How to Avoid Holiday Hijacks for your Pet

Egg nog.

Christmas trees.

Turkey dinners. 


We all have our ideas of what represents the holiday season!  

Tis the Season…for Holiday Fun and Mayhem!

For veterinarians and those in the veterinary industry, their thoughts may be a bit different than the general public. While we definitely look forward to the iconic Griswald family Christmas, there are a few other things that cross our (petrified) mind during this time. Our blog this time is to help prevent any of these Grinch fears from coming true and help you and your fur-babies enjoy the holiday season safely and away from our clinic – except of course if you’re bringing us tasty treats and a general check-up visit. 🙂

We want to celebrate with our pets and we should. We just need to be aware of what may harm them or what to be aware of. This list will obviously not cover all the major concerns but we will touch on the things we see most often. 

Pancreatitis/GI Upset

This one shouldn’t surprise anyone. Many of us refer to it as an upset stomach. Many of us suffer from some form of gastritis during and after the holidays. New food options, bigger portions, not as much exercise…it really can do a number on our intestinal tract. The same holds true for canine and feline patients, but even more so. Many of us feed our pets a very regimented diet. That means that their gut, or intestinal tract, does not have as diverse a population of good bacteria to recognize and digest new foods. (For our recommendations regarding feeding, please see our December 2018 blog!). This can create inflammation in the intestines, which then we see show as vomiting, diarrhea, not feeling well, and not wanting to eat. 

Careful what we put in those bowls!

Pancreatitis shows signs like gastritis, and is very common in smaller breeds. Many smaller breeds such as yorkies and chihuahuas are even more sensitive to certain types of foods affecting their pancreas. 

Please be careful and aware of what you are feeding your pets during this time of year to keep them happy and safe. Things we eat regularly such as macadamia nuts, onions, and garlic can greatly affect our pets! For more specific information, you can check out the Pet Health Network page

Chocolate toxicity/Xylitol toxicity 

Most of us know that pets cannot do well with chocolate. The chemical theobromine in chocolate is what affects dogs and cats differently than humans. Not only can it cause severe upset in the stomach, but its toxic effects come from what it does to the heart and the nervous system. The most concerning type of chocolate for dogs is dark chocolate. The more cocoa in the chocolate, the more toxic it is for our pets. Ensure that you keep your chocolate for those baking goods in a safe place!  How much is too much? Each pet is different, so always use caution when reading things online. Also, you know your pet best. If there is any concern, seek emergency care immediately. For a general guideline, the Animal Health Foundation explains some general rules about how much toxicity may be present with the amount of chocolate ingested.

Hot Cocoa the Cat

Xylitol is another ingredient that has found its way into popular baking dishes. It is a sweetener taking the place of sugar in many of our dishes.  Unfortunately for dogs and cats, their body does not respond well to this type of ‘sugar’! This means that they produce insulin to handle the sugar but there is actually no real sugar there. The danger comes from their sugar levels becoming dangerously low because of too much insulin, or hypoglycemia. There is a broad range for every pet with how they will react to this sweetener. Please be very careful with any exposure for this and your pets. Chewing gum is usually the most common way our fur family get themselves into trouble!

Tinsel, foreign material, I’m not sure what he ate…

We have all experienced the puppy who cannot stop chewing or the cat that won’t leave the Christmas tree alone. For the most part, these tend to be general and sometimes cute annoyances. However, the trouble arises when things get stuck somewhere along the 13 feet of intestines. 

Christmas toys, tinsel, socks, bones, and you name it, we’ve probably seen it work its way out on its own or on our surgery table. 

Keeping these things out of reach of curious critters is our best prevention, which can definitely prove difficult with a house full of guests, toys, and Christmas tree ornaments and decorations. Lack of interest in food and vomiting are the most commonly seen reactions to foreign material that is not passing through. If you see any of these and know that your pet has a history of being naughty with chewing, please contact us or your veterinarian to discuss diagnostic testing such as x-rays and ultrasound. 

Why am I here?

Acute medical crisis, wounds, etc

Uncle Billy showed up. He wasn’t really invited. Neither was his pack of wild dogs that he just acquired. Uh-oh.

We see many dog fight injuries and interactions from these type of situations or those similar to it. While dogs are pack animals, there is already heightened stress during the holiday season, with both us and our pets. This will increase the risk of negative interaction between animals, even those who have known each other for sometime.

Learning a dog’s way of communication

Dogs and cats often show us signs that they are feeling uncomfortable and the situation may be about to escalate. Knowing your pet and the signs they give (their body language) can help keep you out of a bad situation or the emergency vet hospital.

