Dear KWC Readers,

This is one of those important columns that I try to repeat annually. Although, I just realized that I have not run it in four years! I’ll blame Irma and COVID for that.

Like chocolate for Valentine’s Day, Thunderphobia at the beginning of rainy season or hurricane preparedness on the 1st of June, this topic can never be repeated enough times. Every year veterinary emergency services deal with Thanksgiving weekend horror stories. Sadly, these are all preventable.

We all look forward to the holidays — the travel, family times, visits with friends and, of course, the food (except last year). OMG, the food! Generally lots of it and stuff we generally don’t routinely eat. Most people are used to eating foods high in fat and cooked with a lot of spices and salt. So, aside from the danger of over-indulging and having to loosen the belt a notch, people rarely get anything but a mild case of indigestion after a big holiday meal.

Unfortunately, dogs (and cats) usually respond differently to dietary indiscretion — that is, excess or high fat foods (e.g. gravy).

Animals in general are creatures of habit. For the most part a pet’s diet is usually the same on a daily basis. Although this may seem boring to most people, it is quite natural and healthy for a pet. When a change in the diet happens abruptly, such as in a generous helping of table scraps, it is not uncommon to see severe indigestion and bloating. That is why when switching from one pet food brand to another kind, it should be done gradually over a period of a week or two.

Probably of more significance is the impact of supplemental table scraps on the older pet. Many senior pets, especially those with age-related heart, liver or kidney disease, are unable to handle foods high in fat, protein and salt. Turkey, stuffing and gravy are classic examples of these ingredients. For instance, the amount of salt that humans usually cook with can easily be enough to push an older, at-risk dog into congestive heart failure

Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving the emergency service at my former hospital saw at least one case of pancreatitis. This occurs when a dog eats food it is not used to, specifically food high in fat. The pancreas, the organ responsible for producing the enzymes necessary to digest and process fat in the diet, goes into overdrive and the animals become deathly ill. If not treated aggressively, the patient may die.

If you feel compelled to give your pet a Turkey Day treat I would suggest giving only a small amount of skinless turkey breast, chopped into small pieces and added to their normal diet. Stuffing, candied yams and apple pie are definitely on the “forbidden” list. Do yourself and your pet a favor and leave off the spices, salt and gravy.

In addition to the tips above, don’t let your pets get into the post-holiday feast trash. That is a sure way to end up with a visit to the far away veterinary ER clinic and a horrible way to end your festive weekend.

That all said, I sincerely hope you and your families (human and pet) have a wonderful holiday!

God bless,

Dr. Doug

Dr. Doug Mader is an ABVP board-certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to