By Dr. Angela Gaeto, DVM, of the Helen Woodward Animal Center community in San Diego County.
Every year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a large spike in pets that come to see the veterinarian because of diarrhea, vomiting and/or pancreatitis.
Dogs can be very sensitive to even small changes in their normal diet; in a highly susceptible pet, even a small piece of chicken can be enough to cause loosening of the stools. Typically, when our pets get something that is too rich, like gravy, fried foods, vegetables swimming in sauces or with lots of butter, it first causes some inflammation in the intestinal tract. This leads to softer stools and, if not corrected, profuse diarrhea. With intestinal inflammation, the pet can feel nauseous and may either stop eating or start vomiting.
Vomiting can lead to pancreatitis or pancreatitis can lead to vomiting. Pancreatitis is caused by inflammation in the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing some of the digestive enzymes and also for producing insulin.
In dogs the signs are obvious, with a high incidence of vomiting, anorexia (not eating), weakness, abdominal pain and excessive thirst being seen commonly.
The treatment for pancreatitis is nothing to eat or drink orally until the pancreatic inflammation has resolved. This usually means hospitalization so that the dog can be on intravenous fluids. These fluids and controlling food and water intake are the mainstays of treatment.
If pancreatitis is not controlled, there can be chronic changes to the pancreas such as fibrosis or a form of scar tissue that affects the ability of the pancreas to produce the normal digestive enzymes and the insulin needed for blood sugar regulation. If this occurs, the result is diabetes mellitus and/or pancreatic exocrine enzyme insufficiency.
If you would like to give your dog a treat at Thanksgiving, avoid stuffing, bones, gravies, butter and cream sauces or anything sweet. A small piece of white turkey meat without the skin or some vegetables without any butter or seasonings would be okay for most dogs. If you have a pet that has had a history of pancreatitis or gastrointestinal upset from food changes, your best bet is to stick with their normal diet.