It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Where would you rather be – lounging on the couch with your dog sleeping on the floor next to you, hitting the after-Thanksgiving sales – or at the vet’s office praying that your dog survives or searching the neighborhood because he has escaped? I know where I wouldn’t want to be!
You can avoid Thanksgiving tragedy by being aware of the hazards and dangers to your dog and practicing a few safety tips.
Dogs like predictable routines, and Thanksgiving is not predictable. There’s lots of people coming and going, meals are prepared and eaten at odd hours, there’s lots of tempting food sitting around in bowls just waiting to be scarfed down. Dogs can get overly excited or nervous – and some dogs who are on the nervous side may get aggressive because the added stress simply “puts them over the top.”
If you know what to look out for ahead of time and how to prepare, then *you* won’t have (much!) added stress. So here’s some tips for you so everyone can have a safe Thanksgiving.
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PREPARATION FOR YOUR DOG
You’re going to have a lot going on, especially if you’re cooking dinner. But please don’t neglect your dog! Keep to his regular schedule as much as possible. If you can’t walk or exercise him, look into getting a family member, neighbor, or a dogwalker. Be sure to exercise him before your guests arrive – tire him out, but don’t go overboard.
Dogs talk to us all the time and tell us they are stressed, but we often misinterpret what they are saying because we use our frame of reference – which is only human! What we intend and how our dogs interpret what we do many times are two different things. For example, most dogs don’t like to be hugged. To them, it’s a threat. What do children, especially little girls, absolutely LOVE to do to dogs? – hug them.
DON’T EVER LEAVE CHILDREN AND DOGS UNSUPERVISED, NOT EVEN FOR A SECOND.Even a dog who normally likes children may be so stressed with all the Thanksgiving commotion that he can’t cope and end up biting.
If your dog is normally well behaved, you may ask yourself what’s gotten into him because he’s out of control. A normally calm dog may be nervous, and a normally friendly dog may be shy. Be alert for these stress signals:
- Acting afraid or nervous (moving away)
- Attention seeking
- Freezing or becoming very still – this is very important because this dog is *almost ready to bite* – especially if he is staring at something. Whatever he is staring at is his intended target. Interrupt him by standing between him and whatever he is staring at IMMEDIATELY. Don’t yell, but quietly distract and remove him.
- Growling (Growling is good – your dog is telling you he is uncomfortable. Never punish a growl because you are taking away the warning! Change the situation.)
- Jumping or barking more than usual
- Raising the fur on his back
- Shivering or shaking
- Showing the white of his eye
- Trying to hide under furniture or escape
- Turning his head away
- Yawning or licking his chops.
Be sure your dog is wearing dog tags just in case he slips out an open door or gate.
If you are going out for Thanksgiving dinner or a parade, please leave your dog at home.
Finally, just for peace of mind, be sure you have your vet’s phone number and the name and address of the nearest emergency veterinary hospital.
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WHILE YOU ARE PREPARING THANKSGIVING DINNER
Keep dogs out of kitchen! If your dog stays out of the kitchen, this prevents:
- Burning from hot liquids or food
- Injury from something falling on your dog such as knives or pots
- Your tripping over him
Keep all pot and pan handles on the stove turned inward.
Keep food away from doggie thieves by covering it and placing it out of reach of countertop and table edges.
After you’ve cooked the meal and *before* you sit down to eat, throw out all food and food-related garbage. Put something heavy such as a brick on top of your garbage can outside to ensure the lid will not come off. If you have a lot of other trash, then put it in your closed garage or storage area away from your dog until garbage collection day.
These cooking items can be consumed by your dog and get stuck in the intestinal track causing ablockage or perforation:
- Baking string
- Plastic bags or shrink-wrap covering
- Plastic eating utensils
- Plastic glasses
- Plastic or paper plates
- Plastic wrap
- Pop up timers
- Roasting bags
- Tin foil
- Wax paper
WHILE YOU ARE EATING THANKSGIVING DINNER
The best place for your dog is away from the table, preferably in that dog safe-room with a closed door or one that is gated off. If your guests can’t see his pleading eyes, then they won’t be tempted to give him some of their dinner!
