Keep holiday food away from your pooch

I’ve watched my brother-in-law lavish ribs, potato salad and even nachos on his beloved pooch with reckless abandon. Give my dog Lulu a banana, and she returns it in a far less pleasant form. That’s why I spend the holidays policing relatives as they walk their near-empty Thanksgiving plates to the kitchen.

They mean well, they really do. But depositing scraps of ham, uneaten bits of mac and cheese and other yummies into my dog’s bowl can do more holiday harm than good. While I appreciate the generosity, I don’t relish the tummy troubles or the gassy nights that typically follow.

“Pets get used to absorbing a certain amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein; [their diet] can be thrown out of balance during the holidays,” says pet nutritionist Dr. Martin Glinsky, who began manufacturing holistic pet food in the 1980s. “The most common symptom is some form of loose stool or diarrhea and — with my dog — bouts of nausea. She’s just not used to the rich food we feed ourselves.”

Unfortunately, overly generous relatives aren’t the only threat to a pet’s digestive system. Dogs and cats have a knack for finding and consuming things they should avoid, particularly when their people are preoccupied. The ASPCA’s poison control hotline (1-888-426-4435) handled 167,000 cases last year, says medical director Dr. Tina Wismer. Chocolate, a holiday staple, remains the No. 1 culprit. Pet insurance company VPI also notes a spike in claims related to chocolate poisoning during the holidays. The company’s infamous “Hambone Award” even pays tribute to pets and the quirky things they consume, such as the Labrador that ate a Thanksgiving turkey carcass or a golden retriever that consumed an artificial Christmas wreath. Perhaps my brother-in-law’s table scraps aren’t so bad in comparison.

But there are ways to help pets participate in holiday festivities without the risk of accidental injury or illness. Start by brushing up on basic obedience skills so that your pet will have tools to avoid temptation, says ASPCA trainer Kristen Collins.

“Training your dog to ‘leave it’ on cue can be really useful when you have lots of people and tempting foods around,” she says. “With lots of visitors, it’s also a great opportunity to teach your dog to greet people politely.”

Here are some tips to help dogs behave on a leash around houseguests. Collins suggests pet-friendly zones, complete with soft bedding, toys and chews.

“Pets become overwhelmed by people and sounds and smells during holidays,” Collins says. “It’s best to fix up a comfy confinement space for your pet.”

Of course, you also can be firm with guests who try to be a little too generous with the table scraps.

“Most guests are conscious of your relationship with your dog and will say, ‘Want me to save this?'” Glinsky says. “I have no problem saying, ‘Please don’t feed the dog. She’s on her own diet, and we don’t feed her table scraps.’ Your dog needs you for her well-being and she looks to you for that. You’ve got to do what’s necessary to provide her with that safety.”