Pet Health Concerns Surrounding the Thanksgiving Holiday!!

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

Wow!!  How did it get to be Thanksgiving time already? Every year I find myself spending a good deal of time, appropriately, re-educating my clients about special concerns surrounding holiday times.  Many of the problem areas surrounding this Thanksgiving, involve the gastrointestinal tract.  Holiday time provides the opportunity for many unfamiliar food items to be ingested by our beloved family pets, be they dog or cat.  The symptoms may be generalized, demonstrating signs of vomiting and/or diarrhea; or, they may be more specific to one organ or another.  As example, animals ingesting fatty foodstuffs can initiate an acute incidence of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that secretes not only hormones to control our blood sugar, but also chemicals (enzymes), that are delivered to our small intestines to aid in food digestion.  With pancreatic inflammation, those very enzymes that should find their way into the intestines, can create irritation and partial enzymatic digestion of the pancreas itself, making for a very sick dog or cat.  And, I always caution my pet owners, that even a small amount of ‘unfamiliar food’ can create a very sick critter. Spicy foods may simply irritate the oral cavity, esophagus and stomach, encouraging vomiting as well.

Another major concern involves the ingestion of items that may become lodged anywhere from the mouth down into the lower small intestines.  Usually, if any item reaches the large intestines, it will typically clear in the stool without concern.  Again, if you see any unusual symptoms as described above, particularly unrelenting vomiting, then it is best to get your pet to one of several emergency facilities advertised around St. Louis and surrounding townships.  A common food item that frequently presents with a vomiting pet, are poultry (chicken and turkey) bones that, despite being cooked and softened, can easily lodge anywhere along the tract.  I have pulled bones out lodged between molar teeth, or stuck in the back of the throat.  Bones can lodge in the esophagus and obviously, lower down as previously described.  These bones can fragment and leave a sharp edge that may mildly or severely aggravate the lining of the bowel.  And, although bones can theoretically puncture the gut, that is not the typical event sequence, in my professional experience.  The veterinarian may offer several alternative methods to dislodge and/or remove such foreign bodies, including emergency surgery, which may be very costly and obviously, poses its own unique risks.  The pet literature often suggests that larger bones like knuckle bones, can be safe for dogs to chew, but again, being a bit of a neurotic veterinarian, I suggest that NO bone is necessary for your dog, and I especially avoid many of the other processed animal parts sold for chewing aids to our pets.  Remember that ‘it ain’t a problem ’till it’s a problem!’.

Animals that ingest food items unfamiliar to their gut, or drinking excessive amounts of water after exercise, can create a life threatening condition commonly referred to as ‘bloat’.   Never a weekend passes at any emergency pet clinic where at least one bloat case does not appear.  The incidence of bloat over the holidays can often increase 3-5x in numbers.  Animals present with a history of vomiting, or more often, a history of multiple and continuous efforts to vomit without success.  I often see and hear of animals that simply pose themselves up on all four feet, standing almost in a daze, in a fixed stance, or pacing as they are unable to get comfortable.  You may or may not note an enlarged or distended abdomen.  This is one of those health conditions that can  present very quickly, and death can follow nearly as fast.  The stomach usually swells with fluid and/or gas and the weight distribution and motion can encourage the stomach to twist on its axis, much like a partially filled water balloon.  As if that is not enough concern, the spleen is attached along one side of the stomach, so wherever the latter goes, so goes the spleen.  The result is that both organs twist off and constrict blood supply to themselves, causing rapid tissue death, toxins build up and affect the heart and the kidneys, and death ensues soon after.  Aggressive medical and often, surgical intervention are essential to a positive end.

And do not forget the dessert table.  What a great opportunity for gastrointestinal upset or toxin exposure.  The primary concern here regards chocolate toxicity, a problem in dogs and especially toxic for cats as well.  The toxic components in chocolate are called methylxanthines, the two principal types which are caffeine and theobromine.  These chemicals directly affect not only the gut, but principally impact the heart.  Animals may present with only signs of vomiting and/or seizures.  There are differential effects on the body imposed by various forms of chocolate.  Generally speaking, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking chocolate and semi-sweet dark chocolate common to chocolate chip cookies, can prove very concerning.  Seeing that the symptoms can mimic so many other conditions, any reasonable suggestion to chocolate exposure should justify a visit to your veterinarian, or to an emergency facility after hours.

There are many other foodstuffs to be concerned about, such as grapes and raisins.  You may wish to visit with your veterinarian to learn more.  In the meanwhile, be sure to keep the trash bags secure and away from your pets.  I do not know too many animals who would not challenge the trash can, or available bags of goodies, many of which can create any one of the scenarios presented herein.  So, please be careful so that your warm and wonderful family Thanksgiving dinner does not deliver you to a pet emergency facility late in the evening.

Best Wishes for a Safe and Warm Holiday Time!

Fondly,  Dr. Doug Pernikoff & Staff

Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic

& Veterinary Pet Rescue(VPR)