Following our general holiday safety post, this week we’re going to dive a little deeper into issues surrounding food, looking at popular Thanksgiving dishes that can that pose a risk to your pet, and suggesting delicious alternatives so that you can prepare a fantastic feast for animals and humans alike! After all, food is a HUGE part of Thanksgiving tradition, with the whole holiday centered around a single meal. Given that most of us are extremely grateful to have our furry (or scaled, or feathered) friends in our lives, it would be criminal to exclude them from the festivities. Thankfully, there are plenty of easy-to-prepare, pet-friendly dishes to choose from. With a little mindfulness, we can avoid dangerous holiday staples, providing our pets with a feast they’ll never forget (well, at least not for a few hours).
First, let’s start with some dishes to avoid over the thanksgiving Holiday. The last thing we want is a sick pet; or worse, an expected trip to the vet or animal emergency room!
Stay Safe by Avoiding These Foods:
Bones and Bits: Perilous Poultry
A huge roasted turkey usually makes up the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table—the bigger the better, with enough leftovers to feed a small army. Unfortunately, poultry bones can pose a significant threat to pets. Small or splintered pieces are a choking hazard and can cause gastrointestinal blockages or perforations in the digestive tract. If you plan on including turkey in your animal’s Thanksgiving meal, make sure you’ve thoroughly combed it for bones, watching for small fragments that might not be easily visible to the human eye. This article outlines the signs of choking in pets, and describes what you can do to administer first aid.
Rich and Fatty Foods Are No Good for Pets
Many Thanksgiving staples are a true treat (and cheat) for humans. We give ourselves a temporary pass to indulge our more decadent impulses, at least for the weekend. Rich, fatty foods like gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, and casseroles might be a treat for us, but they can wreak havoc on our pet's digestive system. They might even lead to pancreatitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening condition that requires extensive (and expensive) treatment. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Opt for pet-friendly treats or plain cooked vegetables as a safe alternative for your furry companions.
Onions and Garlic: Bad for Your Breath Worse for Your Pets
Onions and garlic, often used as seasonings in various Thanksgiving dishes, are highly toxic to pets. They can cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, ingestion of these ingredients can cause damage to your pet's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Ensure that your pets are kept away from dishes containing these ingredients, and securely store them to prevent accidental ingestion.
Pro Tip: Chances are, not all your guests will be pet owners. What’s common knowledge to you isn’t necessarily obvious to those who don’t live with any animals. If a cat, dog, or other pet ends up near the dinner table, it can be hard to resist tossing them the occasional table scrap, and with the best intentions, a visitor might feed them something harmful. Make sure you ask all visitors to refrain from feeding the animals, and be especially proactive in briefing anyone involved with preparing the main meal, asking them to be mindful of where they leave food. To help you out, PAWS/LA has prepared a printable safety checklist, detailing foods that should be kept away from pets. Pin it in the kitchen and any common areas where people will gather!
Grapes and Raisins: Small but Dangerous
Grapes and raisins are well-known for their toxic effects on pets, even in small quantities. These seemingly harmless fruits can lead to kidney failure in dogs and cats, causing symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and decreased appetite. To be safe, avoid sharing any desserts or dishes containing grapes or raisins with your pets. Bear in mind that small items such as these can easily fall on the floor or carpet.
Chocolate: Tempting but Troublesome
Chocolate is a classic indulgence during the holiday season, but a definite no-no for pets. It contains substances called theobromine and caffeine, which can be toxic to dogs and cats. Ingesting these can lead to symptoms ranging from restlessness and increased heart rate to seizures and, in severe cases, death. Keep all chocolate products, including baked goods, out of your pet's reach and promptly clean up any spills.
Alcohol: Sober Pets Rock!
Many people use alcohol to amplify their holiday cheer. If imbibed in moderate amounts, beer, wine, and cocktails can help us relax and ease into the festivities. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to animals. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause them to become intoxicated, leading to vomiting, loss of coordination, tremors, and, in severe cases, respiratory failure. Keep alcoholic beverages away from curious pets and be cautious about where you place your drinks to prevent accidental spills.
