Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones, feel gratitude for life’s ups and downs, and—most important—overindulge in a feast fit for royalty. Many of us consider our pets family and include them in holiday festivities, but holiday foods, plants, decorations, and travel can pose hazards to your pet, and they may require emergency veterinary care. You can prevent most Thanksgiving emergencies by keeping holiday items out of your pet’s reach, but we all know that pets are creative problem solvers, and often get what they want. Although you have taken every precaution to keep your pet safe, accidents are bound to happen. Our Companion Veterinary Clinic team shares the top five Thanksgiving pet emergencies, how to prevent them, and what to do if your pet gets in trouble.

#1: Pancreatitis in pets

The pancreas is a multifunctional organ that produces important hormones and enzymes responsible for digestion. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, these body functions go haywire, and your pet can become extremely sick. While pancreatitis may not be caused by diet, if your pet eats too much fat at one time, their pancreas may become overwhelmed. If a sensitive pet eats only a small amount of fatty turkey, turkey skin, gravy, or butter, they can develop this condition, and experience severe vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain, and fever. Most pets with pancreatitis require hospitalization to stabilize their condition, control pain, and receive adequate hydration. To prevent your pet from developing a painful pancreatic episode, keep food away from table and counter edges, do not give your furry pal leftover scraps, and ensure you monitor them closely around the Thanksgiving feast. If you cannot trust your pet around the food, keep them in another room until cleanup is complete.

#2: Foreign-body ingestion in pets

Indigestible items can lodge in your pet’s stomach or intestines, causing vomiting, inability to keep down food or water, and belly pain. Obstructions can cause tissue damage or perforation, leading to a systemic, life-threatening infection (i.e., sepsis), and must be treated with emergency surgery. Common Thanksgiving items that can cause your pet to experience an obstruction include turkey bones, packaging, or string, and corncobs, pinecones, and decorations. Ensure your pet stays away from any foods or items that come in contact with food, especially wrappers and cans, which smell interesting, and are likely to attract their attention. In addition, take out the trash before your pet has a chance to go dumpster diving.

#3: Pet poisoning

Although you look forward to Thanksgiving’s flavors and sights, many of these familiar holiday comforts can be dangerous to your pet. Prevent your pet from being poisoned by keeping these items out of their reach:

  • Decorative plants — Amaryllis, lily, baby’s breath, and other plants can cause issues ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset to kidney failure. Consult the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants to determine your pet’s risk. Faux flowers are a good alternative to toxic plants. 
  • Foods — Onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, chocolate, and xylitol (i.e., artificial sweetener) are all toxic to pets. Keep Fido and Fluffy away from the kitchen and the holiday table, and ensure guests know not to give them dinner scraps.
  • Raw yeast dough — Yeast dough ferments and rises in the stomach, and if your pet eats raw dough, they can develop bloat and alcohol intoxication. Keep your pet out of the kitchen if you are baking this holiday.

If your pet consumes a potentially toxic food, plant, or other questionable item, call your veterinarian, a local emergency hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline.

#4: Lost pets

If guests will be joining you this holiday, consider your pet’s point of view. Some pets become anxious or overly excited around guests, and could bolt out the door as people arrive or depart. Lost, panicked pets usually have a hard time getting back home, and they could become injured or stranded. Keep excitable, anxious, and door-dashing pets behind a barrier, such as a baby gate, or in a room away from the door. If your pet prefers to be alone, give them a safe, quiet space to retreat from the holiday hubbub. In addition, ensure your pet has up-to-date identification tags and a microchip, which increase their chances of a safe return if they run away. 

#5: Car accidents involving pets

If your pet will be joining you for holiday travel, ensure you take the proper precautions. If you and your pet are involved in a vehicle accident, they could be seriously harmed, and require emergency treatment. To keep your pet, yourself, and all passengers safe during a road trip, always restrain your pet with a car seat, harness and seat belt, or crate. Secure your pet in the back seat—away from the driver and the airbags—which prevents driver distraction and reduces your pet’s injury risk in the event of a vehicle accident. If you and your pet are involved in an auto accident, their injuries might not be evident right away. To ensure your pet has not been injured, they should have a veterinary examination as soon as possible.

By taking the proper precautions, you reduce your pet’s risk for a holiday emergency. If, despite your best efforts, your pet gets in trouble this Thanksgiving, contact our Companion Veterinary Clinic team, or your local emergency hospital.