Pet Vet: Sharing holiday treats with the dogs can take the merry from Christmas

December 30, 2013


The holidays are upon us and, speaking for myself, they seem to be coming faster and faster with each passing year. This time of year can present some potential hazards to our companions, many of which I am sure you are aware. I thought I’d share my experiences with what has always been the biggest hazard to our companions: their caretakers.

I am not going to present to you a dizzying list of toxic substances that lurk around our homes this time of year. Personally, in my quarter-century-plus of veterinary medicine, I have not seen a case of toxicity from a companion drinking Christmas tree water or eating a poinsettia plant.

This is not to say this does not happen but I have found it far more common for our companions to develop gastrointestinal disorders from eating holiday "people food" than from any other possible exposure they might have to something else. Of course this can happen any time of year, but with the abundance of food and the giving spirit associated with the holidays, there seems to be a higher incidence of gastroenteritis in our companions around now!

The foods most responsible for gastrointestinal problems, especially in dogs, are the higher-fat items. Meat, especially pork and beef, are the most common offenders. Handing Rover that little piece of prime rib, usually a piece with some extra fat on it, primarily because you wouldn’t eat that piece yourself, can set off a chain of events within Rover that might end in a tragedy.

High fat foods can overwhelm our companions’ digestive tracts. The fat can be difficult to break down properly, leading to maldigestion and bacterial changes in the bowel and resultant gastroenteritis. In severe cases, a disease called pancreatitis can result and some of these cases can be fatal.

Certainly, gastroenteritis and pancreatitis are most often treatable but like many conditions we deal with as veterinarians on a daily basis, they are preventable. That said, how do we deal with the overwhelming urge to gift our companions with treats, especially when they are so adept at pulling our heart strings?

We do so by giving them food items that are designed for their specific digestive systems. This does not include parts of the Christmas roast or ham or breakfast morning bacon. I have often times been asked to list "human" foods that are safe as treats for our companions. I am reluctant to do so here, but let us call upon two well know clichés, as they are highly apropos: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and "Better safe than sorry." Stick with the right treats!

I wish you all, and that means your companions, too, a safe and Merry Christmas.

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