When it comes to our pets, food is one of the ways we express our love, meaning the temptation of sharing a holiday treat can be hard to resist, for us, for our houseguests, and for a pet who is more than happy to pilfer a turkey leg from the table when no one’s looking.

Thanksgiving Safety

For this reason, Thanksgiving is also a time for visiting the veterinary ER, where upset-stomached dogs often find themselves after a little too much indulgence. To help prevent this unscheduled holiday diversion, I’ve prepared a list of Thanksgiving Dos and Donts to help your pet stay happy and healthy this Thanksgiving:

Do: Have a plan

Unless your pet has a sensitive stomach or a diet that cannot tolerate change, there are plenty of holiday foods that are safe for your pet, with a little modification. Fats are they key ingredients that can cause pancreatitis and diarrhea, so foods should be free of added butter, oil, or gravy. Examples include lean turkey meat, green beans, or sweet potatoes. I like to put aside a small portion of each when I’m preparing dinner, before I add the butter or onions (which can be toxic.)

Don’t: assume that ‘just this one time’ is ok for that cheesy onion gratin

If you’re going to feed your pet human food, make sure it follows the guidelines above. Most pets who have eaten commercial foods their whole lives really can’t tolerate a huge sudden influx of high fat. At best, they can ruin your afternoon with bad gas, but at worst, they can develop life threatening pancreatitis from what seems like a small bite of butter drenched cheese.

Do: let your guests in on your plan

If you don’t let Grandpa know you have a treat already set aside for Fido, you may find him, Aunt Edna, and the kids all sneaking the dog bites of sausage. It’s a hard temptation to resist over the holidays when we want to spoil the pets as well as ourselves. I show my family the bowl of carrots and apples they can give the dog as an appetizer, and I make a ceremony out of presenting Brody with his own holiday feast. If I’m lazy and didn’t set aside food for him, I bring along a can of special Thanksgiving themed dog food from Merrick and that represents his special dinner.

Don’t: be afraid to set ground rules

If your pet has a history of pancreatitis or stomach problems, don’t be afraid to tell people very clearly that people food is strictly off limits. Sometimes people think a little rule bending is ok here and there- and often it is- but when your pet has a history of those problems, it’s very likely to happen again. Feel free to tell them how much the bill cost last time you had to go to the ER. They will get the hint.

Do: Use a covered trashcan

I learned this one the hard way, unfortunately. Maybe you are OK if you have a small dog, but if you have a tall dog like my Golden, it’s amazing how far one can drag a greasy turkey carcass. Thank goodness I caught him before he crunched into any bones.

Don’t: forget to thank them too

Studies have shown the act of petting a dog or cat releases a flood of hormones that make you feel good. And it goes both ways- the dog or cat also benefits similarly from a loving scratch or brushing.  Food isn’t the only way, or even the best way really, to show love!