidneys and lungs can be affected. This is a life-threatening disease that requires hospitalization. Intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, an antiemetic to control vomiting and an antacid to calm the stomach are given.
A plasma transfusion is administered in severe cases to provide proteins that help the body remove all of the agents being released into the blood that are causing inflammation.
Pancreatitis is often painful; therefore, medications to keep your pet comfortable are routinely given. Response to treatment is not immediate and often requires a few days to a week or more of hospitalization. Unfortunately, even with the most aggressive treatment, some patients will not survive.
Another holiday danger is chocolate. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to dogs. Overdoses may lead to seizures, an abnormal heart rhythm, and even death. Dogs generally must eat the concentrated forms such as baking or semi-sweet to have these effects. Milk chocolate ingestion rarely causes these symptoms; however, the richness of it may result in vomiting and diarrhea.
This past Easter, I was reminded that during the holidays overeating/gorging can be a problem for dogs, too. While outside hunting for Easter eggs, our dog, Flipper, sneaked inside and pulled a whole ham onto the floor. We came inside to find half the ham gone and Flipper groaning in his bed with a distended belly.
Fortunately, within six hours, he was back to himself, but serious issues can occur. An overly distended stomach may twist, cutting of blood flow and the ability for it to empty. This is known as gastric dilation and volvulus or GDV, a surgical emergency. If your pet is retching unproductively and his abdomen is distended, seek medical attention.
So what will we feed our pets this holiday season? The safest option would be to not feed them anything unusual, but the reality is they will likely get some lean turkey breast. We also give them some of the plain cooked sweet potato before it is mixed into the souffle and some of the steamed broccoli.
If your family likes to let the four-legged members be involved, remember to avoid foods that may be toxic and to avoid fatty treats or else a trip to the emergency room could be in your future!
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.