If you’re like me, you love this holiday filled with family and (maybe most importantly) FOOD! Thanksgiving is a great American tradition and a wonderful excuse to have a relaxing time off while we stuff our faces. However, as a veterinarian, Thanksgiving time does tend to give me a little anxiety. Our pets face some unique dangers during the Holiday season, and it is up to us to keep them healthy and protected.
As a pet owner, you want what is best for your pet. You may not think about this Holiday being a potential danger, so I have put this list together for you so that you can avoid these situations!
Here are 5 Common Health Problems Diagnosed Around the Holidays
Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a serious illness that usually results when the pet eats some type of food they are not used to. This is especially common if the pet eats a food high in fat- such as ham or beef- but can occur with any type of food item. Cases of pancreatitis can be chronic or acute, but we definitely see an uptick in panreatitis cases around the Holidays.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy, and more. If you think that your dog or cat has pancreatitis, seek veterinary attention right away- acute pancreatitis is very painful and can be life-threatening! Treatment includes fluid therapy, GI protectants, antacids, pain medicines, nausea meds, and sometimes antibiotics.
Prevent pancreatitis by having strict rules about table food- do not allow your pet to be fed any human food- and by avoiding sudden diet changes. Make sure that your guests know that Fluffy is not allowed to eat human food and, if need be, lock your pet in a separate room during meal times to prevent begging behavior so you and your house guests will be less tempted to share your meal.
2. Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
HGE is a problem that is very similar to pancreatitis in that the symptoms are commonly vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite. The biggest difference between pancreatitis and HGE (other than the underlying pathology, or what happens in the body when a health problem is present) is that dogs with HGE will often have bloody vomit and diarrhea. This blood can be dark brown to black or dark to bright maroon and red.
This is, understandingly, very scary to owners. The exact cause of HGE is unknown, but factors such as stress and dietary changes are thought to play a role. The illness is thought to occur because of inflammation in the gastrointestinal lining, which allows bacterial toxins to break through and make your pet sick. The most dangerous result of HGE is not usually blood loss, but severe dehydration, which can be fatal to your pet is untreated.
Treatment is similar to that for pancreatitis and often includes IV fluids, GI protectants, and antibiotics. You can prevent this from following the same table-food guidelines listed above. It may also be a good idea to try to avoid stressful situations around the Holidays- like boarding or having company over- if your pet is high-strung. Ask your vet about ways to help with your pet’s anxiety if you are worried that this could contribute to his or her systemic health.
3. Foreign Object Ingestion
I have surgically removed many foreign objects from the intestinal tracts of dogs (and cats) over my years as a veterinarian. I am constantly amazed and perplexed at what animals will swallow whole!
Foreign objects are non-food objects (cloth, toys, and more) or food objects that are too large to pass (such as corn cobs, bones, etc) that become lodged in the intestine of your pet. These objects can form a complete obstruction or can simply fail to pass through the GI tract normally and cause chronic irritation.
The treatment for a foreign object in the GI tract is usually surgery, although some veterinary hospitals may have the ability to attempt to remove some foreign objects with an endoscope. Prognosis is very variable and depends on how long the problem has been going on and what section of the digestive tract is affected.
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and decreased appetite- although in many cases someone may see the dog eat the unusual item! We see this condition more frequently around the Holidays because of the number of unusual items that are available to tempt our furry friends- from ribbons to large turkey bones and unusual children’s toys. If you think that your dog may’ve eaten something that he wasn’t supposed to, see your veterinarian for an xray right away.
Any Holiday gathering is, unfortunately, a high-risk event for a dog or cat. During the Holidays we see an increase in the number of dogs and cats that come in after being attacked by an animal, hit by a car, stepped on, or otherwise injured.
Animal attacks can occur when two animals who aren’t used to each other are suddenly put together in a high-stress scenario, such as when your daughter brings her new dog and he fights with your dog over table scraps. The attacks can also occur when animals run loose and meet other loose animals or wildlife. Dogs may also escape the house when guests are coming in and out and get struck by a vehicle- this risk is compounded by the larger amount of traffic in neighborhoods around family Holidays.
Traumatic injuries can be mild and include small wounds or bruising, or serious requiring surgery. If your animal is suddenly injured, even if the damage appears to be mild on the outside, please seek veterinary attention right away. Wounds from traumatic injuries can be much more severe than they appear, and can even progress over the first 48 hours after an accident.
Prevent injuries by keeping your pets on leashes at all times or keeping them locked in a bedroom during Holiday festivities. Also, do not allow animals to meet for the first time during Holiday gatherings or other stressful events, and keep all unacquainted animals separate when not being supervised directly.
5. Chronic Illnesses
This one may be the most suprising illness on this list. Chronic illnesses can include types of cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, endocrine diseases, behavioral diseases, and more. Believe it or not, we do see an increase in the diagnosis of chronic illnesses in our pets around the holidays.
One reason that chronic illnesses may suddenly be noticed is because out-of-town guests may notice a change that the primary caretaker had overlooked. If you are the primary caretaker for your pet, you may not notice gradual changes in him or her that a person who hasn’t seen your pet in some time would notice immediately. Think of when you see a family member that has lost weight suddenly- the change is obvious is you haven’t seen them for a while. However, the change may be more subtle if you have seen them every day or every week during the weight loss process. The same goes for our pets.
If your daughter comes home and says, “Mom, Max looks skinnier than usual,” don’t panic and don’t feel guilty, but make an appointment with your veterinarian right away to try to find the underlying cause of this change.
Another reason why many pets get diagnosed with chronic conditions over the Holidays is that they come in for annual shots and an exam so that they can be groomed or boarded in preparation for the holidays. On examination, the veterinarian may find some abnormalities and recommend testing for your pet.
So, how do you avoid being blind-sided by a chronic illness during the Holidays? The answer is fairly simple; schedule wellness exams regularly with your veterinarian so that they can identify any problems before they become more serious. I recommend wellness examinations every year for pets under 7 years old, and every 6 months for healthy pets over 7 years old.
I hope that you enjoyed this article and learned a few things about veterinary health risks over the holidays. Don’t forget to implement the practices outlined above to keep your pet healthy and safe during the Holiday Season!