Nutmeg: Not a Nice Spice for pets
Nutmeg, commonly used in various Thanksgiving dishes, contains a compound called myristicin, which can be toxic to pets in large quantities. Ingesting nutmeg can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, disorientation, increased heart rate, and seizures. It's best to avoid sharing dishes seasoned with nutmeg with your pets and store the spice securely in a high cabinet. Again, be mindful of accidental spills and clean up any mess promptly.
Xylitol: Sweet, Sweet Poison
Keep artificial sweeteners like xylitol far away from your pets, bearing in mind that these chemicals are common additives in hundreds of food products—even ones you might not expect. Xylitol is extremely toxic for animals. (Honestly, it’s not great for humans either). You might want to do everyone in the household a favor and avoid artificial sweeteners in general. Many of them have been linked with cancer and can even contribute to depression as they interfere with the brain’s dopamine production.
Pro-Tip: No matter how cautious you are when choosing what to feed your pet over the holidays, all that safety can be undone if dangerous foods spill or make a mess that your pet can easily access. Small items such as grapes or raisins are easily scattered over the floor and can roll into nooks and crannies, which are hard for humans to reach, but easily picked up by small animals. Even the cleanest among us can find their kitchen a mess when preparing a large meal for many people. Keep your pets away from any area where food is being prepared. You might even consider barring them from the dining area until the meal is cleared and the space cleaned. In general, make sure your home is equipped with a pet-focused emergency and first-aid kit.
Treat Your Pets with These Dishes
Now that we’ve dealt with the culinary don’ts, let’s switch to a positive track and look at some tasty and nutritious dishes for your pets to enjoy. After all, your animals are beloved family members, and you want them to share the cheer. While all these dishes are Thanksgiving staples, found at most traditional tables, they need to be served plain to remain pet-friendly—no casseroles, pies, or buttery, sugary mashes. This might require you to think ahead, putting some ingredients aside as you prepare dishes for the main table. Consider, setting up a small side area for “pet prep”, and portioning out some plain servings as you go along.
Fruits Make a Delicious Desert
With the exception of grapes and raisins, most fruits make a delicious desert for your furry friends. Blueberries, strawberries, and apples are a great source of A and C vitamins, and some pets even enjoy cranberry sauce (although cats don’t have the tastebuds for it). Just make sure that any fruits you give your pet are served plain without extras such as cream or sugar. Don’t give your furry friends any fruit pies, which contain too many unhealthy ingredients to do your animal any good. If you’re including fruits in your human deserts, put some aside during preparation so that you can present them to your pet unsullied.
A legendary thanksgiving staple, there’s absolutely no reason your pets shouldn’t share some plain pumpkin goodness—especially mashed up so that it’s easier to eat. You can even turn this into a desert by pureeing it and mixing in some unsweetened frozen yoghurt. The calcium and probiotics will be great for your animal’s stomach and the pumpkin is packed with fiber, Vitamins A, C, E, and potassium! If you’re feeling especially ambitious, here’s a great recipe for pumpkin pie dog treats from Rover.com.
Sweet Potato Party
Like pumpkin, sweet potatoes are loaded with dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also add B6 and beta-carotene to the mix. They can be served mashed, or in the form of a dehydrated chew. Again, don’t include any rich, gooey extras such as butter, brown sugar, or marshmallows.
Green Bean Dream
While it might be a major part of many a Thanksgiving meal, green bean casserole is a no-go for pets. Instead, consider serving these delicious greens as dehydrated crispy treats.
Conclusion: Time to feast
Thanksgiving should be a period of joy and gratitude for people and pets alike. While it’s crucial to remain pet-safe amid the festivities, your holiday preparations don’t have to be exclusively prohibitive. Consider ways to treat your pet while keeping them protected. Be mindful of the foods listed above and set healthy alternatives aside to serve your animals while the humans are chowing down. Special treats and toys can distract them during mealtime, ensuring that they don’t linger at the table begging for scraps. Above all, be good to each other, take care of the animals and have a great holiday!
