Giving your pets Thanksgiving leftovers is bad for their health and your wallet, says LA vet

Giving turkey meat from your Thanksgiving table to pets is a common and costly mistake, according to Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Nina Nardi. Photo by Shutterstock

While the holiday season means joyful festivities with great food and decor for humans, Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be some of the most dangerous days of the year for pets.

And an emergency visit to a veterinary clinic could spoil the cheer and hit pet owners with a huge bill. 

Dr. Nina Nardi, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian, advises families to take extra precautions, especially with holiday food and decorations. 

What are the more common pet emergencies during the holidays?

Dr. Nina Nardi: They are typically related to ingestion — something a pet has eaten that shouldn't. 

Usually around Thanksgiving, we see more of the pancreatitis cases after people have given their pets leftovers, including high-fat meat content dogs shouldn't be eating.

Pets can get pretty sick as the pancreas organ gets inflamed. They present with vomiting, diarrhea, so we typically have to hospitalize them on fluids along with other supportive care as needed. 

Once we get closer to Christmas, there is a lot of chocolate ingestion. That’s when people have a lot more chocolate around their house, and for whatever reason, animals, especially dogs, tend to get into it. 

What are the other types of food that humans typically enjoy during the holidays that are harmful to animals? 

I really caution against any table scraps. 

Turkey may seem safe because they are similar to chicken, but the holiday turkey has a lot of additives. People put onions, garlic, and many different flavorings that can be toxic to pets.

And you don't know how much fat is in a piece of Turkey you're giving to your pet. That can just trigger a lot of problems. 

What do you do if your pet begs for table scraps?

I encourage people to go to a local pet store or supermarket to pick up pumpkin-flavored dog treats or holiday type cookies. 

You can also buy ground turkey or ground chicken and make a seasoning-free dish for your animals on the side. It could be a little bit of an extra topping on their food. 

Which holiday decorations pose potential danger to animals?

Holidays aside, cats typically like to chew up plastic and strings.

And when you're thinking about Christmas time, there are a lot of ribbons, bows and small particles that are easy for cats to get into and chew up.

It not only makes them sick, but a lot of times it ends up becoming a surgery where we have to go in and physically remove the string.

A lot of cats also get burned when they try to touch holiday candles. 

If you're going to get a Christmas tree and if a cat in the house likes to climb, you need to be mindful of what's going on the tree. Cats can knock down glass balls and ornaments. If they step on them and they break, they can get hurt.

People also plug a lot of things in during the holidays, and dogs and cats can chew on the electrical cord. 

Common holiday flowers and plants, such as poinsettias, can be toxic to animals. If pets get sick after eating or smelling them, it could require an expensive trip to the emergency animal hospital, according to Dr. Nardi. Photo by Shutterstock.

People like to decorate their homes with plants and flowers, but you say that may not be a good idea if you have a curious pet in the house.

People like to have poinsettias around Christmas, but they are toxic to animals. They can still cause oral irritation, vomiting and upset stomach. They may not lead to death, but they can definitely make your pet sick.

Also if you have lilies in the house, those can be very toxic to cats. 

How much would it cost to take your animals to emergency rooms during the holidays?

Let’s say your dog got into some high-fat turkey, and your pet gets sick. That’s a possible vomiting or diarrhea case. 

To give them treatment for a day, you're probably looking at anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Easy.

But I've seen some pets hospitalized for two, three days after they've ingested something. That could obviously cost more.

And if your furry friend gets sick on a holiday or a Sunday, you have to go to an emergency hospital. You should expect the bill to double.

In terms of foreign body ingestion, surgeries are easily $2,000 to $3,000. Depending on where and when it's done and how complicated it is, the vet bill could come out to $5,000. Easy.  

If you’re hitting the road with your pet this holiday season, what are some of the safety precautions you recommend?

Let's say you are taking your pet out of California, and you're going to travel somewhere down south. For example, Texas has a known heartworm problem. If you are going to Texas, make sure your pet is on heartworm prevention. 

And some states have higher incidence of Lyme disease, so you want to make sure your pet has a Lyme vaccine.  

When you’re traveling, also be mindful of what’s in your travel bag. Make sure things like your medications are out of your pets’ reach.

If you’re boarding your pets while you travel, what can you do to fend off any illnesses? 

At least here in Southern California, there have been outbreaks at boarding facilities of canine influenza and canine leptospirosis. It's important to have your pet vaccinated for those illnesses that are going around.

I also have some pet patients who get diarrhea every time they're boarded. I’d plan ahead by starting them on medication or instructing the boarding facilities to give your pet the medication.