You’ll have to deal with Uncle Billy on your own though. 

Lost pets

It never fails that in the shuffle of guests coming, friends going, and us trying to figure out which way is up, one of our beloved pets finds a way to sneak outside. Sometimes, they will sneak somewhere inside the house as well. 

Finding our way home…

The holiday season is a very common time that pets go missing. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and that is why we recommend to ensure that your pet is always wearing some form of identification. We also recommend having your pet microchipped. This cannot be lost like a collar or harness and functions as a permanent form of identification. This way we can ensure that your baby is home on Christmas Day as much as possible. 

As always, thank you for stopping by our little informational blog. Hopefully you won’t have anything to worry about this holiday season, but just in case we are here if you need us. We know the holidays can be both merry and stressful, so please let us know how we can help. 

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a fantastic start to 2020!


Dr. Jessica Tracy and Blue Ridge Animal Hospital

Getting the INSIDE SCOOP!

Getting the ‘inside scoop’ of our recommendations

For your pet’s nutrition….

Navigating pet nutrition can be HARD!

I realize we briefly touched on the nutrition topic during our obesity discussion in our previous November blog. However, when you realize that despite the difference in households, living quarters, families, breeds, gender, neutered vs not neutered, and all the other factors, there are a few things that all these pets have in common. They all need to eat, they tend to eat everyday, and their nutrition plays a huge role in their overall health and wellness. That is why we will continue to focus on nutrition and recommendations, especially since what we know this day and age is that this information changes rapidly. Also, we are about to start a NEW year with NEW resolutions. Perhaps one of them may be to adjust the way your pet eats in 2019. We’d like to help with that.


PAWS for the FAQs:

Let’s focus on the MOST asked questions or statements  that we hear on a routine basis. Keep in mind that the ideal blog post is limited to 1600 words or less, I will never be able to answer all the looming concerns in that short a span. Also realize that my opinion may differ from other people (breeders, owners, groomers, Google), and that is okay. I am offering you my scientific opinion based on the information I have gathered and collected and my education. My job is to help keep you informed as much as possible as you navigate the hugely overwhelming pet food

 aisle. The biggest take-away at the end of this? You love your fur kids (that’s why you’re reading this), do the best you can with their specific nutrition needs, and make decisions based on conversations with your veterinarian and what you feel most comfortable. Please also note that every patient is unique in and of themselves. That means what I write here may or may not apply to your individual pet. The great news is, you can always ask.


Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they require a higher amount of protein from their diet than humans or dogs. New research is being conducted to what the ideal amount of protein in food should be percentage wise for cats. A recent study showed that cats may actually prefer food with slightly higher carbohydrates than previously thought.

Special Needs of our Feline Friends

This just shows us that research is always ongoing to find the most beneficial diet for our furry friends since we plucked them out of the wild. However, a good rule-of-thumb for HEALTHY cats seems to remain that their protein levels should be roughly 23-30% of their diet calories as a whole. Recognize also that this will change based on certain medical conditions such as kidney and liver disease, where your veterinary team will discuss with you the reason and need for less protein in these cases.


Continuing with cats, remember when your veterinarian used to tell you to feed dry food and only one kind of dry food for their entire lives? Yeah, we may have been a bit wrong. Thanks to that ongoing research into these guys and how they work, their need for moisture from food is much higher than we originally suspected


Grain Free:

This is a huge hot-button topic for veterinary medicine. What I will do here is present the information and studies we have currently with the recognition that this will most likely change with time and further research. This topic will be exclusively focused on grain free in dogs since we have already addressed cats and their need for protein.

The Grain Free Myths

December 2018 JAVMA (Journal of Veterinary Medicine) has two studies associated with the grain-free trend, which speaks to its current strength as a topic in veterinary medicine, not just for us as pet owners but for veterinarians as well.  The good news is that the veterinary industry as a whole does an excellent job attempting to stay abreast of most current FAQs, but it often remains behind the media trends.

The grain-free diet apparently started with the correlation of the genetic history of dogs with wolves. While this is correct, it takes some major liberty with this connection. The other reason this may have started is the current focus on gluten free and gluten intolerance in the human world. Since I don’t currently have my MD, I will not be addressing this topic. However, as a veterinarian, I can state that genetically we have more in common with pigs and cats than dogs. Just something to think about.