Mental Health: The Next Battlefront
In the lead up to veteran’s day 2023, PAWS/LA has taken a deep dive into the data surrounding mental health in military veterans and the abundant evidence suggesting service animals and mental wellness are inextricably linked.
Studies show that military veterans experience mental health difficulties at a significantly higher rate than those in the general population. The trauma of battlefield experiences, and the difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life are just two of the stressors that can negatively impact a veteran’s psychology. Add these to the day-by-day challenges that the average civilian faces—social, economic, political—and you have a fertile environment for psychological disorders to develop and evolve. Some experts call mental health “another battlefront” for many who have served in the army.
While any response to a mental health crisis must be nuanced and multi-faceted, depending to a large degree on the individual and their specific experiences, an overwhelming majority of experts agree that service animals—emotional support pets—can prove a powerful tool in helping struggling veterans. These animals might belong to the affected individual and constitute a constant feature of their domestic environment; or they may be temporarily available at a rehabilitation or care facility, utilized by therapists or counselors on a session-by-session basis as part of a structured therapeutic approach. However the animal appears in the veteran’s life, they are likely to have a positive impact.
Again, it is important to understand the limitations of any conclusions drawn from combined statistical analysis, with conclusions converging and diverging around varying methodologies and modalities. However, studies generally suggest the following benefits as emerging from pet-assisted therapies.
Reduced Symptoms of PTSD
According to the National Center for PTSD, a government agency, 7% of all veterans will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their life. The effects of PTSD can be debilitating, negatively impacting all aspects of the individual’s life, from job performance and social functioning to the relationship they have with their immediate family members. PTSD is strongly linked to substance abuse disorders and other compulsive behaviors. While it is dangerous to make specific assumptions based on a PTSD diagnosis alone, it is generally safe to conclude that the disorder poses a significant barrier to enjoying an elevated quality of life.
Service animals can help mitigate these negative effects. According to a study published in the "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology," veterans with PTSD who had a service dog showed a significant reduction in symptoms such as nightmares, night sweats, hallucinatory flashbacks and hypersensitivity to light and sound. According to researchers, these specific symptomatic improvements amounted to an overall decrease in the severity of the disorder and a general weakening of entrenched symptom clusters. While this study considered dogs specifically, scientists believe that other animals provide essentially the same support functions: companionship, socialization, a sense of accountability and purpose.
Lowered Anxiety and Depression
Depression and anxiety are common forms of mental disorder, which often occur together, forming a particularly potent pathology. Some experts argue that both have reached epidemic levels in the modern world, measured at rates previously unheard of, especially in a post-pandemic landscape. Others contest that such claims are overstatements emerging more from broadening awareness and reporting than from an increase in actual diagnoses. Whatever the case, depression and anxiety are widespread, potentially debilitating conditions that lower the quality of the sufferer’s life and cost the economy billions each year.
Anxiety tends to afflict the sufferer with chronic feelings of fear and dread, sometimes at levels intense enough to cause physical reactions such as shortness of breath or heart palpitations. Depression has a more sedative effect, leading to suppressed motor functioning and dramatically decreased energy levels (fatigue). Depression also attacks the individual’s sense of self-worth and saps at their motivation. At severe levels, both conditions can completely incapacitate the individual, making it hard for them to leave their beds.
Research shows that depression is responsible for up to 9% of all ambulatory military health network appointments, while 15% of veterans report anxiety symptoms. As with PTSD, animal assisted therapy can reduce these symptoms for much the same reasons--a psychosocial combination of behavioral adjustment, existential realignment, and physiological change, the latter occurring as interactions with the animals reduce cortisol levels and increase oxytocin.
