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Autumn Leaves


Stuff the Turkey, Not Your Pets, This Thanksgiving

Because we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with food, pet owners are often tempted to slip their pet a sampling of the feast. But even a seemingly innocent indulgence can cause digestive and stomach problems. Each year, canines and felines fed turkey, ham, gravy and other Thanksgiving Day "people foods'' by well-meaning owners end up in a veterinarian's emergency room. It's best to give thanks for your pets by spending some extra time with them or by giving them a holiday treat made especially for pets. While dogs and cats are valued members of the family, they're still animals - not human beings. Traditional, rich holiday foods can mean extra pounds and maybe a nap for humans, but it presents the furry, four-legged set with a host of health hazards.

Bones from turkey carcasses present the biggest threat to pets during the holiday season. Most people have heard that turkey bones are dangerous to pets because, like other bird bones, they are hollow and can splinter into sharp pieces. The splinters can lodge in the animals' throats or esophagus, puncture the stomach, cause blockages, or perforate the intestinal tract. A pet who has a turkey bone lodged in his digestive system may not show any symptoms for one to two days. When symptoms do occur they may include loss of appetite, depression, vomiting or diarrhea. Sometimes the bone will pass by itself; other times it may need to be surgically removed.

But what people probably don't realize is that the fatty skin from the turkey can cause problems just as severe. Not only can fatty foods cause the usual digestive system upsets, but these foods can also trigger a pancreas inflammation. Symptoms of this condition include pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, vomiting, depression, loss of appetite and in severe instances can be fatal. Pancreas inflammation is most likely to occur in a middle-aged, inactive, overweight dog. Ham can be especially rich in fat and can trigger a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas. If your pet sneaks some ham or turkey from the table and begins showing the above symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Another common ailment in pets that eat leftover turkey is salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella is an organism that lives in the turkey's intestinal tract. The cooking process usually destroys the organism, making the turkey safe to eat. Occasionally, the center of a turkey may be undercooked, especially if it's large or full of stuffing. If the meat sits out at room temperature for too long, the salmonella organisms can multiply and cause contamination. Pets may become poisoned if they eat any of the turkey that has been sitting out. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, a high temperature, and loss of appetite and listlessness.

And look out for that string from the turkey. The string used to tie the turkey legs is extra delicious to cats because it's been soaking in bird juices. It's important to dispose of the string properly because it can get caught in a cat's intestine and cause a serious blockage. The carcass, twine and other materials used in cooking the turkey should be sealed in plastic and put in secure, covered containers outside the house to prevent the animals from getting into the kitchen garbage.

High-fat desserts also pose a danger - especially when it comes to dogs and chocolate. Chocolate contains a stimulant which can harm a dog's heart and nervous system. An ounce of baker's chocolate has the potential to kill a 10-pound canine. Baked goods should be placed up high where the animals can't get to them.

In general, cats don't seem to have as many digestive problems as dogs. This may be due to the fact that cats are fussy eaters, making them less likely to eat potential problem-causing foods. But a sudden change in their diet can cause diarrhea.

It's best to keep your dog or cat strictly away from the holiday goodies. Sticking with commercial pet products as treats will avoid the problem. You're going to have to resist your dog's best `oh-poor-me' look and your cat's award-winning starving kitty routine and give your animals special treats made just for them. These products are not as likely to cause digestive problems as are table scraps. Even canned dog food can cause diarrhea in a dog that is used to dry dog food. Moderation is the best policy and completely avoid feeding fat and poultry bones. If you feel that you must give your pets treats during the holiday, let your family and guests know that the treat shouldn't come from the table. Explain that the pet will get its own special commercial treat. Your pet will enjoy the holiday more without an upset stomach, and so will you.

We hope you and your family have a happy, healthy and pet-safe Thanksgiving.

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