Thanksgiving is a holiday squarely centered around gatherings and an elaborate meal. These two elements make this holiday potentially dangerous for mischievous or anxious pets, but with forethought and planning, you can create a safe, enjoyable turkey day experience for all your two- and four-legged family members. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team shares their most practical tips for keeping pets safe on Thanksgiving.

#1: Keep pets away from the Thanksgiving feast

Pets certainly love food, but food is the most dangerous element of Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving feast can be harmful to pets by causing the following:

  • Toxicities — Chocolate, xylitol, raisins, grapes, onion, garlic, and raw yeast dough can poison pets who indulge, resulting in mild to life-threatening clinical signs. Pets who eat these foods need immediate emergency care.
  • Pancreatitis — Painful pancreatic inflammation can occur in pets who eat a large quantity of fatty foods, such as turkey skin, bacon, or butter. Your pet’s breed or past medical history can increase their pancreatitis risk.
  • GastroenteritisVomiting and diarrhea are always possible for pets who eat foods outside their normal diet, and can mean a rough several days. These pets may require veterinary treatment.

Keep pets out of the kitchen and dining area while you are preparing or serving food, and request that all guests do not share table scraps. This ensures your furry pal doesn’t steal something while you aren’t looking and prevents well-meaning guests from overindulging your pet. Try offering pets a long-lasting food treat or puzzle toy in another room to keep them occupied while you cook and eat.

#2: Secure the trash after your meal

A man’s trash is a pet’s treasure, especially when food is involved. Trash that contains turkey bones, meat trimmings, or meat packaging is especially dangerous, because these items can lead to pancreatitis or intestinal blockages—serious medical conditions that require hospitalization and possible surgery. Cooked bones also can splinter, and a sharp edge could lacerate a pet’s esophagus, stomach, or intestines. Collect all trash immediately after the meal, take the bag outside right away, and store in a can in an area that your pets cannot access.

#3: Provide anxious pets with a safe space

Pets can become overwhelmed by visitors, whether they normally enjoy strangers or are naturally shy. If you anticipate a large crowd or suspect your pet will be uncomfortable, don’t risk negative interactions. Instead, create a safe, quiet, and inviting space away from the main party, which will not only help your furry pal relax but also help prevent food-related incidents. To up the relaxation ante, play soothing music for your pet, offer them a calming supplement, or try an anxiety wrap that will give them an ongoing “hug.” For highly stressed pets, consider consulting our medical team about a prescription anxiety medication.

#4: Plan ahead for pets if you’re traveling

Traveling with pets often is more difficult than anticipated. If you plan to take your pet on your trip or board them in a facility over the holiday, you’ll need to schedule a veterinary visit to ensure all vaccinations and other requirements are in order. For air travel or to cross state lines, you may need a health certificate issued by a veterinarian close to your departure. Check with your airline and ensure you have all the paperwork and the correct crate or carrier and avoid any unexpected snags. Also, ensure your destination lodging is pet-friendly, or your host is expecting your four-legged guest.

#5: Skip the decorative plants

Many decorative plants are toxic for pets, with effects that range from mild oral or stomach irritation to severe kidney failure, seizures, or death, depending on the specific plant. Lilies are the biggest offenders, and the smallest amount, including pollen, can be fatal for cats. Keep live plants only in areas completely off-limits to pets, or consider a faux alternative. Check the ASPCA lists of toxic and non-toxic plants to learn more.

Despite careful planning and precautions, accidents happen. Determined pets who sneak part of the meal or break into the trash may need veterinary care. Contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Pet Poison Helpline, or local veterinary emergency hospital if your pet eats toxic food this holiday. Also, schedule an appointment with a local Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team before the holiday to prepare pets for travel or boarding or for a general health checkup.