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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 18, 2006

Holiday fare dangerous for pets

By Dr. Marty Becker
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Americans are getting ready for the holidays by planning gatherings with friends and family to enjoy super-sized holiday meals and treats.

Before you think about sharing that mound of meat, mouth-watering leg bone, savory stuffing, or amalgam of half-eaten desserts with your pet, think again. While overeating during the holidays may be simply a "Tums time" for humans, it may result in an unexpected trip to the veterinary emergency room for pets, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even if you don't end up at the emergency room with a pet, you may end up on your hands and knees cleaning up a smelly mess that spurted from either end of your furry loved-one. Unexpected dietary changes can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or worse.

In fact, the holiday season keeps Dr. Steve Hansen, veterinary toxicologist and director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, and his staff busy. I recommend that you keep their Web site www.apcc.aspca.org, handy, not just at the holidays, but for any pet ingestion emergency that might arise.

Here are the top holiday table-taboos:

BONES. Bones are not as healthy and safe as you might think, with poultry bones being especially dangerous. Raw bones can contain bacteria and parasites while cooked bones can splinter. As a veterinarian, I've seen turkey bone shards perforate a dog's intestinal track causing internal trauma. I've also taken ham bones off a dog's swollen tongue and round steak bones off a dog's lower jaw, as well as removed rib bones wedged between the upper teeth along the roof of the mouth,

FATTY, RICH FOODS. Fatty trimmings typically come off the ham, roast turkey and butter-coated potato skins. Rich foods include bread dough, nuts, and of course, the gravy. Giving these to your dog is dangerous.Veterinarian Dr. Fred Metzger of State College, Pa., says, "Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas is a serious disease and unfortunately common during the holidays. This potentially life threatening disorder can occur when pets overeat or eat fatty foods resulting in pancreatic irritation. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia and an extremely painful abdomen. The usual culprit is owners feeding their pets table food items which irritate the gastrointestinal tract," continues Metzer.

Vomiting and diarrhea are the typical symptoms and veterinary attention may be required to treat the condition. Gastroenteritis or inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract is even more common than pancreatitis. It's best to let Rover eat his regular food to avoid an unhappy, messy and possibly tragic holiday.

ONIONS AND RAISINS. Onions, which are often found in stuffing and holiday vegetables, can potentially destroy a pet's red blood cells and inhibit the animal's ability to coagulate blood. Raisin ingestion has been associated with gastrointestinal upset and acute renal failure in some dogs. Affected dogs may initially develop vomiting and drink large amounts of water, then subsequently develop diarrhea and potentially fatal kidney failure.

SWEETS. Although you may want to indulge your pet's sweet tooth, an animal's digestive system is not adapted for such foods. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which can affect your pet's nervous system and cause frequent urination, stomach upset, hyperactivity and rapid heart beats. It can even be fatal to pets in high enough doses. Metzger says, "White chocolate is less toxic than dark chocolate but avoiding all chocolate is the best advice to avoid a visit to your veterinarian. One pound of dark chocolate or four ounces of baker's chocolate can be lethal to a 16-pound pooch." Coffee can produce the same effects as chocolate, depending on the dose. Additionally, candy, gum and other products containing large amounts of the sweetener xylitol can cause a sharp drop in blood sugar (particularly in dogs) resulting in depression, loss of coordination and seizures.

ALCOHOL. While we may enjoy holiday libations, and many pets will drink alcohol if given the opportunity, even a small amount of alcohol can put a pet in grave danger, possibly resulting in gastrointestinal irritation, uncoordinated movement, central nervous system depression, tremors, respiratory failure, acidosis, coma and death. Forget the attempt for an "America's Funniest Home Videos" winner and keep Rover a teetotaler.

SPOILED OR MOLDY FOODS. "We get a surprising number of phone calls from alarmed people with trembling dogs," says Hansen. Occasionally, the culprits are foods that contain certain molds, which release tremorgenic mycotoxins. These toxins can produce gastrointestinal irritation, severe tremors, seizures and even death. Spoiled food can also contain bacterial toxins, which can potentially lead to severe food poisoning.

YEAST DOUGH. Yeast-based dough cannot only expand in the gastrointestinal tract as it rises, causing an obstruction, the yeast can produce alcohol when it rises, possibly resulting in alcohol poisoning as well.

SALT. Salt and foods containing large quantities of salt can produce a sodium ion poisoning causing vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death if enough is consumed.

In all the hustle and bustle, don't forget that this is a time of giving thanks and celebration. Celebrate how special your pets are to you by taking some quiet time to give them extra cuddles and comfort.