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We all know that food rules this particular holiday. Chances are your pet will try to make a pit stop at the kitchen counter or dining room table where family favorites are being made or displayed. Or he'll get into the garbage while the humans aren't paying attention because they're watching TV.
As a responsible pet parent, there are several ways you can prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday that make it fun for the humans and safe for your furriest family members.
1. Don't Feed Your Pet Thanksgiving Foods That Are Bad for Them
Unfortunately, too many pet owners like to feed people food to their furry friends. According to a Cornell University Veterinary Specialists poll, 56 percent of pet parents admitted to sharing Thanksgiving table scraps with their pets. But any food that isn't a regular part of a pet's diet—especially fatty foods like ham, gravy, dark turkey meat, and turkey skin—can cause issues ranging from diarrhea to pancreatitis, and some human foods can even poison your pets.
Side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes may contain garlic, onion, leeks, or chives that are toxic to dogs and cats. Desserts may include dangerous-to-pets ingredients like chocolate, raisins, currants, and Xylitol (a popular sugar substitute)—so reserve the sweet stuff for humans only. Plus, chewing and swallowing bones may cause a life-threatening obstruction that requires emergency surgery.
Your pet can also get alcohol poisoning—even if he doesn't drink the spiked punch—just by eating unbaked yeast dough. Yeast works by releasing ethanol and carbon dioxide to make dough rise. This same action can cause severe bloating from the release of gas and possible poisoning from a pet's inability to process the ethanol.
And keep this in mind. "Cats are a lot more persnickety about what they get into," says Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club (AKC), who spent 35 years as a pet emergency room veterinarian in Chicago. "Thanksgiving dishes are not as much of a problem for them as are thread and string from turkey carcasses."
So dispose of garbage (bones, carcasses, seeds and pits, packaging materials such as strings, bags, and butcher's paper, and unwanted leftovers) in a tightly secured garbage bag placed outdoors in a closed trash receptacle or inside the home behind a locked door. And always make sure that trash can lid is secure!
2. Ask Thanksgiving Dinner Guests Not to Feed Your Pet Their Leftovers
Feeding your pet multiple bites of greasy turkey, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie is not good for them. (A couple of bites of turkey to a small dog are like a human eating half the bird!) So ask your guests ahead of time not to feed your pets, no matter how cute they look while longingly watching you eat.
3. Supervise Your Pets at All Times
It's best to keep an eye on your dog or cat throughout the Thanksgiving festivities to make sure they don't get into anything dangerous. If your pet is crate trained, placing them inside while you're cooking and eating the meal is one idea to keep them safely away from the food.
If somehow your dog or cat does eat something toxic, it's best to be prepared for the worst. Start by programming your cell phone with numbers for your regular vet, the vet hospital, the on-call emergency vet if you have one, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435. That way, if something does go wrong, you have a team of medical pros at the ready. And watch for symptoms of distress, including vomiting, diarrhea, signs of pain, and sudden changes in behavior, including depression.
4. Give Your Pet a Safe Space Away From Guests
A constant flow of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can be upsetting to pets (even more so than it is to you). "Dogs are creatures of habit," Klein says. "When their routines shift, some dogs get anxious."
So realize what your dog or cat is going through. Remember, it's their house, too. If Fido loves to socialize, let him mingle. But if he's not comfortable with lots of noise, then seclude him in his crate or give him his own room in the house to relax like a den, bedroom, or basement for some peace and quiet.
5. Help Your Stressed Out Pet Relax
Plug in a pheromone diffuser (Adaptil for dogs, Feliway for cats) several days before the event to reduce stress and allow your pet to chill out. On Thanksgiving, put on classical music or easy-listening tunes to minimize the sounds of laughing—or squabbling—in the other room. Offer brain-teasing puzzle toys to keep your pet occupied while family members eat, drink, and be merry.
"We have to be careful not to overindulge ourselves and our pets with too many good things," Klein says. "Keep things to a routine as much as possible. And remember that your pets don't understand the premise of a holiday."
6. Keep Your Pet Safe If You're Traveling Away From Home for Thanksgiving
If you have a cat or small dog, you might be bringing your furry friend along in the car or on a plane for the Thanksgiving festivities with friends and family in another city. If this is the case for you, Sarah Wooten, DVM and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance has a few recommendations:
Before you take off, spend a few weeks getting your pet accustomed to their crate or carrier. Try placing their favorite blankets, food and treats, and toys in the crate to make it a positive experience.
Leading up to your big holiday trip, make a few smaller trips in the car with your pet (where you won't be leaving them alone in the car of course) to get them used to the feeling of traveling.
Try out some over the counter anti-anxiety products and calming aids such as Feliway or Adaptil pheramone sprays or wrap your pet in a ThunderShirt. If your dog or cat is super anxious about traveling and you absolutely can't leave your pet at home with a pet sitter, Wooten recommends asking your veterinarian about a prescription-strength medication.
If you do leave your pet with a sitter, take some time to let your pet and the sitter get to know each other a few times before your trip so your pet builds a positive association with that person and you.
A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Fall/Winter 2019.