Decreased Medication Dependency
As you would expect, a reduction of symptoms through animal assisted therapy may positively impact the individual’s overall treatment plan, leading to a decrease in the need for medication. While psych meds have improved dramatically over the last fifty years, they still come with certain side effects (not to mention the financial strain of paying for a psychiatrist and covering co-payments). Even the most lightweight medications can cause weight gain or insomnia; and heavy-duty options such as Lithium, or any drug from the family of anti-psychotics can make an individual feel numb or ‘zombie-like’. Counterintuitively, the short-term side effects of some drugs include an increase in the symptoms they are supposed to be relieving.
If companionship and emotional support potentially lower a reliance on pharmaceutical interventions for mental health conditions, they become particularly valuable assets in any comprehensive treatment plan. Note that the word here is lower. A service animal is rarely a full substitute for psychiatric medication, especially if the individual’s condition is especially severe. It is extremely dangerous to change medications abruptly and without doctor supervision.
Reduced Risk of Suicide
Depression, anxiety, and PTSD can become terminal conditions if they factor into an individual’s decision to commit suicide. Military veterans are 1.5 times more likely to take their own lives as members of the general population, and while the precise cause for each individual’s decision is impossible to determine, the link between self-harm and mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, is indisputable. Simply by reducing the symptoms of mental health conditions, service animals constitute a valuable suicide prevention tool. But on a more abstract level, pet ownership almost certainly strengthens an individual’s existential resolve. An animal provides a reason to live and something to fight for, even when its owner is at their lowest ebb. At PAWS/LA we can cite hundreds of clients who claim their animal is the only thing keeping them going.
Decreased Hospitalization rates
Veterans with service dogs often experience fewer hospitalizations related to their mental health conditions. The presence of a service dog can help manage symptoms and provide comfort, reducing the need for emergency interventions. This allows the veteran to manage their mental health conditions without the need to take time off work. It also helps individuals avoid the financial stress of enormous medical bills.
Improved Quality of Life
By reducing the symptoms of mental health disorders alone, pet ownership and animal assisted therapy improve the individual’s quality of life. But even if you take serious mental health conditions out of the equation, animal owners, veterans or otherwise, generally poll as happier than those who live animal-free. They record improved social functioning and tend to live longer. Cardiovascular diseases are rarer (or at least less severe) in this population grouping, and they report greater interpersonal relationships and community participation as pets, especially dogs, can act as social catalysts. This alleviates feelings of isolation and improves overall mental well-being.
Finally, pet ownership has ben proven to confer tangible physical benefits. Studies have shown that interacting with pets, including therapy animals, can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and stress levels, two areas in which military veterans often struggle. The simple presence of an animal has been shown to have positive effects on human physiology by reducing the production of stress hormones. Animals can also aid in physical rehabilitation, helping with mobility and balance, and making it easier for their owners to engage in exercises and activities that promote physical health. For veterans returning from service with a chronic physical impairment, be it a missing limb or damaged hearing, adapting to this new reality becomes paramount in stabilizing their mental health. Animals keep us active and alert. We now know that the mind-body split is a myth. Those suffering physically suffer mentally and vice versa. True wellness covers every aspect of the individual’s life, calling for holistic approach.
Vets and pets: better together
Again, statistical analysis has clear limitations, and every individual is different; humans do not easily fit into methodological categories. Nonetheless, the abundance of evidence suggests that on some level, veterans benefit from owning a pet, or engaging in animal assisted therapy. At PAWS/LA we evidence of this every day, and it is the motivating force behind our PETSTRONG program. Our veterans have already given so much, often sacrificing their mental well-being to serve a cause greater than any one individual. It is only fair that we support them as participate in civilian life. Ultimately, a society is the sum total of its constituent parts—the individuals that comprise the social organism. Happy individuals make a happy society. Healthy soldiers make a safer nation. If animals can add to both health and happiness, we believe it benefits all of us to keep Vets and Pets together.
My name is Juliet Lippman, my friends call me JJ. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and moved to Los Angeles four years ago to go to the University of Southern California where I study Communication and Cinematic Arts.
