Volume No. 16 Issue No. 11 November 2019  

  Stuff the turkey, not the dog

     As we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Thanksgiving season, I’d like to tell you a different kind of holiday origin story. No, I don’t mean the story of the Native American tribe teaching the settlers how to produce food in the “new” continent, nor the feast that they shared thereafter, marking the first American Thanksgiving. I’m referring to the lesser known tale of how a well-meaning pilgrim sent Squanto’s dog into digestive distress that evening in a misguided attempt to share the feast.
   The first error of the night was when the dog was given a cooked pork leg bone. Everyone knows that dogs like bones, but many bones are bad for our dogs. Cooked bones have the tendency to splinter badly when dogs chew them. Those shards can damage the sensitive lining of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines. This is especially true of pork and poultry bones. Large chunks of swallowed bone can create serious and even life-threatening blockages to the digestive tract. If you’re set on treating your dog to a bone this holiday season, stick to raw beef bones and make sure the bones are too large to swallow. Often times, the meat counter of your local grocery store will sell them to you without any of the preservatives or additives that sometimes come with the packaged variety found in the pet aisle.
   The next wrong turn that evening took place when that “lucky” dog got to clean up all the leftover fat trimmings. While delicious, this high-fat meal caused a chemical chain reaction that traveled like a lit fuse from his gut right to his pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that lies adjacent to where the stomach meets the intestines, and has an essential role to play in the digestion of food. It produces and stores chemicals called enzymes. When activated, these enzymes assist in breaking down the food that has passed through the stomach into simple nutrients, which can be absorbed through the intestines. This is a highly regulated process, designed to prevent those enzymes from digesting the body’s own organs instead of the meal.
   Eating a meal that is too rich or too fatty runs the risk of overwhelming that regulatory process and can lead to a dangerous and painful condition known as pancreatitis. This condition often results in vomiting and diarrhea and intense abdominal pain; and, if left untreated, can even be life threatening. When it comes to feeding table scraps, less is more. It’s also worth noting that while hunting or sporting dogs may seem to have an iron stomach, many of our smaller breeds are much more susceptible to this disease. While it’s nice to share, it’s also best to use discretion to avoid a very uncomfortable dog or a hefty vet bill.
   The final straw of the evening was when the dog stole a freshly baked minced meat and onion pie off the table. Although harmless to the feasting humans, that pie was chock full of onion, garlic and raisins, all of which are toxic to dogs. Most people have no idea that Allium family plants, which include onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots and scallions, all contain a chemical compound harmful to the red blood cells of our dogs and cats. Grapes and raisins can be lethally toxic to the kidneys even in small doses. For our poor historical dog, the one saving grace of the evening was that the pilgrims had yet to discover chocolate. Not that you need a reminder, but the warnings against mixing dogs and chocolate weren’t quite so widespread during the Mayflower’s time. After-dinner drinks or party favors should also be restricted to human usage only. Like chocolate, dogs lack the mechanisms to clear alcohol or THC from their bodies in an efficient manner, which can result in physiological distress.
   Our poor dog survived that first Thanksgiving celebration, but not without a significant amount of gastrointestinal distress. But our dogs shouldn’t have to suffer the same fate. Whether you’re hosting a large group or just trying to get through a dinner with the in-laws, it’s important to remember and to remind your guests that not everything on the dinner table is appropriate to share with the household animals. So let’s raise our glasses to yet another year where the only inflammatory things coming from our Thanksgiving dinner table are religion, sports and politics, and look forward to a continued holiday season of happy and healthy pets.

   Dr. Rob Hutchison is a veterinarian with Home With Dignity, a hospice and end-of-life practice in Colorado Springs. He has special training as a pathologist, and his wife is also a veterinarian and certified in rehabilitation.http://www.HomeWithDignity.com
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