Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


There are many things to be thankful for this holiday season, with our health and that of our pets topping the list. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (Christmas is too commercial and I'm a practicing agnostic), as I get together with family, run a 10K “turkey trot” to raise money for MS (personal donation page: Join the Movement), and motivate myself to complete (some of) my 2011 goals before the year's end.


As with Halloween (see Dr. Patrick’s Top Holistic Halloween Pet Safety Tips), Thanksgiving continues the trend of human holidays that create pet health hazards, including festive foods, decorations, and schedule and environment changes. Take the following precautions to reduce the likelihood that you will suffer emotional and financial stress caused by your pet’s holiday health crisis.


Holiday Foods


Although their tastes are appealing, avoid feeding your pet any of the following jolly goodies:


Chocolate and sweets — Chocolate contains chemical compounds called methylzanthines (caffeine and theobromine), which have dangerous stimulating effects for dogs, including hyperexcitability, elevated heart rate/blood pressure, and seizures. Darker chocolate having a higher percentage of cocoa is more toxic in smaller amounts than lighter milk chocolate. White chocolate and non-chocolate sweets are stimulant-free, but can cause serious gastrointestinal abnormalities (vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis) due their high sugar and/or fat content.


Fats and Proteins — Holiday foods, including animal skin, meats, and cheese are dense in calories, fat, and protein. Feeding your pet an amount of these foods that seems small for a person can exceed your pet’s daily caloric requirements. Additionally, the interruption of your dog’s consistent consumption of a particular food can lead to gastrointestinal upset.


Bones — Cooked bones are prone to splintering, which mechanically irritates the lining of the stomach and intestines. If ingested, large or multiple pieces of bones can potentially cause esophageal, gastric, or intestinal obstruction. Please don't let your pets share in the wishbone breaking tradition, as their portion will likely be consumed.


Dried Fruits — Raisins (and grapes) have an unknown toxic mechanism that damages the canine kidney. The toxic effects can be seen when non-specific amounts are ingested, so prevent your dog from eating any raisins and grapes. Additionally, as store bought dried fruits may contain preservatives (sulfites, etc.) or other illness causing contaminants, skip sharing Grandma's special fruitcake with Fido.


Holiday Decorations


Holiday decorations, including candles and plants, add a festive touch to your home, but can cause life threatening dangers for both pets and people.


Candles — Even momentary contact with a lit candle can set your pet’s fur ablaze, leading to severe skin burns. In my veterinary practice, I've witnessed the horrific nature of third degree burns, as with Buddha, my canine patient who was singed by an unknown heat source (see Burned French Bulldog Continues to Heal with Acupuncture Treatments). Your entire family may be at risk if a pet knocks over a candle which then ignites flammable household materials.


Additionally, scented candles (cinnamon, fig, vanilla, etc.) emit appealing aromas and may cause gastrointestinal abnormalities if consumed.


Provide intriguing play toys to keep your pet's attention away from holiday decorations. Additionally, confine pets to a safe space lacking access to tempting treats and objects unless a responsible human supervisor is present.


Schedule and Environmental Changes


Holidays create situational changes in people's lives and cause additional stress for our pets. The frequent arrivals and departures of pet owners or guests increase the likelihood your animal companion could go missing. Even if your pet is not a notorious escape artist, fit your pet with an appropriate collar bearing up to date identification. Additionally, microchip implantation can increase the likelihood that you and your pet will reunite should a collar fall off or be removed.


Travel plans or the presence of holiday guests may require a pet to be kenneled in a facility or confined in a portion of your home. Tiring out your pet by partaking in energetically draining activity will reduce the likelihood that confinement will cause an anxious episode. If your pet is kept outdoors, provide a comfortable, climate controlled shelter from weather extremes.




This holiday season, plan for the possibility that your chosen festivities can cause problems for your pet. Don’t be "that owner" berating yourself after a pet has gotten sick from consuming festive foods or has been traumatized through an unsupervised interaction with holiday decor.


Should your pet show illness or is suspected to have inappropriately consumed holiday foods or decor, immediately contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital. Have a fun and safe Thanksgiving.


dogs begging at the table, thanksgiving dogs, holiday pets

Dogs begging at the Thanksgiving table


Dr. Patrick Mahaney


Image: Farsad-Behzad Ghafarian / via Shutterstock

Comments  8

Leave Comment
  • Turkey Bones
    11/22/2011 07:18am

    Fido and Fluffy can be pretty stealth when it comes getting into things.

    Coughing can be a sign of a bone caught in the throat. Vomiting and/or diarrhea can be a symptom of many things.

    If your critter is acting "off" at all, please don't wait to see if it passes...call the doctor!

  • 11/22/2011 12:57pm

    Great suggestions regarding watching for ANY signs of your dog your cat being "off" around the holidays, as there are so many potential hazards.
    I am fortunate to avoid most of the winter pitfalls living in SoCal, but we are spending Thanksgiving in DE where it is cold and rainy!
    Have a safe and fun Thanksgiving!
    Dr PM

  • Candles
    11/22/2011 03:23pm

    Hi, Dr. Pat,
    For those who love the glow and warmth that candles can bring to the home, may I suggest the "flameless"/battery operated candles that can be purchased at Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond or online. They add every bit as much ambiance as their dangerous counterparts, and you can rest easy knowing your companion animals are safe.
    Great tips, Dr. Pat, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  • 11/22/2011 05:40pm

    Thank you for your comments!
    What a great suggestion about the specific flameless candles. Hopefully, all pet owners (regardless of their location) will choose non-flame candles to ensure their pets' safety this holiday season.
    Have a fun and safe Thanksgiving!
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • 11/23/2011 06:56pm

    Hi, Dr. Pat,
    May I also commend you on responding to the people who read your column and take the time to comment. I am sure that you are one heck of a vet, just judging by the fact that you do respond to comments, knowing how busy you are in your job and in your life outside of caring for vets. Take care, and Happy Thankgsgiving.

  • 11/23/2011 06:58pm

    PS. that's caring for PETS, not vets :) Although I got a chuckle when I read what I had written. Again, keep up the good work and hope you and yours will have a great Thanksgiving holiday.

  • 11/23/2011 10:40pm

    I appreciate you reading my article (s) and leaving your comments.
    My attitude is that if you (one, anyone) reads an article, you should leave a quick comment or two to voice your opinion on the subject.
    Those of us that are writers greatly appreciate when their readers communicate with us via comments.
    Have a great and pet-safe Thanksgiving. I look forward to hearing from you again.
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • Article
    11/23/2011 04:15pm

    Great article, thanks for awesome thanksgiving tips. YOU ARE THE BEST UNCLE EVER!!!!

Meet The Vets