Through an occupational therapy class I am taking as an elective, I have spent time learning about the power of animals in helping our mental and physical health. As we have learned in class, and as I have learned through my personal experiences with both of my dogs, Penelope and Buttercup, having the love and consistency of an animal greatly improves our lives.
This learning led me to Paws/LA, where I have begun volunteering. Volunteering at Paws/LA has been an amazing experience for a multitude of reasons. My first deliveries went smoothly, and all of the clients were kind, thankful, and courteous. Further, knowing that I am a part of helping animals stay with their loving owners is a privilege that I do not take lightly.
Not only is the work at Paws/LA incredible and fulfilling but the ability to volunteer on my own time and with my friends adds an uniquely fun aspect. Overall, I feel grateful that USC led me to Paws/LA, as I have found my time here rewarding and enjoyable.
The Holiday Season is a special time for people to gather and be merry together. No matter your background or belief system, some kind of holiday celebration is likely to insert itself into your day-to-day life. At such times, it’s important to remember that pets are part of festivities too. Amidst the hustle, bustle and disruptions in routine, it's easy to overlook the potential, pet-specific dangers that lurk within the celebratory frenzy. In this guide, we will highlight some of these hazards and explore various ways to keep your pets safe and happy during the holiday season.
Nobody likes decorating for the holidays more than I do. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as buying an artisanal, hand-crafted bauble for a hundred bucks and then seeing it shatter the next time someone sneezes near it. Yet, behind the sparkle of fairy lights and shimmer of tinsel there lies a world of danger, especially for your pets. What you see as a delightful winter grotto might constitute a perilous hellscape for a cat or dog. Keep your decorations off the floor as, according to both experts and anyone with even a modicum of common sense, they can be harmful to your pet’s digestive system if swallowed. In the same vein, make sure to secure your Christmas tree so it doesn't topple over if an overly rambunctious pet decides to climb it. Always have a fireguard in your hearth, and make sure those candles are well out of reach. Finally, bear in mind that your pet is not a decoration or accessory. It’s perfectly acceptable to dress them up for the festivities, but only if they’re comfortable with it. The only thing worse than a sad cat is a sad cat with reindeer antlers taped to its head.
Without a doubt, food and drink play a major role in almost every holiday tradition. We feast and imbibe, and imbibe some more, and then feast again, seeing out the year with an earnest, but ultimately futile resolve to scale back our future indulgences. Just bear in mind, that our furry friend's dietary needs are vastly different from our own. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, alcohol, and foods with artificial sweeteners (like xylitol) should be kept out of your pet's reach. With so many visitors coming and going throughout the season, it’s important to inform your guests about not feeding table scraps to your pets. Instead, serve them (the pets, not the guests) with healthy organic meals. This is particularly important if children are visiting. Of course, that doesn’t mean your furry friends shouldn’t eat well over the holiday season. You can find an abundance of gourmet pet food options available in any major supermarket or pet supply emporium. Consider treating your beloved animal to something special they can enjoy while you’re scarfing your fourth piece of pie. Just remember, Fido most definitely needs to stay away from the champagne. He’s obnoxious when he’s drunk, and everybody knows it.
Provide a Quiet Refuge
The holiday season often involves gatherings, parties, and fireworks. Some of us enjoy these festivities, others find them only mildly more tolerable than a root canal. Regardless of your own inclinations, bear in mind that your pet probably has no idea what in the world is going on and could easily become overwhelmed. This is especially true on New Year's Eve when your pet is wondering why your weird neighbor is vomiting in the plant pot. Some animals, get especially excited or hostile around strangers, and this can prove dangerous for both parties—especially when kids are involved. Nobody wants to miss out on the celebrations because they had to rush Cousin Johnny to the ER for stitches and a rabies shot. In such chaotic circumstances, your animal is most certainly not at fault. Create a safe and quiet space where they can retreat to if they feel stressed. This could be a cozy corner with their bed, toys, and water. You might even consider playing soft music or leaving on a white noise machine on to soothe their nerves. Never force a shy pet to socialize, and make sure all guests are aware of any boundaries the animal might have.