The December 1, 2018 JAVMA summarizes the dangers of assuming that the needs of wolves and dogs are the same nutritionally.  It was also pointed out that the actual truth is the diet of wolves vary significantly by geographically location, and most of them are truly omniverious or ‘facultative carnivores,’ and not strictly carnivorous (JAVMA Vol 253, #11). Furthermore, dogs are not wolves. If you question this, take a pug or a chihuahua outside in the cold and tell them to survive and hunt. NOTE: this is not recommended by the author in any shape or form, it is merely an analogy to signify the drastic difference between wolves and their now dog descendants. Dogs became domesticated by living among and with people. This created a change in their nutritional needs as they adapted to eating food more consistent, increasing the plant matter in their diet even more so to sometimes greater than 50% (JAVMA Vol 253, #11). Grain can and does provide nutritionally necessary component in many diet, and removing them can possible create concerns with future health. In the same journal, there is an investigated link with certain diets and a condition known as DCM, or dilated cardiomyopathy. However, I need to quote them by saying “although there appears to be an association between DCM and feeding BEG (raw) vegetarian, vegan, or home-prepared diets in dogs, a cause-and-effect relationship cannot be confirmed (JAVMA Vol 253, #11). This means while we seem to see a higher number of dogs being fed this diet affected with DCM, we cannot definitively state this is the only or sole cause. The research article further does a good job stating that “pet food marketing has outpaced the science, and owners are now always making healthy, science-based decisions even though they want to do what is best for their pets” (JAVMA Vol 253, #11). Ultimately, there’s a lot of noise and information out there, and we as owners are caught in the middle of trying to find out the best choice for our babies. You’re not alone!


Cooking for your Pet:

Cooking for your pet and adding healthy alternatives to their diet is actually recommended. This may surprise you since we have previously told you before that beyond a doubt ‘never feed people food.’ We were wrong…again.

The addition of HEALTHY human foods and varieties especially at a younger age may help strengthen their gut immune system, make them less predisposed to GI irritation and possibly some food aversions. Please read this part carefully though, and please do NOT stop reading right now and go raid the fridge for all the goodies you’ve always wanted to share with Fido or Fluffy. You have  to add the food in the RIGHT way, meaning the right amounts, slowly, and over time. You also need to ensure that first and foremost their proper nutritional needs are being met.

When you find out what your pet’s ideal calorie range would be for his/her weight, then the suggested addition to healthy human food addition is roughly 20%. Calculating calories and then adjusting what you feed with the newly added healthy foods is imperative. Obesity can reduce your pet’s life expectancy by 1-3 years, and it is currently affecting over 50% of our pets. While we love our babies, we do not wish to love them to death.


The RAW, BEG or BARF Diet

There are two things to consider if even evaluating this diet. Firstly, I will state that I personally do not support this diet in general because of these 2 major concerns. However, I do have clients that pursue this route, and we have conversations about what to consider, proper hygiene, and whether their particular pet is at risk for any other concerns. What I will say is that if you are not 100% committed to strict sanitary conditions, monitoring nutritional needs, and avidly staying on top of multiple recalls, please for your safety and your pet’s health, do not pursue this diet choice. The first concern is as stated previously. It is often very difficult to get all the appropriate nutritional needs met for your pet. The second is YOUR SAFETY. This diet can put you as a human at risk if you do not follow extremely rigorous protocols to keep yourself and your other animals protected.


Getting down to the MEAT of it…

We’re all unique!

To summarize the previous roughly 1400 words, here is my recommendations.

  1. Discuss with your veterinarian your desires, concerns, and ultimate lifestyle of your pet. Come to a decision together that you can both be happy with and both of you feel the concerns are heard.
  2. Use caution with fad diets, including grain-free. Research is still being conducted in this area, and we don’t know all that we need to know with potential for concerning side-effects.

    But what’s the best way to fill it?!

  3. Feed a high quality, nutritious food…the best you can afford comfortably. This will vary for different people and households, and that is okay too. You take the best care of your pet that you can, and they will be incredibly lucky and blessed.
  4. Add nutrition! Healthy foods such as cooked egg, chicken, green beans, carrots, spinach, apples. These are fresh and can improve interest in food, intestinal health, and overall well-being. If you’re not sure if it’s toxic, check it out!
  5. Love them and do your best. We are all making a difference for them, wanting what is best for them, and taking it a day at a time. That’s all we can really do anyway! Wishing you a wonderful, safe, and nutritious 2019!!

Happy and Blessed 2019!

And P.S.

If you’re curious, I didn’t make the 1600 mark, but thanks for being willing to stick around for the extra 100 words. 🙂