WILMINGTON — Thanksgiving is one of the great food holidays in the American tradition, but it’s not just humans who get excited. Dogs – and cats – are more than likely to have their interest piqued by the culinary activity on Turkey Day.
In other words, a little begging is to be expected. But what’s alright to share with your four-legged friend, and what should you keep safely out of reach?
Veteran veterinarian talks turkey
Dr. Christy Redfearn is the director of Cape Fear Community College’s Veterinary Medical Technology program. Redfearn said that feeding pets treats from the holiday table isn’t the healthiest option, but acknowledged that many pet owners will probably want to treat their pets.
Redfearn noted an important thing to remember is that it’s quality, not quantity, of treats that pets remember.
“It’s not about the amount they’re getting from you,” Redfearn said. “It’s that they’re getting something special from you.”
Redfearn added that spacing smaller snacks out throughout the day is a way to avoid gastrointestinal distress after a single large meal — advice humans can benefit from as well.
Definitely wait until the turkey is cooked, however.
“We as veterinarians absolutely do not recommend raw meat, especially poultry,” Redfearn said, adding that – once the turkey is fully cooked – it’s best to offer a small portion from the interior of the white breast meat.
“If you absolutely must, then a small amount, and avoid the oily or greasy portions,” Redfearn said.
Other Thanksgiving treats should be avoided completely, especially the calorie-free sweetener Xylitol. The product is often sold in food marketed for diabetic customers, but also occurs in a range of reduced-calorie or low-calorie products, including some peanut butter brands. Even small amounts of food made with Xylitol can be fatal to small and medium-sized dogs, Redfearn said.
“I’ve seen a single bite, in something like banana bread, be fatal for a 40-pound dog. For dogs where it’s not fatal, I’ve seen on several occasions families spend $6,000 to $8,000 trying to nurse their dog to pull through,” Redfearn said.
Many other foods, though infrequently fatal, can cause medical issues in pets. According to Redfearn, one that surprises many dog owners is raw dough, which is dangerous not so much because of raw eggs but for the wheat, which can harbor bacteria, and for yeast, which can expand in a dog’s stomach and cause digestive issues.
Other foods to avoid include members of the allium family – including garlic, onions, leeks, and chives. The toxic effects of allium plants include rupturing red blood cells, which can cause low levels of oxygen.
Cats, in particular, are drawn to chives, and their smaller size may make them more vulnerable to the toxic effects.
Other, more-well-known foods to avoid include turkey bones – which can break, and lacerate internal organs – and chocolate – which contains a chemical called theobromine, which is more prevalent in darker chocolates.
There are also grapes and raisins. Redfearn said veterinarians aren’t sure exactly what chemical causes the toxic reaction, but that it can cause up to three weeks of gastrointestinal upset as well as damage to kidneys. Another snack, often seen in mixed nut bowls, are macadamia nuts, which aren’t fatal, but can cause vomiting and ataxia, or lack of coordination.
“And there’s dairy, which – since most adult cats and dogs are lactose intolerant – can cause a host of digestive symptoms,” Redfearn said.
Pet Poison Control – what to do if your pet consumes a toxin
If your pet ingests something you believe to be toxic, you should take it to a veterinarian. But, according to Redfearn, you should also contact animal poison control center. These centers have access to much more in-depth information about a wider variety of potential toxins than some vets; they also can prepare information and get it to your own local vet before you get there, streamlining treatment of your pet.
Redfearn recommended two national pet poison hotlines, both of which are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Both facilities charge a per-incident fee, since unlike poison control hotlines for humans, pet poison control centers aren’t fully federally funded. For both services, the fee covers the pet for the duration of the effects of the poisoning, which can in some cases last weeks.
Redfearn notes that pet owners who register their pet’s microchip (regardless of microchip type) with Home Again, a pet recovery system, have no-cost access to the ASPCA animal poison control center.