Give your dog something to chew on, such as a frozen treat-filled food dispensing toy like a Kong.
Please instruct your guests that they should not give him any food during the meal or at any other time because deviation from his diet can upset his stomach.
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CLEANING UP AFTER DINNER
Keeping your dog away from leftovers – both food and anything used to prepare the meal – is essential.
PLEASE don’t give cooked bones to your dog. Cooked bones spell disaster for your dogs because they easily splinter and could puncture your dog's his throat or intestines.
Put any leftovers in tightly closed containers and refrigerate them immediately to keep canine thieves away.
Regarding the turkey carcass, put it in a plastic bag, tie it up, and throw it in the outside garbage can immediately after eating.
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THANKSGIVING FOODS THAT ARE HAZARDOUS FOR YOUR DOG
One especially dangerous Thanksgiving food is turkey skin. If you think your dog has eaten any or has any of these symptoms, then he may have pancreatitis, so take him to your vet asap.Symptoms of pancreatitis are:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea (which may contain blood)
- Increased water consumption with or without vomiting afterwards
- Loss of appetite
- Alcohol – wine, beer, mixed drinks, eggnog
- Bread dough expands in your dog’s stomach and causes pain and bloat, which is 100% fatal unless treated IMMEDIATELY. (See my article on Bloat in Dogs.)
- Buttery side dishes
- Cake batter, especially if it includes raw eggs
- Candy or chocolate can cause seizures and is especially lethal to small dogs. Your dog can steal some from a candy dish or your guests may inadvertently drop a piece. You know that your dog is a vacuum cleaner!
- Coffee or tea
- Cooked bones can choke, break, splinter, tear, or get stuck in your dog’s throat, stomach, or intestines
- Grapes and raisins can cause kidney damage or failure
- Nuts, especially macadamia nuts
- Onions and onion powder in stuffing destroy your dog red blood cells
- Rich, fatty foods
- Spicy sauces
- Turkey fat (especially the skin)
- Xylitol (found in sugarless gum and candy) (Please read my article on Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs – it’s deadly.)
NONFOOD THANKSGIVING HAZARDS
Here are some things you may not realize that also can harm your dog.
- Bottle caps
- Candles – your dog can come too close and get burned, or he can knock the candles over and cause a fire.
- Colored crystals that you burn in the fireplace
- Holiday Plants or decorations
- Loose cords can choke your dog
- Pop tabs
- Six-pack beverage holders
- Swizzle sticks
- Umbrellas or other accoutrements in mixed drinks
THANKSGIVING VISITORS OR GUESTS
When greeting guests, your dog should not greet them with you. With everything that is going on, you may forget to watch him, someone may inadvertently forget to close the door, or he can wiggle past your visitors before you realize it. You don’t want to spend your Thanksgiving looking for an escaped dog!
Please, please, please ask your guests NOT to feed your dog except his own food or treats! In fact, the safest place for him may be in that dog safe-room away from all the commotion of cheering from football games, kids running around, lots and lots of conversations (you know which family members are louder than others!) Even though you may think your dog is a member of the family who should be included in the celebrations, your dog may become stressed because this gathering is such a departure from his routine. Refer to the Stress Signs at the beginning of this article.
If children are among your guests, tell them to let your dog approach them, even if they know him from previous visits. They should stand still like a tree and let your dog sniff him. The children can pet him ONLY if his tail is wagging and he wants the attention. Remember, NO HUGGING THE DOG – dogs don’t like to be hugged.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have an adult supervise ANY AND ALL interactions between children and dogs. If your dog is exhibiting any of the stress signs, separate the children and dogs immediately. It probably would be best at that point to put your dog in his safe-room or crate away from your company or in his crate and to tell the children that they should not bother him for the balance of their visit.
If your guests have medications in their luggage, ask them to close and lock their luggage. With purses, put them in a closet with the door closed so your dog doesn’t go exploring…..
This may seem like a lot to do, but you love your dog and want to protect him or you wouldn’t be reading this article! While I was researching it, I came across things that I had not even considered could be dangerous – and you may have more. Please let me know if you do so I can add them to help others.
I wish you, your family, your dog, and your guests the very best – and the very safest – Thanksgiving!