If you plan to give your pet a gift, remember that they almost certainly don’t care. They're animals! They would probably rather a little extra care and attention, instead. (Likewise, do not be upset if your pet doesn’t give you a gift. It’s not that they’re being thoughtless; you’re just particularly difficult to buy for, and they don’t want to spend money on something you won’t use). If you insist on buying them a present anyway, keep it simple. Ensure that any new items are safe and appropriate. Avoid toys with small parts that could be a choking hazard. Instead, opt for sturdy, pet-approved items that encourage mental stimulation and physical activity. Remember, something as simple as a ratty piece of old string peeled off your shoe can provide a kitten with hours of entertainment.
Don't Forget to exercise
With busy holiday schedules, it's easy to overlook your pet's exercise routine. However, just because you’ve eaten so much saturated fat you can hardly move, doesn’t mean your pet should suffer too. Regular exercise, fresh air and the stimulation of being outside are crucial for any animals’ well-being. No matter how busy you get, take time for walks and activities that keep your pet’s mind sharp. If the weather is harsh, consider indoor games like hide and seek. Just bear in mind that there are plenty of holiday hazards outside of the house.
Mind the trash
The holiday season often means an increased output of household waste. For us, this is an inconvenient by product of our seasonal revelry; for a curious pet, it is an abundance of riches. Make sure your garbage is secure, perhaps in a cabinet or sealed with a pet-proof lid. You don’t want them rummaging through the trash and potentially ingesting something harmful.
If you're traveling with your pet, ensure their safety and comfort by investing in a spacious, fully equipped pet carrier with a secure door. Make sure to bring some familiar bedding, toys, and food to help them feel at ease in a new environment. If you're flying, check the airline's pet policies well in advance and ensure your animal meets all the requirements to board. Any time your pet is away from their home environment, they should be microchipped and wearing a collar with up-to-date contact information. Remember that the movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a highly embellished work of fiction and that most lost animals will NOT embark on a series of colorful adventures and soul-searching trials to find their way home. (Most cats will just pick a new owner).
prepare don't panic
Despite our best efforts, accidents can still happen. It’s the thing you don’t worry about that inevitably ends up blindsiding you—usually when you least expect it. Like any good boy scout you need to be prepared. Have the contact information of a local 24/7 veterinary clinic readily available. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the location of the nearest emergency animal hospital. Check their website for holiday hours and other changes in schedule. In a crisis, quick action can make all the difference.
beware the foliage
Once again, these seemingly innocuous household accessories can pose a significant risk to your pets. Several plants commonly used for decorations, such as poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly, are toxic to pets if ingested. Mistletoe can also be problematic as it encourages the unsanitary practice of interspecies smooching. Make sure these plants are out of your pet's reach or opt for pet-safe alternatives if you want to decorate with greenery.
Amidst the holiday chaos, don't forget about your pet's routine health care. Ensure they are up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite prevention, especially if your guests are bringing unfamiliar animals into the home. With many stores and pharmacies operating on a holiday schedule, it pays to make sure you’re sufficiently stocked up on any essential medications BEFORE the shops close. The holiday season often means colder weather, so take necessary precautions to keep your pets warm, especially if they spend time outdoors. Little dogs in coats and mittens are adorable, just make sure they are comfortable.
In conclusion, the holiday season can be both delightful and challenging for our pets. While being overly anxious ultimately helps nobody, a little reasonable mindfulness goes a long way. As with any good safety plan, identifying potential dangers is the natural first step. With one in place, you can relax into the spirit of the season and share your joy with your furry friends. Just don’t get so carried away that you end up ruining the occasion for everyone. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without your beloved animals. They likely feel the same about you.
Our blog is managed by Ryan Hilary with additional contributions from the PAWS/LA team. Are you a member of our community and have a great idea for a post (or maybe want to write one yourself?). Reach out to Rhilary@pawsla.org.