NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 8, 2013

Paw Prints: Holidays bring digestive dangers

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler
veterinarian

---- — It’s happy holiday season again. The fun and festivities bring food and, right behind, Fido and Fluffy. That’s right, your pets have no idea why you’re celebrating, but they can smell the delicious bounty, and they’re delighted to invite themselves.

Halloween haunted our streets last week, but now it’s time to beware of other dangers lurking nearby. Leftover candies and chocolates may be perilously within reach of a four-legged thief. Dogs have a sweet tooth, and many will happily help themselves to a treat. Wrappers are no deterrent and will often be consumed with their tasty contents.

Interestingly, cats cannot taste sweet and are rarely tempted by Halloween treats.

Chocolate poisoning is a well-known danger for dogs. The risk depends on several factors, including how much your dog weighs, how much chocolate was consumed, how dark the chocolate was and Fido’s other health issues. In general, the smaller the dog and the darker the chocolate, the greater the risk of chocolate poisoning.

If your pooch devoured a candy bar with just a thin coating of milk chocolate, he may have avoided chocolate poisoning, but he’s not out of the woods. Treats can be tricky for pets. Inside that thin layer of milk chocolate is sweet, greasy candy, and lots of it. An overindulgence of sugar and fat can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Symptoms may be mild with decreased appetite, or severe with fulminant pancreatitis and ulcerated, hemorrhagic bowels. These patients can become very sick very quickly and often need supportive hospital care to survive.

Thanksgiving beckons us in a few weeks. The delicious aroma of a roast turkey dinner tempts even the best-behaved pet. Cats and dogs beg, drool, perform and whimper. If all else fails, thievery is a last resort. Whatever it takes, they want some of that scrumptious dinner, too.

The problem is that our pets’ digestive systems are not designed to handle greasy, heavy food. As with the candy bar scenario, it is not uncommon for cats and dogs to fall ill after a Thanksgiving indulgence. Common symptoms are those of a mild tummy ache — loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. However, some cases progress to pancreatitis or HGE — hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

The pancreas is involved in normal digestion. During pancreatitis, this organ becomes inflamed. Patients feel ill and are in a lot of pain. Many owners do not recognize this pain, as their pet is not crying out loud like a person would. Instead, the pet becomes lethargic. Some cases of pancreatitis are life-threatening. Other cases lead to diabetes.

HGE is a horrible illness that starts with a belly ache but rapidly progresses to ulcerated and bleeding bowels. The dog initially passes “raspberry jam”-like stool, but some have explosive, bloodlike diarrhea. Without rapid treatment, infection and dehydration can lead to shock and death.

Although both pancreatitis and HGE can be managed medically, prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Another caution with the holiday turkey is the string used to tie the bird while roasting. By the time the bird is carved, that string is completely saturated with turkey drippings and gravy. Pets won’t hesitate to devour this string. Cats are particularly fond of this tasty temptation.

The danger with strings is that both ends can pass through the intestines at different rates. As the faster end progresses through the digestive tract, the slower end creates a tug. This results in a tight string that begins to saw through the soft intestines. Gastrointestinal string foreign bodies are among the most dangerous objects to be caught in your pet’s intestines.

After the turkey is put to rest, sparkle and glimmer dance through December. From a pets’ perspective, holiday trees shine with glittery toys. Cats love to play with tinsel, but don’t let Fluffy eat it.

Electric wires for holiday lights are not chew toys for pets. Electrocution and fire hazards are real dangers that affect pets every year.

Even button batteries can be fascinating for pets. They may seem like fun amusement for our furry friends, but their small size makes them easy to swallow. Ingested batteries are dangerous and usually need to be removed surgically.

Finally, happy tonics and libations are popular during the holidays. Many dogs like the taste of beer and mixed drinks, and cats may take some sips, too. Be sure to keep these out of reach of your furry family members. Pets are unable to metabolize alcohol as we do and can quickly succumb to alcohol poisoning.

If you’re looking for the “purrfect” holiday present for your precious pooch and fancy feline, remember that what your pet wants more than anything else is time with you. Plan an extra walk with Fido, and snuggle with Fluffy in front of the fireplace. Your pet will thank you, and you will feel better, too.

---

Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.basslervet.com) at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on WNBP 106.1 FM and 1450 AM. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.