The last thing we want to do during the seasonal holidays is rush our pet to the animal emergency room. Unfortunately many pets are injured or become sick because of exposure to toxins or rich foods during this time. Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore, Animal Rescue League of Boston’s director of Veterinary Medical Services and Dr. Amy Marder, director of the Center for Shelter Dogs offer some suggestions to help keep your holiday meals from ending in disaster.

Just because it tastes good to you doesn’t mean it’s good for your pet.
Although 60% of pet owners will share a holiday meal with our pets, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.

“This time of year, most animal related emergency room visits are due to eating something inappropriate, says Dr. Smith. “Some foods cause upset stomachs, some are poisonous, and some can cause life-threatening obstructions or perforations.”

A small amount of white turkey is an acceptable treat but definitely avoid turkey skin and bones! “The skin is often fatty and can cause pets to develop pancreatitis, a painful, serious and sometimes deadly illness that can cause costly hospital stays,” explains Dr. Smith. “In addition, poultry bones, both cooked and raw, can break off and puncture the digestive tract or, if large amounts or chunks are swallowed, cause an obstruction. Raw or undercooked meat poses the same salmonella and parasite risks to our pets as it does to people.”

Other foods to keep away from pets include: grapes and raisins, excessively salty foods, foods flavored with onion or garlic powder, desserts and sweets containing xylitol (found in some sugar free candies and chewing gum).

Chocolate alert!
Dog owners in particular should also be especially alert to the presence of chocolate, says Dr. Marder. “Chocolate, which contains theobromine, is especially dangerous for dogs and may cause vomiting, diarrhea, excitability, heart arrhythmias, increased body temperature, wobbliness, muscle tremors, seizures and coma. As little as two to three pounds of milk chocolate or four ounces of baking chocolate can poison a 30-pound dog.”

She advises that if your dog accidentally eats chocolate, contact your veterinarian immediately. And while cat owners, also need to be alert, she notes, “Cats are rarely poisoned by chocolate due to their more discriminating feeding habits.”

Take out the garbage and lock up the leftovers!
Food preparation and leftovers disposal also require careful supervision.

“All leftovers should be secured behind a pet-proof door and your trashcan should also be secure. “Many items used in the meal preparation and then thrown away can be dangerous,” notes Dr. Smith.” A turkey string, foil wrappers, etc may smell like food and be eaten by a curious pet. These items can cause gastritis, enteritis and colitis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) or worse, intestinal obstruction or a deadly condition known as ‘string foreign body.’”

Keep your vet’s and local animal emergency hospital’s numbers handy.

Last but not least, keep your veterinarian’s phone number and the local animal emergency hospital handy in case your pet should become ill. A quick call to either of them can give you life-saving advice or even help you avoid a trip to the ER.