Thanksgiving recipes are passed down from generation to generation, inherited like treasured heirlooms among family members and friends, creating warm memories in the kitchen and at the table.

Don’t let your heartwarming day of nostalgia and gratitude be interrupted by a canine or feline catastrophe—Thanksgiving is stuffed tighter than a turkey with pet safety and health hazards. This Thanksgiving, transform Leland Veterinary Clinic’s recipe for disaster—a holiday sampler of the most common pet emergencies—into a recipe for success, by making pet-safe choices.

Take one turkey bone = choking in pets

With Thanksgiving aromas in the air, stomachs are collectively growling around your house—including those of your dog or cat. Hungry pets may become bored, or desperate for alternatives to fill the void in their belly. Unfortunately, however, their taste isn’t always the best, and their choices may include small toys, decorations, trash, or items right off the table.

Small non-food items, or foods eaten in a hurry, can cause dogs and cats to choke. Before the big day, ensure you know how to provide the Heimlich maneuver for your dog or cat, and consider confining them to a crate or small room during meal preparation.

Add one greasy hand towel thrown in the trash = intestinal blockage in pets

Pets—including well-trained ones—frequently get into the garbage on Thanksgiving. Considering their powerful noses, you can’t really blame them, as the trash likely smells identical to our carefully prepared Thanksgiving table. 

Unfortunately, “dumpster diving” can lead to internal lacerations, choking, and intestinal blockage, if your pet consumes something sharp, large, or inedible. Intestinal obstructions are deadly if untreated, and can occur anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, requiring surgical removal. Commonly ingested items include:

  • Turkey bones
  • Corn cobs
  • Foil or plastic wrap
  • Hand towels or paper towels used to absorb meat juices
  • Decorations (e.g., acorns, squash)

Ensure your trash can has a pet-proof locking lid, or temporarily relocate the bin to a closed pantry or garage on Thanksgiving. Instruct guests to take any trash directly to the bin, and to not leave anything, including used towels and napkins, on coffee tables where pets can reach. Keep small decorations out of pet areas, to prevent inappropriate sampling, and never let your pet chew on turkey bones.

Add a half cup of turkey trimmings = pancreatitis in pets

If it’s fatty, salty, spicy, or sweet, you can bet it’s on the Thanksgiving table. While rich foods are a requirement for a holiday dinner, they can send your pet’s body into overdrive, and trigger pancreatic inflammation, or pancreatitis—a veterinary emergency.

 The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes to help break down food, but when this small organ is irritated, the enzymes release prematurely and attach to the pancreas itself—causing intense pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.

Confine your pet to a quiet room during dinner, or ensure they are supervised at all times, so they do not receive table scraps, or steal from the garbage.

Toss in a handful of seasoning = toxic food ingestion

Chopping and dicing can get a little messy, but you must ensure you keep onions, leeks, and garlic on the cutting board, and off the floor. These Allium family plants are highly toxic to dogs and cats, causing gastric upset, to red blood cell destruction (i.e., hemolytic anemia). All formulations, including raw, cooked, freeze-dried, and granulated, can cause toxicity. Signs may not be apparent for several days, but emergency treatment is required. Confine your pet to another room during meal preparation, to prevent them from snagging dropped ingredients when your knife gets a little wild. 

A spoonful of sugar = dessert dangers for pets

For many Americans, the dessert table—not the turkey—is Thanksgiving’s crown jewel. The tantalizing row of pies, cakes, and sweet rolls can magically reignite your appetite, as if you hadn’t eaten at all. And, your pet is no doubt magnetized to your side for every forkful, but you must resist their pleas—desserts are a common hiding place for pet toxins, including:

  • Chocolate
  • Raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Yeast dough
  • Xylitol (i.e., a sugar substitute used in low-calorie and sugar-free baked goods)

If you want to share something from your plate, set aside a pet-safe treat during meal preparation, such as:

  • Bite-size pieces of skinless, boneless turkey breast
  • Plain sweet potato, green beans, peas, or pumpkin

Finally, shake together = fear, anxiety, and stress in pets

Hosting family or friends for the holidays is stressful for the entire household, including your pet. All pets—no matter how well-trained or socialized—can feel overwhelmed, frightened, or disturbed by the new people, activities, and household rhythms. Pets may exhibit stress with appetite changes, tense body language, or hiding. Unfortunately, some pets may react to perceived threats (i.e., houseguests) with growling, hissing, scratching, or biting.

Monitor your pet’s behavior closely, and provide a safe space, such as an unoccupied room or covered crate, where they can retreat if they become stressed. Ensure all your pet’s resources are nearby, so they can stay hidden if desired. Instruct guests to leave your pet alone while they are in their room or crate. Keep current identification—including a registered microchip and updated collar tags—on your pet at all times.

Combine well = a pet disaster = emergency care

With a few easy hacks and modifications, this recipe for disaster can easily become a guide to Thanksgiving success. Take a break from your grocery list, and plan how you’ll protect your pet this holiday.

If you have additional questions about Thanksgiving pet safety, contact Leland Veterinary Clinic. If your pet has ingested a toxic ingredient after hours, contact a nearby emergency hospital, or call the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center for help.