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Thanksgiving Dinner…A Canine Counter-Surfing Bonanza! Rover Oaks' Joy Lee Discusses Holiday Dangers and Safety Tips!

Posted Nov 24 2010 9:45am

My sixty-five pound shepherd mix was originally surrendered to a shelter on the day after Christmas. The excuse? He was "too big". My theory after nine years of living with him? He stood up, both paws on the counter, and paw-lifted the Christmas turkey.

Some large dogs are notorious "counter-surfers", helping themselves to anything remotely edible that they can find on tables and counters. Even some resourceful small dogs are able to find ways onto tabletops and snack away on any goodies there. During holiday times, when there is a lot of company, commotion and good-smelling food, even a well-trained dog may forget his manners and decide to help himself to the feast that his nose is telling him is within his reach.

Aside from the wrath of the family when they discover that they will be ordering pizza instead of eating turkey, what are the hazards to your dog from chowing down on the holiday meal?
  • When any dog overindulges, there is always the threat of bloat, a life-threatening condition that requires emergency medical diagnosis and treatment. Small tidbits of lean turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and vegetables may be permissible, but a giant helping of a twelve pound turkey may result in stomach pumping or other emergency treatment. 
  • Poultry bones, if ingested, may splinter in the digestive tract and cause punctures in the stomach or intestinal lining, resulting in internal bleeding, blockages and/or infection. This, too, will require emergency veterinary intervention. 
  • Any extremely fatty foods, such as rich sauces or gravies, may contribute to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. If your pet has consumed too much of these kinds of foods, he may soon suffer from loss of appetite, dehydration, weakness and discomfort. Pancreatitis can be a serious illness in dogs and will require veterinary diagnosis and treatment. 
  • Many holiday meals include onions, xylitol (a sweetener) and chocolate, all of which are toxic to dogs. Dogs may also have allergic reactions to foods such as shellfish or nuts. 
  • Alcohol is also very bad for dogs, and should never be given to them in any quantity. 
  • At the very least, overindulging in rich food may cause digestive upset for your pet, including vomiting and fun for Rover or his pet parent! 

So what can you do to reduce the risk that your counter-surfing canine will help himself to anything within reach? Following are a few common sense tips that might help:

  • Supervise your dog any time there are large quantities of food within easy reach. Put him on a leash, if you have to, to make sure you know his whereabouts. You can attach the leash to your waist if necessary as you move around the house. 
  • If your dog is upset or stressed with all the guests and commotion, set up a quiet room where he can rest, preferably with toys and appropriate doggie chew bones or treats. 
  • Work with your dog so that he has a solid grasp of the "off" or "leave it" command, so that if you do catch him in the act of turkey larceny he will respond to your direction. A "place" command is also helpful, as you can send Rover to his designated spot where, if he has been properly trained, he should remain until you "free" him. 
  • Any prepared food that is on the counter waiting to be served should be either moved as far back as possible, out of Rover's reach, tightly covered and/or stored in a warm oven, microwave, on top of the refrigerator or any other spot that is higher than your dog can stand. 
  • Don't place platters of appetizers on coffee tables or other low surfaces. Instead, serve them individually, if possible, or place them on a high buffet or mantle that your pet cannot reach. Keep alcoholic beverages out of reach as well...while some dogs may turn up their noses at the smell of wine, beer or tequila, others may lap it right up! 
  • Instruct your guests not to give in to the pleading eyes, and ask them not to feed him any appetizers or table scraps. One or two small bites might not matter, but if twenty-five people offer tidbits, it will add up! 
  • If you do want to let Rover participate in the meal with a doggie feast of his own, give him lean, skinless and boneless turkey (preferably white meat), plain potatoes or sweet potatoes (which are actually good for their digestive system) and plain vegetables or fruit. Your dog might also appreciate a small amount of pumpkin mixed into his food. This should be served away from the human table in his own food bowl. 

As the old saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." With a little planning, the family can enjoy their holiday meal without worrying about Rover serving himself first!

Joy Lee is co-owner and general manager of Rover Oaks Pet Resort in Katy, Texas. She is also passionate about animal rescue, and has authored a book, "Rover's Rescues...True Stories of Shelter Dogs and Second Chances" , for which a portion of each book sale will be donated to Citizens for Animal Protection in Houston. Visit her website, , for more information.



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