Every bit of turkey has been consumed or put away, you’ve found a comfy spot on the couch and then someone notices that the dog is, well, hurling. It’s the recipe for a holiday disaster. Unfortunately, pet emergency rooms across the country see a healthy number of dogs and cats with tummy troubles — or worse — caused by consuming things that should be off-limits.
From November 2010 through January of 2011, VPI Pet Insurance Company processed 267,915 client claims; 24,262 of those claims involved holiday-related conditions, with vomiting, diarrhea, loose stool, pancreatitis and gastric foreign bodies topping their list. VPI’s “Hambone Award” even pays tribute to pets and the quirky things they consume, such as the Labrador that ate a Thanksgiving turkey carcass or a golden retriever that consumed an artificial Christmas wreath. While some pets suffer no ill effects from consuming people food or other off-limits items, VPI notes that the average cost for surgery to remove an intestinal foreign body was $2,328. Vomiting, the most common holiday-related health issue, led to an average bill of $279. I prefer to curb the table food and save that cash for stocking stuffers. My dog Lulu has learned to live without a few bits of Thanksgiving turkey.
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“Pets get used to absorbing a certain amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein; [their diet] can be thrown out of balance during the holidays,” says pet nutritionist Dr. Martin Glinsky, who began manufacturing holistic pet food in the 1980s. “The most common symptom is some form of loose stool or diarrhea and — with my dog — bouts of nausea. She’s just not used to the rich food we feed ourselves.”
Because dogs and cats have a knack for finding and consuming things they should avoid, particularly when their people are preoccupied, it’s best to save the ASPCA’s poison control hotline 1-888-426-4435. Also, visit the organization’s website to review the list of common foods that pets should avoid, such as avocado, raw bones, onions or garlic. Share that information with well-intentioned family members.
Here are a few more tips to keep pets out of the emergency room this holiday season:
Keep off-limits items out of reach
Survey your home from a pet’s perspective and make sure potentially dangerous items are out of paw’s reach. Be especially diligent about treats packaged and placed under the tree or set out on low tables for guests. Even though most pet owners know the dangers of pets consuming chocolate, VPI noticed a 310 percent increase in chocolate toxicity claims submitted during December 2011, at an average cost of $380 per pet.
Practice makes perfect
Brush up on basic obedience skills so that your pet will have tools to avoid temptation, says ASPCA trainer Kristen Collins.
“Training your dog to ‘leave it’ on cue can be really useful when you have lots of people and tempting foods around,” she says. “With lots of visitors, it’s also a great opportunity to teach your dog to greet people politely.”
In a previous column, I offered tips to help dogs behave on a leash around houseguests. Collins suggests pet-friendly zones, complete with soft bedding, toys and chews.
“Pets become overwhelmed by people and sounds and smells during holidays,” Collins says. “It’s best to fix up a comfy confinement space for your pet.”
Of course, you also can be firm with guests who try to be a little too generous with the table scraps.
Just say 'no'
“Most guests are conscious of your relationship with your dog and will say, ‘Want me to save this?’” Glinsky says. “I have no problem saying, ‘Please don’t feed the dog. She’s on her own diet, and we don’t feed her table scraps.’ Your dog needs you for her well-being and she looks to you for that. You’ve got to do what’s necessary to provide her with that safety.”
Don’t wait to seek treatment
“If you notice that something is going wrong with your dog or cat and it just doesn’t look normal, go ahead and get them checked out,” says Robert Jackson CEO of Healthy Paws insurance company. “Better safe than sorry.”